Over 500 Democratic figures press Biden to 'hold Israel accountable'

Over 500 Democratic figures press Biden to 'hold Israel accountable'
The signatories said they “commend (Biden’s) efforts to broker a ceasefire. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 May 2021

Over 500 Democratic figures press Biden to 'hold Israel accountable'

Over 500 Democratic figures press Biden to 'hold Israel accountable'
  • Letter: ‘We remain horrified by the images of Palestinian civilians in Gaza killed or made homeless by Israeli airstrikes’
  • Signatories, including Jewish, Arab Americans: ‘Critical to acknowledge power imbalance’ between Israel, Palestinians

LONDON: More than 500 Democratic Party staffers and veterans of US President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign have signed an open letter calling for his administration to commit to further action to hold Israel accountable for its actions in the Gaza Strip.

More than 230 Palestinians were killed and dozens of buildings leveled in Gaza during the recent conflict, while 12 Israelis died from rockets fired by Hamas. 

The call to Biden, which was signed by both Jewish and Arab Americans, has come amid a deepening split in his party between progressives and centrists, like the president, who have consistently backed Israel in major disputes and conflicts. US public opinion has also steadily become more critical of Israel.

The signatories said they “commend (Biden’s) efforts to broker a ceasefire. Yet, we also cannot unsee the horrific violence that unfolded in recent weeks in Israel/Palestine, and we implore you to continue using the power of your office to hold Israel accountable for its actions and lay the groundwork for justice and lasting peace.”

The letter added: “The very same values that motivated us to work countless hours to elect you demand that we speak out … We remain horrified by the images of Palestinian civilians in Gaza killed or made homeless by Israeli airstrikes.”

The signatories said violence from both sides was unacceptable, but Israel should receive more blame due to its greater military power, its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and its blockade of Gaza.

“While Israelis had to spend nights hiding in bomb shelters, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had nowhere to hide,” the letter said.

“It is critical to acknowledge this power imbalance — that Israel’s highly-advanced military occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem and blockades the Gaza Strip, creating an uninhabitable open-air prison.”

The letter said the Biden administration must “investigate whether Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza violates the Leahy Law, prohibiting US military aid from funding foreign military units implicated in the commission of gross violations of human rights.”


Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya

Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya
Updated 22 min 46 sec ago

Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya

Egypt, Italy demand quick exit of mercenaries from Libya
  • Egypt and Italy say mercenary groups and foreign forces should leave Libya without delay
  • Egypt, Italy welcome opening of the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata

CAIRO: Egypt and Italy have demanded that foreign forces and mercenaries leave Libya without delay, and welcomed the opening of the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata.

This came during a phone call between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio.

The two sides discussed several regional issues, especially the developments in Libya and Tunisia.

A statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Di Maio briefed Shoukry on the overall results of his recent visit to Libya and his meetings with various parties there.

It added that Shoukry stressed the importance of fulfilling the roadmap approved by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum and UN Security Council Resolution 2570, regarding holding presidential and parliamentary elections on their scheduled date in December, with the need for all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave Libya immediately.

He also welcomed the step taken to open the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata.

Regarding Tunis, Shoukry stressed the importance of supporting stability and the legitimate aspirations of the people there, adding that Egypt stood in solidarity with all measures taken by President Qais Saeed to preserve the integrity of state institutions and overcome the delicate situation in the country.


Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons

Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons
Updated 42 min 33 sec ago

Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons

Areas of Iraqi province lose power after attack on pylons
  • "Terrorist elements" using "explosive devices" carried out attacks on 13 pylons over the past 48 hours, said the electricity ministry
  • Provincial authorities distributed photos showing the damaged pylons

SAMARRA, Iraq: Iraq’s northern Salaheddin province was left partially without power after “terrorists” blew several pylons, the government said Thursday, as increasing attacks add to the strain on Iraq’s electricity network.
“Terrorist elements” using “explosive devices” carried out attacks on 13 pylons over the past 48 hours, the electricity ministry said in a statement.
Provincial authorities distributed photos showing the damaged pylons.
Several districts in Salaheddin have since been without power, including some neighborhoods in Samarra, one of the province’s largest cities, an AFP correspondent said.
Unclaimed attacks on Iraq’s electricity network have been increasing since the start of summer.
Authorities normally accuse “terrorists” of being behind the attacks, without identifying a particular group.
Oil-rich Iraq produces just 16,000 megawatts of power — far below the 24,000 megawatts needed, and even further from the expected future needs of a country whose population is set to double by 2050, according to the UN.
The country buys gas and electricity from neighboring Iran to supply about a third of its power sector, which has been worn down by years of conflict and poor maintenance, and is unable to meet the needs of the country’s 40 million population.
Last month, areas in the country’s south were plunged into darkness for several days after a series of similar attacks.
Around the same time, Iran briefly suspended its gas and electricity exports because of Iraq’s failure to pay a $6 billion energy debt.
The US blacklisted Iran’s energy industry in late 2018 as it ramped up sanctions, but has granted Baghdad a series of temporary waivers, hoping that Iraq would wean itself off Iranian energy.
The failure of Iraq’s power system is particularly acute in the baking hot summer months, often a time of social protest exacerbated by electricity shortages, when temperatures shoot past 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).
Energy consultant Harry Istepanian said factors contributing to Iraq’s energy crisis included not only the Iranian export suspension but also a “lack of enough generation capacity and fuel supply, lack of maintenance of the existing generation units, high demand... high technical and commercial losses, vandalism and sabotage.”


Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government

Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government
Updated 49 min 10 sec ago

Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government

Lebanon's Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government

Lebanon's OPM designate Mikati says slow progress achieved toward forming government after meeting president.


Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz threatens Iran with military action

The comments by Benny Gantz (pictured) come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. (Reuters/File Photo)
The comments by Benny Gantz (pictured) come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 38 min 28 sec ago

Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz threatens Iran with military action

The comments by Benny Gantz (pictured) come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Gantz responded to whether Israel was prepared to attack Iran with a blunt “yes”

TEL AVIV: Israel’s defense minister warned Thursday that his country is prepared to strike Iran, issuing the threat against the Islamic Republic after a fatal drone strike on a oil tanker at sea that his nation blamed on Tehran.
The comments by Benny Gantz come as Israel meanwhile lobbies countries for action at the United Nations over last week’s attack on the oil tanker Mercer Street that killed two people. The tanker, struck off Oman in the Arabian Sea, is managed by a firm owned by an Israeli billionaire.
The US and the United Kingdom similarly blamed Iran for the attack, but no country has offered evidence or intelligence to support their claims. Iran, which along with its regional militia allies has launched similar drone attacks, has denied being involved.
Speaking to the news website Ynet, Gantz responded to whether Israel was prepared to attack Iran with a blunt “yes.”
“We are at a point where we need to take military action against Iran,” Gantz said. “The world needs to take action against Iran now.”
Iran did not immediately respond to Gantz’s comments. However, in a letter Wednesday to the UN Security Council, its chargé d’affaires in New York described Israel as “the main source of instability and insecurity in the Middle East and beyond for more than seven decades.”
“This regime has a long dark record in attacking commercial navigation and civilian ships,” Zahra Ershadi wrote. “In less than two years, this regime has attacked over 10 commercial vessels carrying oil and humanitarian goods destined to Syria.”
Ershadi’s comments refer to an ongoing shadow war being waged on Mideast waterways since 2019 that has seen both Iranian and Western-linked ships attacked.
Last week’s attack killed the vessel’s Romanian captain as well as a British crew member who worked for Ambrey, a maritime security firm. In a statement Thursday, Ambrey identified the victim as Adrian Underwood, a former soldier in the British Army who started at the firm as a maritime security officer in 2020 before becoming a team leader.
“We continue to be in contact with Adrian’s family to offer support at this sad and difficult time,” said John Thompson, Ambrey’s management director.
The attacks began a year after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. President Joe Biden has said he’s willing to rejoin the accord, but talks over salvaging the deal have stalled in Vienna.


Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration

Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration
Updated 05 August 2021

Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration

Fears grow for Iranian dual-national prisoners ahead of Raisi inauguration
  • Iranian news outlets quote official as saying Tehran has “no incentive” for prisoner exchanges
  • UK govt spokesman: “Iran’s continued arbitrary detention of our dual nationals is unacceptable”

LONDON: Iranian media reports that Tehran has cooled interest in prisoner swaps with Western nations has thrown into doubt the release of British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and future relations between the two countries.

The Nour news website quoted a senior Iranian official on Tuesday as saying Tehran had “no incentive” to proceed with proposed prisoner transfers with the US, and a plan with the UK to exchange Zaghari-Ratcliffe for £400 million ($557 million) owed as part of a failed arms deal in 1979 had stalled after London also sought the release of environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who holds both UK and US citizenship, as part of the negotiations. 

The shift in policy is thought to stem from the impending inauguration of new hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, which is set to take place on Thursday. 

He is accused by a multitude of international bodies of serious human rights violations — including murder, enforced disappearance and torture — during his tenure as head of Iran’s judiciary.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Imam Khomeini International Airport in 2016 on charges of espionage, and imprisoned for “plotting to topple the Iranian government.”

She has repeatedly been denied representation from the UK in her dealings with the Iranian court system, and was sentenced to a further year in prison in April on propaganda charges. She has always denied all allegations made against her.

On Wednesday, an Iranian court sentenced another British-Iranian, Mehran Raouf, to over 10 years in prison on charges of undermining the regime, alongside German-Iranian Nahid Taghavi.

Iran has been accused of engaging in “hostage diplomacy” to achieve various political ends. A UK government spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: “Iran’s continued arbitrary detention of our dual nationals is unacceptable. We urge the Iranian authorities to release the detainees without any further delay.”