Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz pledged to cooperate with the US on Iran. (File/AFP)
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz pledged to cooperate with the US on Iran. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2021

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests
  • Gantz hopes Israeli security would be safeguarded under any renewed nuclear deal
  • Austin was making the first visit to Israel by a senior Biden administration official

TEL AVIV: Israel will work with Washington to ensure any “new agreement” on Iran’s nuclear program will safeguard regional security, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Sunday.
The comments came as Austin made the first high-level US trip to Israel since talks resumed on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, which the Jewish state fiercely opposed.
Gantz said “we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel.”
Austin, the highest-level envoy from President Joe Biden’s administration yet to visit ally Israel, said Washington would work with Israel “to advance shared security interest and priorities.”
Stressing America’s “iron-clad” bond with Israel, Austin said the US will “continue close consultations to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security.”
Austin’s visit came just days after the US said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the hobbled nuclear agreement reached between Tehran and world powers, which was abandoned by former president Donald Trump in 2018.
Israel under hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal, dating back to when it was being negotiated during Barack Obama’s administration.
Netanyahu, whom Austin was due to meet on his visit, applauded when Trump withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping back from several of its commitments under the deal.
In the latest breach of its undertakings in the troubled agreement, Tehran announced on Saturday that it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades — of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices respectively — at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.
An “accident” took place at Natanz on Sunday but caused no casualties or damage, the Fars news agency reported, citing officials.
In an address marking the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu had said on Wednesday that Israel would not be bound to a nuclear deal that would enable the Islamic republic to develop atomic weapons.
“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten our extinction — would not compel us in any way,” said the veteran premier.
Biden has said he is prepared to return to the agreement, arguing the deal had — until Washington’s withdrawal — been successful in dramatically scaling back Iran’s nuclear activities.
But Washington has demanded Iran returns to compliance while Tehran has insisted on an end to all US restrictions, with each side demanding that the other make the first move.


Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution
Updated 7 sec ago

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution

Tunisia says 50,000 joined consultation ahead of new constitution
  • The consultation will last until March 20. Topics include political, economic, financial, social, health, educational and cultural affairs

TUNIS: More than 50,000 people have participated in Tunisia’s national consultation that will feed into the drafting of a new constitution, authorities said.

President Kais Saied had announced the consultation in December when he extended a suspension of parliament, a move which fueled concerns for the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago.

The consultation will last until March 20. Topics include political, economic, financial, social, health, educational and cultural affairs.

 “We are at the fifth day and the number of participants has reached 52,000 — that’s good,” Technology Minister Nizar Ben Neji said. “We will intensify our awareness campaign.”

The electronic platform for the consultations was fully launched on Saturday after it partially opened on Jan. 1.

Tunisians abroad are also able to participate, using their identify card to access the platform and register their remarks.

Authorities say more than three quarters of Tunisia’s 12 million population has internet access, while those without will be able to use computers in youth centers across the country.

A constitutional referendum is planned for July 25, 2022 — exactly a year after Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament and said he would assume executive powers.

The president later took steps to rule by decree, and in early December vowed to press on with reforms to the political system.

His intervention was initially supported by many Tunisians frustrated over repeated deadlocks within the fractious legislature.

On Dec. 13, Saied laid out a roadmap for drafting a new constitution, which is set to grant more powers to the executive branch at the expense of the legislature in the North African nation, before elections at the end of this year. Saied won elections in 2019 with a landslide 73 percent of votes.


Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians
Updated 2 min 58 sec ago

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians

Shelling on northern Syrian city kills six civilians
  • On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched it’s push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement

BEIRUT: Shelling on the Turkish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria killed six civilians on Thursday, the latest in a spate of attacks, a war monitor said.

It was not immediately clear who fired the artillery shells but the attack came from a region where Kurdish fighters and Syrian regime forces are present, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Six people, including two children, where killed,” said the Britain-based monitor which relies on sources inside Syria for its reports.

Nearly 30 others were wounded, it added.

The shelling came a week after a suicide bomber launched an attack near a military base run by Turkey-backed fighters in Afrin, according to the Observatory.

Turkey and its proxies have seized control of territory inside Syria over several military operations launched since 2016 against Daesh and the Kurdish YPG militia.

In March 2018, they seized Afrin after pushing the Syrian Kurdish forces out.

On Thursday, Kurdish forces marked four years since Turkey launched its push into Afrin in an operation that triggered a wave of mass displacement.

“Recovering Afrin and (securing) the safe return of it’s inhabitants ... is our main priority,” Mazlum Abdi, the head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, tweeted.

The war in Syria has killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II, since it broke out in 2011.

Meanwhile, five Roman artifacts from the ancient city of Palmyra, a site damaged during the conflict, were returned to Damascus on Thursday by a private Lebanese museum where they had been on display since 2018.

The limestone statues and carved funerary stones dating from the Roman second and third centuries AD were returned at the initiative of a private Lebanese collector, Syrian antiquities chief Mohamed Nazir Awad said at a handover ceremony hosted by Lebanon’s National Museum in Beirut.

The collector, Jawad Adra, acquired them from European auction houses before Syria’s war began in 2011, Awad said, describing his actions as “a generous initiative.”

The pieces, which had been on display at the Nabu Museum in northern Lebanon, were returning to “their original homeland,” the Syrian regime official added.

During the Syrian conflict, the site of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural centers in the ancient world, fell under the control of Daesh, which blew up some of its major monuments, including the Arch of Triumph.

Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, said talks were underway to arrange the return of other artifacts from the National Museum in Beirut to Syria.


Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists
Updated 5 min 40 sec ago

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists

Daesh attacks Syrian prison, frees extremists
  • A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh militants attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility
  • Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces blamed the attack on ‘Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces’

BEIRUT: Daesh attacked a Kurdish-run jail in northeast Syria on Thursday, freeing fellow militants, a war monitor reported without specifying how many escaped.

A car bomb hit the entrance of Ghwayran prison and a second blast went off in the vicinity before Daesh extremists attacked Kurdish security forces manning the facility, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“A number of prisoners managed to escape,” said the Observatory which relies on a network of sources inside Syria. It did not specify how they managed to break out.

Ghwayran is one of the largest facilities housing Daesh fighters in northeast Syria, Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces confirmed the rare attack in a statement but did not mention any prisoners fleeing.

“A new insurgence and attempted escape by Daesh terrorists detained in Ghwayran prison in Al-Hasaka in conjunction with an explosion of a car bomb,” it said.

It blamed the attack on “Daesh sleeper cells, who infiltrated from the surrounding neighborhoods and clashed with the internal Security Forces.”

The Observatory said the SDF has dispatched reinforcements to the prison and cordoned off the area.

Aircraft belonging to the US-led international coalition battling Daesh hovered over the facility and dropped flares in its vicinity, the monitor added.

The coalition was not immediately available for comment.

Daesh’s self-declared caliphate, established from 2014, once stretched across vast parts of Syria and Iraq and administered millions of inhabitants.

A long and deadly military fightback led by Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from the United States and other powers eventually defeated the extremist proto-state in March 2019.

The remnants of Daesh mostly went back to their desert hideouts from which they continue to harass Syrian government and allied forces.


Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah

Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah
Updated 19 min 38 sec ago

Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah

Coalition launches precision airstrikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah
  • The port of Hodeidah is being used to smuggle Iranian weapons to the Houthi militia: Coalition

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Thursday it is carrying out air strikes to destroy Houthi capabilities in Hodeidah.

The port of Hodeidah is being used to smuggle Iranian weapons to the militia and is a threat to the freedom of maritime navigation, the coalition said.hodeidah port

It added that the Houthis are taking advantage of the Stockholm Agreement as an umbrella for protection.

Pirates and organized criminals are also operating from Hodeidah’s ports and the coalition has targeted a criminal den in Hodeidah, it said.


Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut
Updated 51 min 30 sec ago

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut

Aoun reiterates support for reforms as Hariri returns to Beirut
  • Lebanese president confirms parliamentary elections will go ahead on time
  • Disgruntled customer surrenders after ‘stealing’ $50,000 from bank in armed raid

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday reiterated his determination to work in cooperation with parliament and the government as the country prepares to begin its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.

Speaking during the traditional annual meeting with members of the diplomatic corps, the president also confirmed that the parliamentary elections would take place on time.

Aoun expressed his support for the criminal audit of the central bank and other departments, institutions and councils. He also highlighted his keenness to achieve reforms and approve a financial and economic recovery plan in the coming weeks in preparation for the discussions with the IMF.

His remarks came as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Beirut from the UAE after a long absence. It was reported Hariri plans to reorganize the Future Movement party and resolve the issue of its participation in the upcoming elections.

Hariri also visited Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, and the tomb of his late father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in Beirut.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced his unwillingness to run again for the parliamentary seat.

He said he wanted to “make way for a serious change, by making way for new blood, young and clean thought, aspiring for pure national goals, respecting the demands of the rebellious people and seeking change.”

Free Patriotic Movement leader, MP Gebran Bassil, confirmed that his party “will run in the upcoming parliamentary elections in all regions.”

He also commented on his electoral alliance with Hezbollah in an interview with the Anadolu Agency.

“The feud is obvious and major with the party when it comes to internal matters, and if these issues are resolved, the question of electoral alliances will be determined on their basis,” Bassil said.

But he showed for the first time his backing for Hezbollah’s position on the role of the judicial investigator in the 2020 Beirut port explosion case.

Judge Tarek Bitar’s work was “discretionary,” he said, and rejected claims that the matter had been “politicized.”

Hezbollah has led the campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of bias after he pursued some of its political allies.

Hezbollah and Amal said this month they would end a boycott of Cabinet sessions, opening the way for ministers to meet after a three-month break.

In preparation for a Cabinet session on Monday, Finance Minister Youssef Khalil is expected to hand over the 2022 draft budget to the prime minister on Friday.

Meanwhile, the judiciary has begun an investigation after a Lebanese man was arrested for staging an armed robbery at a bank in his hometown of Jeb Jenin in the western Bekaa on Thursday.

Abdullah Al-Saii is reported to have held employees at gunpoint and thrown gasoline at them while threatening to burn the bank down unless he was given access to his savings that had been frozen.

A security source told Arab News that Al-Saii “emptied (cash) drawers at the Bank of Beirut and the Arab Countries branch and forced employees to open the main safe.”

He managed to withdraw $50,000 and was on his way home to give it to his wife when he surrendered to the security services. He gave himself up in the belief he would later be released as “he had regained his right and was not stealing.”

The Lebanese judiciary issued an arrest warrant for Al-Saii’s wife, who said she would go on hunger strike until her husband was released.

The security source said: “If Al-Saii is not held accountable for his actions, others will do what he did, and then chaos and the law of the jungle will prevail.”

The incident has led to a division between those who sympathize with Al-Saii and activists who demand accountability for the banking policies that led to the collapse of the Lebanese pound.

Some people expressed support for Al-Saii on social media, saying that “what was taken by force can only be recovered by force.”

Others described his actions as “heroic.”

One person wrote that “the state has turned its citizens into criminals and terrorists with its plan to seize depositors’ money.”

But the judiciary, banking and security authorities condemned Al-Saii’s act.

The Executive Council of the Federation of Banks’ Employees Syndicates asked: “Are we in a state of law or on a farm run by the powerful, authoritarians and outlaws?”

The incident would have led to a massacre if the BBAC management had not responded to the depositor’s request, it added.

Authorities imposed restrictions on bank transactions in 2019 and set a ceiling on withdrawals and transfers to accounts abroad.

Over the past two years, angry depositors have carried out dozens of protests in front of the central bank and private lenders in a bid to recover their money. The protests have led to ATMs and banks being vandalized — a closed branch in Beirut was burnt down — and staff being threatened. But Al-Saii is the first to make such a direct threat.

About $3.8 billion was withdrawn from banks between October and November 2019 following the protest movement that swept the country. By the end of that year, banks had frozen all withdrawals.