IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity
Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at its above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Saturday. (AP)
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Updated 17 April 2021

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

VIENNA: Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.

The move has complicated talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.

Iran had previously only reached 20% purity, and that was already a breach of the deal, which says Iran can only enrich to 3.67%.

Iran made the step up to 60% in response to an explosion that damaged equipment at the larger, underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Tehran has blamed Israel and named a man wanted in connection with the blast.

“The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%... at the (above-ground) Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters provided more details.

“According to Iran's declaration to the Agency, the enrichment level of the UF6 produced at PFEP was 55.3% U-235. The Agency took a sample of the produced UF6 for destructive analysis to independently verify the enrichment level declared by Iran. The results of this analysis will be reported by the Agency in due course,” the report said.


Palestinian worshippers, Israeli police clash in Jerusalem

Palestinian medics transport a protester who was injured during clashes with Israeli police at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinian medics transport a protester who was injured during clashes with Israeli police at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 9 sec ago

Palestinian worshippers, Israeli police clash in Jerusalem

Palestinian medics transport a protester who was injured during clashes with Israeli police at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, on May 7, 2021. (AFP)
  • 14 people were injured from metal pellets covered with rubber, said the Palestinian Red Crescent
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: Palestinian worshippers clashed with Israeli police on Friday evening at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City as weeks-long tensions between Israel and the Palestinians over Jerusalem soared again.
Fourteen people were injured in the violence, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service. It said most of the injuries were from metal pellets covered with rubber.
The clashes were the latest in a deadly day that saw Israeli forces shoot and kill two Palestinians after three men opened fire on an Israeli base in the occupied West Bank.
They erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa during the holy month of Ramadan.
Video footage from the scene shows worshippers throwing chairs, shoes and rocks toward the police and officers responding by opening fire. Israeli police also closed gates leading to Al-Aqsa inside the walled Old City.
Dozens of Palestinians in an east Jerusalem neighborhood are at risk of being evicted following a long legal battle with Israeli settlers, and Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli police in the city on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The unrest has drawn attention from across the region, with neighboring Jordan warning Israel against further “provocative” steps, and Iran seizing on the sensitivities around Jerusalem and encouraging the violence.
In the attack on Friday morning, Israeli police said three attackers fired on the base near the northern West Bank town of Jenin. The Border Police and an Israeli soldier returned fire, killing two of the men and wounding the third, who was evacuated to a hospital.
Some 70,000 worshippers attended the final Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans before dispersing peacefully.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more violence in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat Al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flashpoint site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel’s archenemy Iran was meanwhile marking its own Quds, or Jerusalem, Day on Friday. The national holiday typically features anti-Israel protests and fiery speeches by Iranian leaders predicting Israel’s demise.
“The downward and declining movement of the Zionist regime has begun and will not stop,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised address. He called for continuing armed “resistance” in the Palestinian territories and urged Muslim nations support it.
This year, Ramadan has coincided with an uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence focused on Jerusalem, where Palestinian protesters have repeatedly clashed with Israeli police over restrictions on outdoor gatherings at the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City.
On Thursday, Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a drive-by shooting earlier this week in the West Bank that killed an Israeli and wounded two others.
On Wednesday, Israeli troops shot and killed a 16-year-old Palestinian during a confrontation near the West Bank city of Nablus. The military said several Palestinians had thrown firebombs toward soldiers.
In recent days, protesters have scuffled with police and settlers over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem. Several Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have been embroiled in a long-running legal battle with Israeli settler groups trying to acquire property in the neighborhood north of the Old City.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.
The Palestinians view east Jerusalem — which includes major holy sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims — as their capital, and its fate is one of the most sensitive issues in the conflict.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Al-Aqsa, weighed in on Friday, saying “Israel’s continuation of its illegal practices and provocative steps” in the city is a “dangerous game.”
“Building and expanding settlements, confiscating lands, demolishing homes and deporting Palestinians from their homes are illegal practices that perpetuate the occupation and undermine the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace, which is a regional and international necessity,” Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi tweeted.
The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has egged on the violence, and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired rockets in support of the protesters.


Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 
Updated 07 May 2021

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 

Houthis to force virginity test on abducted Yemeni model, says Amnesty International 
  • Amnesty’s Lynn Maalouf: Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Entesar Al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing
  • Locals said the abduction was part of a moral crackdown on artists and actresses as well as spaces where there was mixing between women and men

AL-MUKALLA: A Yemeni model who was abducted by the Houthis is going to be subjected to a virginity test, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The rights group urged the militia to immediately halt its plans.

“Yemen’s Houthi de facto authorities must immediately halt all plans to subject Entesar Al-Hammadi to forced virginity testing,” Lynn Maalouf,  deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said. “She is being punished by the authorities for challenging the social norms of Yemen’s deeply patriarchal society which entrench discrimination against women.” 

The Houthis have banned media outlets in areas under their control and social media users from publishing or sharing information related to Al-Hammadi’s case.

They have also banned her lawyers from speaking to international news outlets.

“The Houthi de facto authorities have a deplorable track record of arbitrarily detaining people on baseless charges – to silence or punish critics, activists, journalists and members of religious minorities – as well as subjecting them to torture and other forms of ill-treatment,” Maalouf added.

Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal, the model’s lawyer, said a Houthi prosecutor had ordered the ban on media coverage and banned him or any other person from speaking to the media.

“This is against the law,” he told Arab News. “But there is no problem if this will lead to her release.”

The 20-year old model and actress and two other actresses were on their way to a movie shoot on Feb. 20 when armed rebels abducted them and imprisoned them in Sanaa.

Their abduction provoked condemnation and drew media attention, with rights activists demanding that the militia be designated a terrorist organization.

Irritated by media coverage of the case, the Houthis dismissed a prosecutor who had ordered the model’s release, put Al-Hammadi into solitary confinement and pressured Al-Kamal into dropping the case.

But he vowed to keep defending her and called for her release, even on bail, saying she was always crying and had threatened a hunger strike to force the Houthis into freeing her.

“I am her lawyer and will keep defending her until the last moment,” he added. He said that other local lawyers had agreed to join him in defending the model.

The Houthis have not presented clear charges against Al-Hammadi, but locals said the abduction was part of a moral crackdown on artists and actresses as well as spaces where there was mixing between women and men.

Meanwhile, fighting intensified in the provinces of Marib, Jouf, Hodeidah and Taiz, days after the UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths announced that peace efforts to end the war were crumbling.

In Hodeidah, government forces clashed with the Houthis in Hays and in contested areas inside the city of Hodeidah, local media said on Friday.

The Joint Forces, three major military units on the country’s west coast, said that 68 Houthis were killed and 176 were wounded.

A truce under the Stockholm Agreement, signed in late 2018, has largely failed to stop hostilities in Hodeidah. Local rights groups that document war casualties said that hundreds of civilians have been killed due to landmines and shelling.

In Marib, Yemen’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that troops had clashed with the Houthis in Mashjah and Al-Kasara as the rebels advanced toward Marib city.

State media showed dozens of military vehicles and fighters heading to the battlefield to push back the Houthis.

Thousands of combatants have been killed since early February, when the Houthis resumed an offensive to seize control of Marib.


Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq
Updated 07 May 2021

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq

Turkey reopens consulate in northern Iraq
  • Cooperation against Daesh will ‘likely need to be on terms dictated by Baghdad,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently announced plans to set up a military base in Iraq’s northern Dohuk region

ANKARA: Turkey has reopened its consulate in Mosul, in northern Iraq. The consulate has been closed for the past seven years, since Daesh seized control of the city.

At that time, Daesh held 49 consulate staff — including then-Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz — hostage for over three months.

Ankara has announced several times in recent years that it intended to reopen its consulate in Mosul, a city that was once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey recently appointed a new ambassador to Iraq as part of its efforts to boost its relations with its neighbor, and Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu recently announced plans to set up a military base in Iraq’s northern Dohuk region, in addition to a number of military outposts that Turkey has held in the Kurdistan Region since the mid-Nineties.

The aim of the new base is to restrict the movement of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Dohuk lies on a strategic route to the Qandil Mountains, where the militants’ hideouts are based.

On April 14, a missile hit a Turkish military base in Bashiqa, near Mosul, killing a Turkish soldier. On the same day, Erbil International Airport, which hosts US coalition forces, was hit by an explosives-laden drone.

In late April, the Turkish army launched a new offensive against PKK bases in northern Iraq, and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited a military base in the Kurdistan Region.

However, that operation and Akar’s visit — which took place “without coordination or prior approval from authorities” — sparked anger from Baghdad. The Iraqi government sent a formal letter of protest to Turkey’s ambassador on May 3.

Nicholas A. Heras, senior analyst at the Newlines Institute in Washington, said Turkish military operations in areas south of the Kurdistan Region are problematic because Baghdad is strongly opposed to a larger and more active Turkish military footprint in Iraq.
“Baghdad might be open to intelligence cooperation with Ankara for counter-Daesh operations in areas around Mosul, but that cooperation would likely need to be on terms dictated by Baghdad,” Heras told Arab News.

To what extent Turkey’s expanded military presence in northern Iraq will enable it to launch its long-rumored operation against the PKK in Sinjar is still a matter of concern, considering the geopolitical dynamics of the region.

For Heras, any Turkish move against Sinjar would be a non-starter for Baghdad because there is a large People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF) presence in that area.

“Many PMF groups are powerful in Baghdad and are resolutely opposed to any moves by Turkey to expand its military reach in Iraq,” he said.

The PMF, an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia umbrella group which employs local PKK militias in its cadres, is active in northern Iraq and has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks in recent times.

Ankara has repeatedly announced that it will not allow Sinjar to become a second Qandil — a stronghold for the PKK.

Turkey’s February 10 military operation against the PKK on Gare Mountain in Iraqi Kurdistan raised concerns that it was planning an operation in Sinjar, threatening the existence of Iran-backed groups in the area.

It is no secret that Iran strongly opposes Turkey’s military presence in Iraq and sees Turkey’s potential operation in Sinjar as opposing its own geopolitical interests.

Iran-backed militias are concerned by the growing rapprochement between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that controls the Sinjar area. Both parties have urged the PKK and Iran-backed militias to leave the region.

“The Iranians view Turkey, especially (Turkish President Reycep Tayyip) Erdogan, as a rival for influence in the Levant. There’s expanding Turkish influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria that the Iranians want to limit,” Heras said. “Whenever and wherever possible, the Iranians will try to position local forces, such as those in Sinjar, to box Ankara out of more influence in the Levant.”


Houthis passed up major opportunity by refusing to meet UN envoy: State Department

The Houthis refused to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (R) in Muscat. (AFP/File Photos)
The Houthis refused to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (R) in Muscat. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 07 May 2021

Houthis passed up major opportunity by refusing to meet UN envoy: State Department

The Houthis refused to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths (R) in Muscat. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Department also charged the militia were worsening the humanitarian situation in Yemen

WASHINGTON: The US State Department said on Friday the Iran-backed Houthi group had passed up a “major opportunity” to demonstrate a commitment to peace by refusing to meet with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in Muscat.

In a statement, the department also charged that the militia were worsening the humanitarian situation in Yemen by continuing to attack Marib.

“Contradictory to their pronouncements regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Houthis worsen it by continuing to attack Marib and exacerbating dire conditions for already vulnerable, internally displaced Yemenis,” Friday’s statement read.

“There is a fair deal on the table that will bring immediate relief to Yemeni people. The Houthis passed up a major opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to peace and to make progress on this proposal by refusing to meet with UN Special Envoy Griffiths in Muscat—especially given the Republic of Yemen Government’s stated readiness to reach an agreement to end the conflict,” it added.

Lenderking recently met with officials from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and permanent members of the UN Security Council in the region to discuss the crisis.

Griffiths also said earlier this week that “we are not where we would like to be in reaching a deal.”

* With Reuters

 


German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
Updated 07 May 2021

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
  • The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers
  • Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer”

DUBAI: An intelligence report from Germany revealed on Friday details of how the Islamic Republic uses proliferation techniques to smuggle illicit technology for deadly weapons.
“Proliferation-relevant countries such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, but also Pakistan, try to circumvent safety precautions and legal export regulations and to disguise illegal procurement activities. To do this, they turn to mostly conspiratorial means and methods,” wrote the intelligence agency in northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein,” the report explains.
“Proliferation is still one of the central tasks of counter-espionage in Schleswig-Holstein,” the report adds.
According to the agency, proliferation is the “spread of weapons of mass destruction (ABC weapons) and the necessary know-how, as well as the products used for their manufacture and associated carrier technologies.”
ABC commonly refers to atomic, biological and chemical weapons.
The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers and establishes “illegal procurement networks which belong to the front companies and middlemen.”
Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer” and “the use and misuse of inexperienced freight deliverers and transporters,” the report added.
Iran also breaks down the deliveries of illegal deliveries into several “individual non-suspicious deliveries to avoid exposing the entire business.” 
The report also said that Iran “conceals the end user” and the “individual, company or institution with which the goods ultimately remain.”
The report cited Iran 19 times in the 218-page report, covering security threats to the state’s democracy.
It also said that states such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria and Russia strive to acquire dual-use goods, items which have both civil and military use.
“Proliferation is a serious threat to security in many regions of the world, including the Federal Republic of Germany and thus for the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The Federal Republic of Germany is one of the most important export nations in the world. The export of military as well as civilian goods are subject therefore to special control,” the report added.