Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
Police officers stand outside a hotel, where a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission or Iran nuclear deal will be held, in Vienna, Austria, April 15, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack

Iran nuclear talks restart amid strains over enrichment move, Natanz attack
  • Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity
  • Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored

VIENNA: Iran and global powers resumed talks on Thursday to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment and what it called Israeli sabotage at a nuclear site.
Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade material, in response to an explosion at its key Natanz facility on Sunday.
Calling the move “provocative,” the United States and the European parties to the deal warned that Tehran’s enrichment move was contrary to efforts to revive the accord abandoned by Washington three years ago.
Tehran’s refusal to hold direct talks with its old adversary the United States forced European intermediaries to shuttle between separate hotels in Vienna last week when Iran and the other signatories held what they described as a first round of “constructive” talks to salvage the pact.
“Don’t worry about Iran. We have always remained committed to our obligations,” Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“Even today, if we wish, we can enrich uranium at 90% purity. But we are not seeking a nuclear bomb ... If others return to full compliance with the deal ... we will stop 60% and 20% enrichment.”
The 2015 deal was designed to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb in return for lifting sanctions.
Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored and made efforts to achieve a breakthrough before the June 18 Iranian presidential election harder.
“The seriousness of Iran’s latest decisions has hurt this process and raised tensions,” said the senior Western diplomat.
“We will have to see how in the coming days we address these violations with the will to press ahead in the talks.”
The deal’s remaining parties — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have agreed to form two expert-level groups whose job is to marry lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet.
A delegate at the talks said events in Natanz should not distract, and that this round needed to focus on what the Americans were actually prepared to do.
“They still have not said what they mean,” the delegate said. “We need the Americans to say which sanctions they are prepared to lift.”
Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first, warning that it may stop negotiations if the measures are not lifted. Washington wants Iran to reverse the breaches of the deal that it made in retaliation for tough sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump.
“We will underline that Tehran does not want to hold corrosive negotiations. Our aim is not just talks for talks. In case of having a constructive outcome, we will continue the negotiations. Otherwise the talks will stop,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state TV.
Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognize, opposes the deal, an accord that Iran and US President Joe Biden are trying to revive after Trump quit it in 2018 and reinstated sanctions. Israel has not formally commented on Sunday’s Natanz incident.


Medics: Israeli airstrikes kill 26 in downtown Gaza City

Medics: Israeli airstrikes kill 26 in downtown Gaza City
Updated 30 sec ago

Medics: Israeli airstrikes kill 26 in downtown Gaza City

Medics: Israeli airstrikes kill 26 in downtown Gaza City
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 26 people Sunday, medics said, making it the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting broke out between Israel and the territory’s militant Hamas rulers nearly a week ago.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 10 women and eight children were among those killed, with another 50 people wounded in the attack. Rescuers raced to pull survivors and bodies from the rubble.
Earlier, the Israeli military said it destroyed the home of Gaza’s top Hamas leader in a separate strike in the southern town of Khan Younis. It was the third such attack in the last two days on the homes of senior Hamas leaders.
Israel appears to have stepped up strikes in recent days to inflict as much damage as possible on Hamas as international mediators try to broker a cease-fire. But targeting senior Hamas leaders could hinder those efforts. A US diplomat is in the region to try to de-escalate tensions, and the UN Security Council is set to meet Sunday.
The military said it struck the homes of Yehiyeh Sinwar, the most senior Hamas leader inside the territory, and his brother Muhammad, another senior Hamas member. On Saturday it destroyed the home of Khalil Al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas’ political branch.
Hamas’ upper echelon has gone into hiding in Gaza, and it is unlikely any were at home at the time of the strikes. Hamas’ top leader, Ismail Haniyeh, divides his time between Turkey and Qatar, both of which provide political support to the group.
Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group have acknowledged 20 fighters killed since the fighting broke out Monday. Israel says the real number is far higher and has released the names and photos of two dozen alleged operatives it says were “eliminated.”
An Egyptian diplomat said Israel’s targeting of Hamas political leaders would complicate cease-fire efforts. The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door negotiations, said Cairo is working to broker an end to the fighting. A US diplomat has also been dispatched to the region and the UN Security Council is set to meet Sunday.
The Egyptian diplomat said the destruction of Hamas’ rocket capabilities would require a ground invasion that would “inflame the whole region.” Egypt, which made peace with Israel decades ago, has threatened to “suspend” cooperation in various fields, the official said, without elaborating.
The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem earlier this month, when Palestinians protested attempts by settlers to forcibly evict a number of Palestinian families from their homes and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a frequent flashpoint located on a mount in the Old City revered by Muslims and Jews.
Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.
The turmoil has also spilled over elsewhere, fueling protests in the occupied West Bank and stoking violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.
At least 174 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 47 children and 29 women, with more than 1,200 wounded. Eight Israelis have been killed, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.
Hamas and other militant groups have fired some 2,900 rockets into Israel. The military said 450 of the rockets had fallen short or misfired, while Israeli air defenses intercepted 1,150.
The interception rate appeared to have significantly dropped since the start of the conflict, when Israel said 90 percent were intercepted. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel has meanwhile carried out hundreds of airstrikes across the impoverished and blockaded territory, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, and brought down a number of high-rise buildings, including one that housed The Associated Press’ Gaza office.
Rescuers raced to pull survivors from the rubble after the strikes on Gaza City early Sunday. Among those killed was Dr. Ayman Abu Auf, a doctor at the nearby Shifa hospital, the Health Ministry said.
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on the strikes.
Since the conflict began, Israel has leveled a number of Gaza City’s tallest office and residential buildings, alleging they house Hamas military infrastructure. On Saturday, it turned to the 12-story Al-Jalaa Building, where the offices of the AP, the TV network Al-Jazeera and other media outlets are located, along with several floors of apartments.
“The campaign will continue as long as it is required,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech Saturday. He alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building.
Israel routinely cites a Hamas presence as a reason for targeting certain locations in airstrikes, including residential buildings. The military also has accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields, but provided no evidence to back up the claims.
The AP has operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas. During those conflicts as well as the current one, the news agency’s cameras from its top floor office and roof terrace offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.
“We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”
In the afternoon, the military called the building’s owner and warned a strike would come within an hour. AP staffers and other occupants evacuated safely. Soon after, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it, bringing it crashing down in a giant cloud of dust.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt said. “We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza.”
He said the AP was seeking information from the Israeli government and was engaged with the US State Department to learn more.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken later spoke by phone with Pruitt, offering his support for independent journalists and media organizations, and the White House said it had communicated directly with Israel to urge safety for journalists.
The Biden administration has affirmed its support for Israel while working to de-escalate the crisis. US diplomat Hady Amr has been dispatched to the region as part of efforts to broker a truce.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister accuses Israel of flagrant violations against the Palestinians
  • ‘We condemn Israeli takeover of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem’
  • Pope Francis calls for an end to the conflict in Israel and Gaza

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan has accused Israel of committing flagrant violations against the Palestinians.

“Israel is committing flagrant violations against the Palestinians. We condemn Israeli takeover of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem,” Prince Faisal said in his opening speech during the emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

“East Jerusalem is a Palestinian land that we do not accept harm to it,” he said.

Prince Faisal likewise called on the “international community to shoulder its responsibilities in front of Israel’s violations.”

 

WATCH THE ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC COOPERATION EMERGENCY MEETING:


“The international community must intervene urgently to put an end to Israeli practices,” Prince Faisal said.

The Saudi foreign minister condemned what he called the violation of the sanctity of Islamic holy sites and “forcible” eviction of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

He called on the international community to carry out its responsibility toward ending this “dangerous escalation,” to act urgently to halt military operations and to revive peace negotiations based on a two-state solution.

Israeli air strikes killed 26 Palestinians, including eight children, in Gaza early on Sunday, Gaza health officials said, and rockets were fired into Israel as hostilities stretched into a seventh day.

Pope Francis called on Sunday for an end to the conflict in Israel and Gaza, saying the deaths of so many innocent people in recent days, including children, was unacceptable.

“I appeal for calm, and for those responsible to end the clamor of weapons and to take the path of peace,” he said in a weekly address to faithful gathered in Saint Peter’s Square.

 

“Many innocent people have died, amongst them there are also children. This is terrible. Unacceptable. Their death is a sign that (people) don’t want to build a future, but destroy it ... I wonder where hatred and revenge will lead?”

 

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The pre-dawn attacks in the center of Gaza City brought the death toll in Gaza to 174, including 47 children, health officials said. Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet later on Sunday to discuss the worst outbreak of Israeli-Palestinian violence in years.

Palestine’s foreign affairs minister Riyad Al-Maliki, speaking during the meeting, said that Israel’s practices were an ‘attack on Arabs, Muslims and international norms.’

“Palestinian people are subjected to Israeli apartheid… and the brutal bombing caused the displacement of more than 10,000 citizens from their homes in Gaza” Al-Maliki said.

“We must impose economic and political sanctions on Israel.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu took a similarly hard line.

“Israel alone is responsible for the recent escalation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” Cavusoglu said. “Our warnings to Israel last week went unheeded.”

 

- with Reuters


Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip

Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip
Updated 16 May 2021

Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip

Israel strikes house of Hamas political chief in Gaza Strip
  • Yahya Sinwar is the Islamist movement’s de facto leader in the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israeli air strikes hit the home of Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political wing in the Gaza Strip, the army said Sunday, but without saying if he was killed.
“Among the targets struck are the residences of Yahya Sinwar, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau in Gaza, as well as of his brother, Muhammad Sinwar, Head of Logistics and Manpower for Hamas,” Israel’s army said in a statement, releasing a video showing plumes of smoke and intense damage.
“Both residences served as military infrastructure for the Hamas terror organization.”
Witnesses confirmed to AFP a strike had hit Sinwar’s house.
Sinwar, a former commander of Hamas’s military branch, served more than two decades in an Israeli jail before he was released in 2011 as a part of a prisoner exchange.
First elected as the head of Hamas’s political wing in Gaza in 2017, he was re-elected in March, extending his tenure as the Islamist movement’s de facto leader in the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.
Hamas overall chief Ismail Haniyeh is currently based in Qatar.
The army said it had also carried out strikes targeting Hamas tunnel systems.
As of 07:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) Sunday, Israel’s army said that Palestinian militants in Gaza had fired some 2,900 rockets toward Israel.
The army said 450 rockets fell short inside Gaza, while Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system has intercepted approximately 1,150 rockets.


Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution

Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution
Updated 16 May 2021

Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution

Philippines starts barring travelers from Oman, UAE as COVID-19 safety precaution
  • All existing travel restrictions of passengers coming from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka are extended until May 31

DUBAI: The Philippines has started barring the entry of travelers from Oman and the United Arab Emirates as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, particularly the COVID-19 variant from India.

“All existing travel restrictions of passengers coming from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka are extended until 2359H of May 31, 2021,” Philippine presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said in a statement.

“The Department of Transportation should ensure that airlines are directed not to allow the boarding of passengers who are prohibited from entering the country pursuant to travel restrictions imposed by the Office of the President and IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) resolutions except if they are part of the repatriation efforts of the national government,” Roque added.

The Philippines on Saturday reported 10 new COVID-19 cases of the so-called ‘double mutant’ variant first detected in India, bringing the total to 12. The India coronavirus variant carries two mutations, E484Q and L425R.

Experts say the E484Q mutation is similar to the E484K mutation or the ‘escape mutation’ which helps the virus gets past the body’s immune system, while L452R is found to be an efficient spreader of the coronavirus.

The first two reported cases were overseas Filipino workers who separately arrived from Oman and the UAE, which prompted Philippine authorities to consequently impose the travel ban until the end of the month.

Both Gulf countries host a huge community of Filipino expatriate workers, and the Philippine government has implemented measures to ensure those returning to the country follow stringent protocols to prevent the spread of coronavirus.


As Palestinians observe ‘Nakba’ worldwide, Israeli forces go on rampage in Gaza

People demonstrate in Los Angeles on May 15, 2021 in support of Palestinians under attack by Israeli occupation forces. (AFP / Patrick T. Fallon)
People demonstrate in Los Angeles on May 15, 2021 in support of Palestinians under attack by Israeli occupation forces. (AFP / Patrick T. Fallon)
Updated 16 May 2021

As Palestinians observe ‘Nakba’ worldwide, Israeli forces go on rampage in Gaza

People demonstrate in Los Angeles on May 15, 2021 in support of Palestinians under attack by Israeli occupation forces. (AFP / Patrick T. Fallon)
  • Saudi foreign minister calls for ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza
  • Protesters march in major North American, European cities in support of the Palestinian cause

GAZA CITY/LONDON/NEW YORK: Palestinians on Saturday marked the anniversary of the Nakba, the “catastrophe” when more than 700,000 were driven from their homes to establish the state of Israel in 1948.

Israel observed the day by killing two women and eight children from one family in an airstrike on a refugee camp.

Three heavy missiles also destroyed the 12-story Al-Jala’a Tower in Gaza City, which housed the offices of media outlets including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera, and bombed the home of Khalil Al-Hayeh, a senior Hamas leader.

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have killed at least 139 people, including 39 children and 22 women.

 

 

Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel and killed eight people, the latest on Saturday when a man died in a rocket strike on the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

There was outrage over the attack on the AP building, which also contained residential apartments. The Israeli military said Hamas was operating inside the building, but offered no evidence.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP chief executive Gary Pruitt said. “We are shocked and horrified.”

Earlier, an Israeli air raid on the densely populated Shati refugee camp west of Gaza City killed 10 Palestinians from one family, Israel’s deadliest single strike of the conflict.

Palestinians burn an Israeli flag in the occupied-West Bank town of Bethlehem on May 15,2021, as they commemorate the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948. (AFP / HAZEM BADER)

Missiles targeted the three-story home of Alaa Abu Hatab, 35, killing his wife, four of his five children, his sister, and four of her five children. A five-month-old baby survived, along with Abu Hatab’s daughter, who is in intensive care.

Abu Hatab’s brother-in-law Muhammad Al-Hadidi wept as he told Arab News how his children had insisted on spending the night at their uncle’s house to play with their cousins.

“I heard the sound of the bombing, but I did not know it was the building my wife and children were in. I received a call to tell me Abu Hatab’s house was targeted. I went quickly, to find all my children with my wife, under the rubble.”

Opinion

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As Israeli airstrikes continued, Heba Al-Attar, 45, told Arab News: “The feeling I have is, when will I be killed? When will our house be destroyed? How will my three children live without me if they survive? I feel scared every day, I can’t sleep at night.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called on Saturday for an immediate ceasefire. They urged “the international community to confront the aggressive Israeli practices against the brotherly Palestinian people.”

Tens of thousands march

As Israeli forces stepped up the bombardment of Gaza, tens of thousands of protesters marched in major European cities including London, Berlin, Madrid and Paris in support of the Palestinian cause.

In London, several thousand protesters carrying placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanting “Free Palestine” converged on Marble Arch, near the British capital’s Hyde Park, to march toward the Israeli embassy.

 

 

Packed crowds stretched all along Kensington High Street where the embassy is located.

“This time is different,” Palestinian Ambassador Husam Zomlot told the demonstrators.

“This time we will not be denied any more. We are united. We have had enough of oppression.”

Simon Makepace, a 61-year-old accountant told AFP he had joined the protests because “the whole world should be doing something about it, including this country.”


Click here to read our previous stories about the Nakba 



'Palestine will be free'

In cities across North America, tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators also called for an end to Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

The protests were held on the anniversary of Nakba Day, or “catastrophe,” that saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced during Israel’s creation in 1947-1948.

Gatherings to show solidarity with Palestinians on the anniversary of Nakba Day, took place in cities including New York, Boston, Washington, Montreal and Dearborn, Michigan.

Several Jewish people attended, carrying placards that said “Not in my name” and “Solidarity with Palestine” as the protesters took over a street in the area which has a large Arab population.

Protesters and activists gather near the Washington Monument in the US capital to voice their anger at Israeli military action in Gaza that has left many civilians dead. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP)

“I’m here because I want a Palestinian life to equal an Israeli life and today it doesn’t,” said 35-year-old Emraan Khan, a corporate strategist from Manhattan, as he waved a Palestinian flag.

“When you have a nuclear-armed state and another state of villagers with rocks it is clear who is to blame,” he added.

Alison Zambrano, a 20-year-old student, traveled from neighboring Connecticut for the demo.

“Palestinians have the right to live freely and children in Gaza should not be being killed,” she told AFP.

Mashhour Ahmad, a 73-year-old Palestinian who has lived in New York for 50 years, said “don’t blame the victim for the aggression.”

 

 

“I’m telling Mr. Biden and his cabinet to stop supporting the killing. Support the victims, stop the oppression.

“The violence committed by the Israeli army recently is genocide,” he added, raising a poster above his head that said “Free Palestine, End the occupation.”

President Joe Biden spoke separately Saturday with his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, expressing his “grave concern” over six days of violence that has left scores dead or wounded.

He expressed Washington’s “strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the White House said.

People in Montreal attend a demonstration on May 15, 2021, to denounce Israel's military actions in the Palestinian territories. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

Throngs of people gathered in Copley Square in Boston, while a few hundred rallied on the Washington Monument grounds in the US capital.

Several thousand demonstrated in Montreal, Canada, calling for “the liberation of Palestine.”

Protesters also denounced “war crimes” committed by Israel in Gaza and carried placards accusing Israel of violating international law during the protest in the center of the Canadian city.

(With AFP)

Decoder

What is the Nakba?

The Nakba, or "catastrophe", is commemorated by Arabs worldwide as the day more than 710,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their villages and cities by rampaging Israeli Zionist forces in 1948. Palestinian society has never been the same since, with many still living until today in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza.