Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election

Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election
Iran approved seven hopefuls to run in next month's presidential poll, with judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi among the mainly ultraconservative candidates. (AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2021

Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election

Close ally of supreme leader is favorite to win Iran election
  • Better known moderates have all been excluded from running in the June 18 vote
  • The danger of a low turnout at the polls could prove highly embarrassing for Khamenei

ATLANTA: The approaching Iranian presidential election on June 18 has been “fixed” in favor of an unpopular candidate whose support from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made him the front runner, according to commentators.

On Tuesday, Iran’s the Council of Guardians, the 12-member council of senior religious clerics vetting presidential candidates, disqualified the majority of candidates who were reformists or moderates, leaving judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and several little known candidates in the running.

The Council of Guardians also approved secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezaei; former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili; deputy parliament speaker Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi; former vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh; central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati; and lawmaker Alireza Zakani.

Iran experts say that Raisi was implicated in the killing of several thousands of Iranian activists and political prisoners in 1988, a stigma that still haunts him. Nevertheless his chances of winning the election remain high.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an opposition group based in Europe, said in an online briefing on Wednesday that Raisi will most likely win the presidency because he is favored by the Supreme leader. The group called the upcoming elections a “sham.”

Mohammad Mohaddessin, the NCRI foreign policy chief, said: “Khamenei specified the criteria for his favorite president, which fit Raisi perfectly. He has dispensed with the ‘moderate-hardliner’ theatrics to secure the presidency for his preferred candidate. In short, this time around, the election is a one-man show.”

Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C., told the Arab News that the upcoming presidential election is a “joke.”

Top L to R: Iranian presidential candidate Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, Irannian former chief of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai, former Iranian vice president Mohsen Mehralizadeh, the head of Iran's Central Bank Abdolnasser Hemmati , conservative presidential candidate, Alireza Zakani, former top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the national flag of the Islamic republic.(AFP)

She said that because no one of note was allowed to stand in the elections other than Raisi, he seems to be almost guaranteed to win.

“Unless the Supreme Leader changes his mind and allows other credible candidates to run for the election, the turnout will be very low and it will be embarrassing for the government,” she said.

Slavin said that Raisi stands to win the elections because he is very close to Khamenei, who is looking to cement his legacy and may be grooming Raisi as his successor as the Supreme Leader.

The winner of the presidential election will have to handle negotiations with the US and other European countries to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, which the US withdrew under President Donald Trump.

Trump also imposed a strict economic sanctions against Iran that created severe financial and economic difficulties for the Islamic Republic.

Negotiations between Iran and the US and European countries are unlikely to bring immediate relief to the Iranian economy in time for Raisi’s presidency unless the US and Iran reach an interim agreement to either to revive the old JCPOA or initiate a framework for a new agreement.

However, it remains unclear how a Raisi government will conduct nuclear negotiations with the US and its allies, given its hardline credentials.


For Iraqis back from Syria, life on hold in ‘rehabilitation’ camp

Women sew at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)
Women sew at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 23 May 2022

For Iraqis back from Syria, life on hold in ‘rehabilitation’ camp

Women sew at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)
  • Around 30,000 Iraqis, including 20,000 children, remain stranded at Al-Hol, according to Iraq’s ministry of immigration

JADAA CAMP, Iraq: Awatef Massud is longing to reunite with her Iraqi family after years spent in Syria, but first she must do time in a vetting camp to ensure she has no links to Daesh.
The 35-year-old mother of five fled to neighboring Syria in 2014 to escape violence at home after the Daesh group swept across swathes of Syria and Iraq.
For four months now, since her return to Iraq, she has been living in the Jadaa camp, a compound near the northern city of Mosul presented by the authorities as a “rehabilitation” center for those coming back from Syria.
All the returnees were transferred from Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, which houses displaced families but also relatives of Daesh group, including foreign nationals.

A woman poses for a picture at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)

Massud is adamant that her husband was killed by Daesh. But she admits that her in-laws “were once part of the (Daesh) group.”
“We left (Iraq) because of the terrorism. They (Daesh) made us leave our houses, they forced those who refused to join them to leave,” she said.
Massud spent three years in Al-Hol with her five children.
Two of them are now with her in Jadaa, where they attend a public school, while the other three stayed behind with her in-laws at Al-Hol.
“I am waiting for their return so that I can reunite with my family” in the western Anbar region, she said.
More than 450 families live in Jadaa, a sprawling camp lined with blue tarp tents, where visitors must present an official permit to security guards before they are allowed in.
The camp is located south of Mosul, once an Daesh bastion before the group was defeated in 2017.

A woman looks on at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)

Some of the women questioned by AFP acknowledged links to Daesh, through their husbands or a relative, but others denied having had anything to do with the terrorist group.
As they await processing, the families try to keep a semblance of a normal life with the help of activities sponsored by UN agencies and NGOs.
Some women learn to sew while teenage girls attend classes about puberty. Younger boys and girls mingle in a small playground.
Camp administrator Khaled Abdel Karim told AFP that only “a very limited” number of families at Jadaa had been influenced by Daesh ideology.
“This camp was not set up to detain or isolate the families, it is a transit stop,” said Abdel Karim.
Experts, he said, help families overcome the “shame linked to Daesh,” while others assist them with preparing the documents they need to get through the vetting process and resume life outside the compound.
“Through our daily contacts, we see that our activities are not being rejected,” the official told AFP.

Boys sit near tents at the Jadaa rehabilitation camp for the displaced near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)

“When it comes to the mixing between men and women, or the type of clothes they wear, there is nothing to signal extremist thinking,” he added.
Until they are allowed to go back home, Jadaa residents receive family visits four times a month. But before they can return to their hometowns, tribal elders must hold council and give their approval.
“Families with perceived affiliation to (Daesh)... often find their return blocked by security actors, experience community rejection and stigmatization, and are at high risk of revenge attacks and violence,” a World Bank report released in January said.
“At the same time, it is common for people living in the area of return to fear that the return of families they believe supported or continue to support (Daesh)... will destabilize their communities and create new risks for security and social relations,” it added.

Around 30,000 Iraqis, including 20,000 children, remain stranded at Al-Hol, according to Iraq’s ministry of immigration.
Earlier this month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said his country was determined to repatriate all the families stuck in the Syrian camp after “security checks” are completed.
But he also urged the international community to help Iraq set up “re-integration programs” for Jadaa’s residents, most of who are women and children.
Over the past several months, more than 100 families have been able to leave Jadaa and reunite with their families in Iraq.
Shaima Ali, 41, is among those still waiting for that day.
But her greatest fear is that residents of her hometown in the Qaim border region with Syria will reject her.
“They say we’re a part of Daesh. It’s true my husband was a member of the group. But that was him, not me,” she said.
“If only I could get out” of the camp, said Ali, who lived for five years in Syria.
“I’ve got no future left, perhaps, but I’ve got two daughters and I want a future for them.”

 


UN envoy praises ‘potential’ of Syria prisoner amnesty

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

UN envoy praises ‘potential’ of Syria prisoner amnesty

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen talks to reporters in the Syrian capital Damascus, on May 22, 2022. (AFP)
  • The regime’s Justice Ministry has said hundreds of inmates had been released, and a military official, Ahmad Touzan, told local media this week that the amnesty would cover thousands, including those who are wanted but not detained

DAMASCUS: UN special envoy Geir Pedersen has welcomed a general amnesty aimed at freeing thousands of Syrians convicted on terrorism charges.
President Bashar Assad has decreed several amnesties during the country’s devastating 11-year war, but the latest in April was the most comprehensive related to terrorism charges since the conflict began, rights activists said.
Pedersen, speaking to reporters in Damascus after a meeting with the regime’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, said he had been briefed “in quite some detail” on the latest measure.
“I am very much looking forward to being kept informed on the progress on the implementation for that amnesty,” Pedersen said before talks on a new constitution for Syria are to resume in Geneva.
“That amnesty has potential, and we are looking forward to see how it develops,” Pedersen said.
The regime’s Justice Ministry has said hundreds of inmates had been released, and a military official, Ahmad Touzan, told local media this week that the amnesty would cover thousands, including those who are wanted but not detained.
Touzan refused to disclose the number of inmates freed, saying “numbers are changing by the hour.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which relies on a large network of sources inside Syria, says around 1,142 inmates have so far been released across the country under the amnesty, with hundreds more expected.
In the next few days Syria’s warring parties are to hold the latest round of constitutional talks in Switzerland, under a process that began in 2019.
It is hoped the talks can pave the way toward a broader political process.
Pedersen said he is “hopeful that this will be a positive meeting that can help bring us forward so that we can start to see... some confidence building measures,” Pedersen said.
Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011 after the violent repression of protests demanding regime change.
The war has left around half a million people dead and displaced millions.
Throughout the war, the UN has been striving to nurture a political resolution.


Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

Four killed as Jordanian army thwarts drug smuggling attempt from Syria

Jordanian soldiers patrolling along the border with Syria to prevent trafficking, on February 17, 2022. (AFP)
  • Hezbollah resorting to narcotics trade to secure funding after US sanctions hit Iran

AMMAN: The Jordanian army announced it had killed four people who attempted to smuggle “large amounts” of drugs into the country from Syria.

A source from the Jordanian Armed Forces said that troops on Jordan’s eastern borders with Syria opened fire on people who attempted to infiltrate the kingdom, killing four of them and injuring others.

The source said that the infiltrators were forced to retreat into Syrian territory.

“After inspecting the area, 181 palm-sized sheets of hashish, 637,000 Captagon narcotic pills, and 39,600 tramadol pills were found and handed over to the concerned authorities,” the source told Arab News.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London said that six people were injured in the operation with some of them in a critical condition.

It said that one of those killed by the Jordanian army was the leader of a group that works in the narcotics industry in southern Syria and had “strong” ties with Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah.

The operation on Sunday was the latest since Jordan announced a crackdown on drug smuggling from Syria and a change in rules of engagement to curb what it described as a “dramatic increase” in drug trafficking from its neighbor.

Jordan has warned that Syria was becoming a narco-state, posing cross-border threats to Jordan, the region, and the rest of the world.

The JAF has recently said that a total of 361 smuggling attempts from Syria were foiled in 2021, leading to the seizure of about 15.5 million pills of narcotics of different types.

It foiled more than 130 smuggling attempts from Syria in 2020 and seized about 132 million Captagon pills and more than 15,000 sheets of hashish.

Describing the figures as “dramatically high,” a military source, who requested anonymity, told Arab News that “Illicit drug cultivation and manufacture has become a growing industry in Syria.”

According to the Syrian news website Enab Baladi, drug smuggling operations are most active in the southern regions of Daraa and Al-Suwayda.

Most of the smuggling routes are controlled by armed Bedouin tribes that have affiliations inside Jordan, the news website quoted sources as saying.

Experts say the strong presence of the militant organization Hezbollah in Syria and the expansion of its drug trafficking operations are the main reasons for the war-torn country becoming a narco-state and for the increase of drug smuggling into Jordan, Arab Gulf states, and Europe.

In recent remarks to Arab News, Fayez Dweiri, a retired major general and military analyst, said Hezbollah had resorted to the narcotics trade to secure funding after the US sanctions on Iran.

“There is an established illicit drugs industry for Hezbollah in Beirut’s Dahieh Al-Janubiya and in the Shiite stronghold of Baalbek,” he said.

Hezbollah “has relocated some of its drug factories to Aleppo and other Syrian regime-controlled regions,” Dweiri said.

“The US sanctions on Iran have hit Hezbollah hard, obliging Tehran’s most funded proxy to look for other sources of revenues,” he said.

According to a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hezbollah has significantly expanded and institutionalized its drug trafficking enterprises, which now generate more money than its other funding streams.

The think tank said that Hezbollah’s global narcotics industry began in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in the 1970s, using well-established smuggling routes across the Israel-Lebanon border.

 


Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2022

Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
  • Protesters block road out of Taiz to highlight relentless Houthi siege

AL-MUKALLA: The president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, vowed on Saturday to support current efforts by international mediators to extend the UN-brokered truce, fight corruption and unify military and security units.  

In a televised speech on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of Unification Day, Al-Alimi said the council supports the UN and US Yemen envoy’s continuing activities to renew the truce, which is set to expire on June 2. He called upon the world to pressure the Houthis to stop breaking the truce and implement its provisions, including lifting their siege of Taiz city.

Yemenis fill their jerrycans with water from a well at a makeshift camp for displaced people in the province of Hodeidah. (AFP)

“In the name of members of the Leadership Council, we affirm our continuing support to the tireless efforts of the UN and US envoys to extend the humanitarian truce,” Al-Alimi said, noting that the truce would pave the way for peace, save lives and rescue the country from starvation.

He stressed that the 2021 Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen would be the cornerstone of plans to achieve peace in Yemen.

“We also renew our adherence to the initiative of the brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, considering it a just basis for a comprehensive peace process.”

Al-Alimi came to power in April when Yemen’s former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ceded authority to the eight-man Presidential Leadership Council that would run the country and start peace talks with the Houthis.

On Saturday, the new president pledged to address economic problems in Aden and the other provinces, fight corruption, boost revenues and bring together different armed groups under the council’s command based on the Riyadh Agreement.

“We will firmly move forward to unify the military and security establishment.”

The truce that came into effect on April 2 has largely reduced violence and deaths across the country, despite hundreds of violations by the Houthis and allowed commercial flights to leave Sanaa airport as at least a dozen fuel ships entered Hodeidah port.

The Yemen president’s pledge to support the renewal of the truce came as the Yemeni government and the Houthis are preparing to participate in discussions on opening roads in Taiz and the other provinces.

Houthi media said on Sunday that their delegation left Sanaa for the Jordanian capital on a UN plane.

A government official told Arab News on Saturday that their negotiators were told to get ready to travel to Amman for the meeting.  

In the besieged city of Taiz, dozens of people on Sunday arranged a rare protest near a blocked road that links with Hodeidah province, west of the city, to draw attention to the Houthi siege.

The posters stood in a line on the road, carrying posters that called for ending the Houthi assault.

“Taiz has paid a heavy humanitarian bill due to the siege of the Houthi militia,” read one of the posters.

The Houthis have been besieging the city of Taiz since 2015 to force government troops that defend the city to surrender.


Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
Updated 22 May 2022

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
  • Only 20 percent of damaged housing repaired since end of fighting in 2021

GAZA CITY: Delayed rebuilding efforts in Gaza have frustrated locals, with many still living in temporary accomodation a year after the end of fierce fighting.

Ayman Dahman has lived with his family for more than a year in a rented house after his home was destroyed during the Palestinian-Israel conflict in May last year.

Dahman does not know when his old apartment — which he is still paying installments on — will be reconstructed.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed four conflicts, the last of which was in May 2021. The fighting that year lasted for 11 days, during which about 1,700 housing units were completely destroyed.

“I bought my apartment some years before the war, and I still pay the installments from my monthly salary. Now I live with my wife and two daughters and two sons in an apartment I rented after the war; we don’t know when we will return to our home again,” Dahman said.

Dahman and his family used to live in a five-storey building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees paid rent allowance to 154 Palestinian families whose homes were completely demolished during the war, including the Dahman family.

Naji Sarhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Public Works in Gaza, said that no more than 20 percent of the damaged properties have been reconstructed since the end of the war last year.

“What has been accomplished and what is underway in the housing sector so far does not exceed 20 percent of the completely destroyed houses, and 70 percent of the partially damaged houses,” Sarhan said at a press conference in Gaza on Sunday.

He added: “There are no commitments for the reconstruction of the high-rise and multi-storey residential buildings that were bombed and demolished by the occupation during the aggression of last May.”

Last year, Egypt and Qatar pledged $1 billion to rebuild the post-war Gaza Strip.

“Many friendly countries began pledging to rebuild Gaza after the aggression on the city last year, led by Egypt with a grant of $500 million, and Qatar with a grant of $500 million, in addition to some sporadic grants of limited amounts provided by countries and institutions,” Sarhan said.

Egypt also began construction on Gaza’s 1.8-kilometer-long Corniche Street, three residential communities comprising 117 buildings with a total of more than 2,500 housing units, in addition to a construction plan for a bridge in the Shujaiya area, and an open tunnel in the Saraya neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Qatar has started construction of 200 housing units, in addition to the restoration of 11 residential buildings that were partially damaged. It is also repairing a number of destroyed street intersections with a pledge to continue the reconstruction process, Sarhan said.

Fears over new rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas have mounted amid tensions over preparations by Israelis to conduct a flag march on May 29 in Jerusalem. A similar move led to the outbreak of violence last year.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said during a conference held in Gaza: “We are following the threats to storm the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 29, or organize a march of flags.

“I warn the enemy against committing such crimes and such steps.”

Palestinians in Gaza are divided over support for a new confrontation.

Supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine express a willingness to confront Israel over flag marches. Others fear that any conflict would only add to the economic woes of the Gaza Strip.