Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave

Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave
A COVID-19 patient is treated at the Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 22 April 2021

Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave

Sanctions-battered Iran, weary of pandemic, faces worst wave
  • Iran is now reporting its highest-ever new coronavirus case numbers — more than 25,000 a day
  • At the massive Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, already reeling from the pandemic, workers laid cinder-block rows of new graves

TEHRAN: As Iran faces what looks like its worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic yet, Tehran commuters still pour into its subway system and buses each working day, even as images of the gasping ill are repeatedly shown on state television every night.
After facing criticism for downplaying the virus last year, Iranian authorities have put partial lockdowns and other measures back in place to try and slow the virus’ spread.
But in this nation of 84 million people, which faces crushing US sanctions, many struggle to earn enough to feed their families. Economic pressure, coupled with the growing uncertainty over when vaccines will be widely available in the Islamic Republic, have many simply giving up on social distancing, considering it an unaffordable luxury. That has public health officials worried the worst of the pandemic still may be yet to come.
“I cannot stop working,” said Mostafa Shahni, a worried 34-year-old construction worker in Tehran. “If I do, I can’t bring home bread for my wife and two kids.”
Iran is now reporting its highest-ever new coronavirus case numbers — more than 25,000 a day. Its daily death toll has surged to around 400, still below the grim record of 486 it reached in November.
During the peak of Iran’s last surge, around 20,000 coronavirus patients were hospitalized across the country. Today, that figure has topped 40,000. The health ministry warns the number will climb to 60,000 in the coming weeks. Iran remains among the hardest-hit countries in the world and the worst-hit in the Middle East.
Across Tehran, Associated Press journalists have seen signs of the pandemic’s toll.
At Tehran’s Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital, orderlies pushed the bodies of two victims of the coronavirus across a parking lot to its morgue, one wrapped in white, the other in a black body bag. All of its wards on five floors of the hospital are reserved for coronavirus patients. One empty gurney held a bouquet of roses left for a recently deceased man. A heart-shaped balloon hovered over a still respirator.
At the massive Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, already reeling from the pandemic, workers laid cinder-block rows of new graves. Mourners in black wept at a stream of funerals. Officials plan to open a new morgue at the site to handle the wave of death, much wrought by what Iranians simply call “corona.”
Saeed Khal, the director of Tehran’s main cemetery, said workers buried 350 bodies there on Tuesday alone — at least 150 had died of coronavirus. The cemetery had never processed that many burials in a single day, not even during Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s that saw 1 million people killed.
It was “one of the hardest and saddest days for my colleagues in the half-century-history of the cemetery,” Khal told state TV.
So much is the influx that some burials are being delayed by a day, unusual for Iran which follows the Islamic practice of immediately burying the dead.
Outside the gates of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Hospital complex, where the capital’s poor can receive free treatment at its 1,300 beds, scores crowded around one recent day as guards turned away routine cases and allowed in only test-confirmed coronavirus cases.
“They say the wards are full of corona patients,” said Manijeh Taheri, who sought a regular thyroid treatment for her mother at the hospital. “I have no idea where to take her when such a huge complex has no place for my mother.”
Field hospitals are being prepared in Tehran and other major cities. State TV has shown images at hospitals outside the capital with patients being treated in hallways.
“We are not going out of the red zone any time soon,” Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi told state media.
President Hassan Rouhani blames the current surge on the fast-spreading variant of the virus first found in Britain, which the government says arrived from neighboring Iraq. Travel between the countries has been restricted since March, though people and commerce continue to cross each day. Overall, Iran has seen 2.2 million reported cases and 67,000 deaths in total.
Lawmaker Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi blamed government mismanagement and continued US sanctions for the virus’ spread.
“Sanctions, challenges and wrong decisions will continue. We do not have sufficient vaccines so protect yourself and your relatives through personal health measures,” he wrote on Twitter.
As of now, Iran has administered over 500,000 vaccine doses, according to the WHO. Supplies, however, remain limited. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned US and British-made coronavirus vaccines, saying their import is “forbidden” because he does not trust those nations. Khamenei has approved the import of vaccines from “safe” countries, such as China and Russia, and has backed national efforts to produce a homegrown vaccine with help from Cuba.
But officials keep changing when they say the wider public will be vaccinated as it remains unclear when Tehran will have a promised 60 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Amir Afkhami, an associate professor at George Washington University, said that over the past year, Iran’s leadership could point to superpowers like the US struggling to contain the virus. With vaccines rolled out in the West and economies reopening, this could become much more difficult to do, he said.
“Ultimately Iran is not self-sufficient when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine development, and it doesn’t have the (intensive care unit) beds to absorb the patients it needs to so it really needs external help,” Afkhami said.
Authorities across Iran have closed mosques, restaurants and parks during Ramadan, the Islamic holy fasting month being observed by Muslims around the world. An evening curfew for private cars is in place and travel between cities is banned. Parliament has been suspended for two weeks.
But the wider fatigue from the virus has seen people ignore warnings and host fast-breaking meals known as iftars indoors. Already, authorities blamed celebrations around the Iranian New Year known as Nowruz in March for contributing to this wave.
Masoud Mardani, an infectious disease specialist on Iran’s COVID-19 national task force, has demanded a public curfew. But none so far has come.


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.


French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’

French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’
Updated 07 May 2021

French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’

French FM says Lebanon needs saving from ‘collective suicide’
BEIRUT: France’s top diplomat wielded the threat of more sanctions in Beirut Friday to prevent what he described as a “collective suicide” organized by members of Lebanon’s ruling political class.
Lebanon’s leaders had promised reform in the aftermath of a deadly explosion at Beirut port last year but, nine months on, they have yet to form a government.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, whose country has spearheaded international efforts to assist Lebanon’s moribund economy, said there was no sign of a breakthrough.
“It is indeed urgent to find a way out of the political deadlock,” he told reporters just before wrapping up a two-day visit to Beirut.
“To this day, my observation is that the political players have not lived up to their responsibilities and have still not seriously started working on the country’s recovery.”
Le Drian held talks on Thursday with President Michel Aoun, parliament speaker Nabih Berri and prime minister-designate Saad Hariri.
“If they do not act now in a responsible surge of effort, they will face the consequences of this failure,” he said.
Le Drian, who had last year already compared Lebanon to “the Titanic minus the orchestra,” accused those responsible for the deadlock of leading the country to its death.
“I am here precisely to prevent this kind of collective suicide organized by some,” he said.
France announced late last month it had started imposing entry restrictions on certain figures for their role in the political crisis and in corruption.
Le Drian refused to provide names but warned that the sanctions could be made tougher and extended to other politicians.
“It is up to the Lebanese officials to decide whether they want to break out of the deadlock hey have organized,” he said.
Le Drian’s official meetings on Thursday were not followed by joint press conferences. His appointment with Hariri was short and kept under wraps until the last minute.
The French minister also held a meeting with representatives of opposition parties which was welcomed by their leaders as a sign that the international community was increasingly open to political alternatives.

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa
Updated 07 May 2021

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa

Moroccan FM: Iran is working to destabilize North and West Africa

DUBAI: Iran is working through its proxies to destabilize North and West Africa, Al Arabiya reported on Friday citing the Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Iran threatens our territorial integrity and is training its militias to attack us, the Moroccan minister said, adding that Tehran was expanding its sphere of influence through Hezbollah.


More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons
Updated 07 May 2021

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons
  • Russia again defends Assad regime and condemns Western nations for Syria’s suspension from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
  • Security Council hears the organization’s investigators found evidence of a chlorine gas attack on town of Saraqib in February 2018

NEW YORK: A Syrian Air Force helicopter dropped a chlorine bomb on the opposition-held town of Saraqib, on Feb. 4, 2018, an investigation team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has concluded.

Investigators found “reasonable grounds to believe” at least one cylinder landed in the eastern part of the town, releasing a cloud of toxic gas that covered a large area and affected 12 people.

The incident was the focus on Thursday of a Security Council meeting to discuss the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and its failure to comply with a UN resolution ordering the destruction of all such weapons. It was the 89th time the council has gathered to discuss the issue of chemical weapons in Syria.

Members were briefed by Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN’s under-secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, on the implementation of Resolution 2118. It was unanimously adopted in September 2013 following a UN investigation that confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of people, including children, suffocating after breathing in the nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.

The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014, and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It banned the regime from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.

In October 2013, Syria submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration about its chemical-weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of its stockpiles. Since then, however, the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team has been trying to resolve outstanding issues with the regime’s declaration.

Nakamitsu told the council the declaration still cannot be considered accurate and complete because of “identified gaps, and inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved.”

A new issue has been added to the list of 19 existing issues that remain outstanding because the Syrian government has failed to respond to a UN order to disclose the types and quantities of chemical agents produced or weaponized at various sites.

The new issue concerns the discovery by OPCW of a “neat chemical warfare agent” in samples collected from a former chemical weapons production facility. The Syrian government had not declared the production of this chemical agent, and the explanations it gave for its detection were described by Nakamitsu as “not sufficient to explain the results from the sample analysis.”

She said the number and nature of the outstanding issues is “concerning,” and added: “The confidence of the international community in the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program depends upon these issues being finalized.”

Nakamitsu urged the council to “unite on this issue” but her plea fell on deaf ears.

The Russian representative came to the defense of the Assad regime and again attempted to discredit the OPCW by saying its report is “replete with technical errors and does not stand up to any criticism,” and describing it as a “forgery” in which “free thinkers” who refused to take part were “intimated.”

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative, also criticized Western countries for suspending the rights and privileges of Syria at the OPCW.

Last month, states that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) suspended Syria’s OPCW membership because of its non-compliance with the treaty. The decision bars Syria from voting at CWC conferences or serving on the OPCW until it fulfills certain obligations, including declaring the chemical weapons it possesses and related production facilities, and resolving all outstanding issues with its initial declaration.

Human Rights Watch had said: “Syria’s use of chemical weapons is the biggest implementation and compliance crisis parties have faced since (the CWC came) into force in 1997.

“While this move (the Syrian suspension) would be largely symbolic, it is essential to remind the world of the extent and severity of war crimes by Syrian government forces.”

Polyanskiy said the unprecedented suspension was “a violation of norms by Western colleagues (and) another blow has been dealt to the OPCW’s credibility.” He added that it is part of an anti-Syria campaign that seeks to make Damascus an outcast in the OPCW.

“Do (Western countries) really expect that they will continue to do business as usual with Damascus?” he asked.

The rest of the council welcomed the “historic decision” by the Conference of the States Parties.

Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, said it “sends a clear and collective message that the use of chemical weapons has consequences, and repeated failures by Syria to adhere to its obligations will not be tolerated.”

He added: “It is time for the Assad regime to adhere to its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Resolution 2118.”

Mills told his fellow council members that the findings of the investigation into the chlorine attack “should come as no surprise to those familiar with the abuses committed by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.”

Although the OPCW has attributed eight chemical weapons attacks to the regime, Mills said: “The United States assesses that the regime’s innumerable atrocities — some of which rise to the level of war crimes, crimes against humanity — include at least 50 chemical-weapons attacks since the conflict began.”

He accused the Assad regime of retaining sufficient supplies of chemicals that allow it to use sarin gas, to produce and deploy chlorine-based weapons, and to develop and produce other chemical weapons. The OPCW report, he said, is just the latest reminder of the regime’s flagrant disregard for the rule of law.

Mills also criticized Russia for holding an informal meeting last month to “impugn the OPCW and push a false narrative (of) a Western plot to attempt regime change in Damascus.”

“This Council and UN member states are not fooled by this Russian disinformation tactic,” he added, noting that the majority of council members refute the arguments by Russia and “its hand-selected presenters.”

Nicolas de Riviere, France’s permanent representative to the UN, who initiated the proposal to suspend Syria’s OPCW rights, said: “Let’s be clear, we are not pleased about having to suspend some rights and privileges of a state party. It is the flagrant and repeated violations of its international commitments that have left us with no choice.

“If Syria hopes to restore its rights and privileges, then it must comply with its international obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which it chose to adhere.”


UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
Updated 07 May 2021

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
  • UAE vaccine distribution rate is now at 110.28 doses per 100 people

DUBAI: UAE health officials confirmed 1,724 new coronavirus cases and three additional fatalities overnight even amid a continued nationwide vaccination campaign against the highly contagious disease.

The latest cases bring the total number of recorded infections in the UAE to 530,944 and the number of deaths to 1,604, the Ministry of Health and Prevention said in a report from state news agency WAM.

The ministry aims to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment, the report added.

Meanwhile, an additional 72,811 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered during the past 24 hours for a total of 10,907,264 doses thus far or a distribution rate of 110.28 doses per 100 people.