Iran cleric who founded Hezbollah, survived book bomb, dies

Iran cleric who founded Hezbollah, survived book bomb, dies
Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, Iranian Shiite cleric who founded Hezbollah, dies from coronavirus at the age of 74. (File/Internet)
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Updated 07 June 2021

Iran cleric who founded Hezbollah, survived book bomb, dies

Iran cleric who founded Hezbollah, survived book bomb, dies
  • Mohtashamipour in the 1970s formed alliances with Muslim militant groups across the Mideast
  • Mohtashamipour died at a hospital in northern Tehran after contracting the virus

DUBAI: Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a Shiite cleric who as Iran’s ambassador to Syria helped found the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and lost his right hand to a book bombing reportedly carried out by Israel, died Monday of the coronavirus. He was 74.

A close ally of Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mohtashamipour in the 1970s formed alliances with Muslim militant groups across the Mideast. After the Islamic Revolution, he helped found the paramilitary

Revolutionary Guard in Iran and as ambassador to Syria brought the force into the region to help form Hezbollah.

In his later years, he slowly joined the cause of reformists in Iran, hoping to change the Islamic Republic’s theocracy from the inside. He backed the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi in Iran’s Green

Movement protests that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“If the whole people become aware, avoid violent measures and continue their civil confrontation with that, they will win,” Mohtashamipour said at the time, though Ahmadinejad ultimately would remain in office. “No power can stand up to people’s will.”

Mohtashamipour died at a hospital in northern Tehran after contracting the virus, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. The cleric, who wore a black turban that identified him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s

Prophet Muhammad, had been living in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, over the last 10 years after the disputed election in Iran.

Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, now considered the leading candidate in Iran’s presidential election next week, offered condolences to Mohtashamipour’s family.

“The deceased was one of the holy warriors on the way to the liberation of Jerusalem and one of the pioneers in the fight against the usurping Zionist regime,” Raisi said, according to IRNA.

Born in Tehran in 1947, Mohtashamipour met Khomeini as the cleric remained in exile in Najaf after being expelled from Iran by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In the 1970s, he crisscrossed the Mideast speaking to militants groups at the time, helping form an alliance between the future Islamic Republic and the Palestinian Liberation Organization as it battled Israel.

Once arrested by Iraq, Mohtashamipour found his way to Khomeini’s residence in exile outside of Paris. They returned triumphant to Iran amid the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In 1982, Khomeini deployed Mohtashamipour to Syria, then under the rule of dictator Hafez Assad. While ostensibly a diplomat, Mohtashamipour oversaw the millions that poured in to fund the Guard’s operations in the region.

Lebanon, then dominated by Syria, which deployed tens of thousands of troops there, found itself invaded by Israel in 1982 as Israel pursued the PLO in Lebanon. Iranian support flowed into the Shiite communities occupied by Israel. That helped create a new militant group called Hezbollah, or “the Party of God.”

The US blames Hezbollah for the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut that killed 63 people, as well as the later bombing of the US Marine barracks in the Lebanese capital that killed 241 US troops and another attack that killed 58 French paratroopers. Hezbollah and Iran have denied being involved.

“The court finds that it is beyond question that Hezbollah and its agents received massive material and technical support from the Iranian government,” wrote US District Judge Royce Lamberth in 2003.

Lamberth’s opinion, quoting a US Navy intelligence official, directly named Mohtashamipour as being told by Tehran to reach out to the nascent Hezbollah to “instigate attacks against the multinational coalition in Lebanon, and ‘to take a spectacular action against the United States Marines.’”

An IRNA obituary of Mohtashamipour only described him as “one of the founders of Hezbollah in Lebanon” and blamed Israel for the bombing that wounded him. It did not discuss the US allegations about his involvement in the suicide bombings targeting Americans.

At the time of the assassination attempt on him, Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had received approval from then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to pursue Mohtashamipour, according to “Rise and Kill First,” a book on Israeli assassinations by journalist Ronen Bergman. They chose to send a bomb hidden inside a book described as a “magnificent volume in English about Shiite holy places in Iran and Iraq” on Valentine’s Day in 1984, Bergman wrote.

The bomb exploded when Mohtashamipour opened the book, tearing away his right hand and two fingers on his left hand. But he survived, later becoming Iran’s interior minister and serving as a hard-line lawmaker in parliament before joining reformists in 2009.


Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast

Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast
Updated 15 June 2021

Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast

Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast
  • Human Rights Watch said the call was made in a joint letter by over a hundred Lebanese, regional, and international groups, individuals and survivors and families of the victims

BEIRUT: A group of international and regional rights groups on Tuesday urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to establish an investigative mission into last year’s massive deadly blast at Beirut’s port.
Human Rights Watch said the call was made in a joint letter by 53 Lebanese, regional, and international groups and individuals, as well as 62 survivors and families of the victims.
HRW said it documented many flaws in the domestic investigation of the explosion — including flagrant political interference, lack of respect for fair trial standards and violations of due process.
Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate — a highly explosive material used in fertilizers — had been improperly stored in the port for years. The chemicals ignited in the catastrophic Aug. 4 blast that killed 211 people, injured more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods.
It still remains unknown what triggered an initial fire at the warehouse that then caused the explosion and who was responsible for storing the rotting fertilizer there since 2014.
“Lebanese authorities have had over 10 months to demonstrate that they are willing and capable of conducting a credible investigation,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But they have failed on all accounts,”
Six days after the blast, the Lebanese government referred the Beirut explosion to the country’s Judicial Council, a special court with no appeals process. No indictments have been issued so far.
In December, the prosecutor probing the blast filed charges against the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, and three former ministers, accusing them of negligence that led to the deaths of hundreds of people.
Two months later, the judge in the probe was replaced following legal challenges by two former Cabinet ministers he had accused of negligence.


New Israel government faces early test with far-right march

New Israel government faces early test with far-right march
Updated 15 June 2021

New Israel government faces early test with far-right march

New Israel government faces early test with far-right march
  • Jewish ultranationalists prepared to march into annexed east Jerusalem
  • Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned it as a provocation

JERUSALEM: Israel’s fledgling new government faced an early test Tuesday as Jewish ultranationalists prepared to march into annexed east Jerusalem, stoking tensions the UN has warned threaten a fragile Gaza cease-fire.
Rallies by far-right Jewish groups in Arab neighborhoods have raised tensions in recent months, prompting a police intervention in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound that triggered the deadliest flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2014.
The so-called March of the Flags, which celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the city’s eastern sector, was originally scheduled for last Thursday but was delayed due to Israeli police opposition to the route and warnings from Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
The former government of veteran premier Benjamin Netanyahu put off the march until Tuesday, a decision confirmed late Monday by the incoming government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“The right to demonstrate is a right in all democracies,” said Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev.
“The police is ready and we will do everything in our power to preserve the delicate thread of coexistence.”
Organizers consulted police on the best route for the march that begins at 1430 GMT to avoid friction with Arab residents, the government said.
But Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned it as a provocation.
“We warn of the dangerous repercussions that may result from the occupying power’s intention to allow extremist Israeli settlers to carry out the Flag March in occupied Jerusalem tomorrow,” Shtayyeh tweeted in English.
He said it was “a provocation and aggression against our people, Jerusalem and its sanctities that must end.”
The new Israeli premier is himself a Jewish nationalist but the coalition he leads also includes centrist and left-wing parties and, for the first time in the country’s history, an Arab party.
The support of the four lawmakers of the Islamic conservative Raam party was vital to the wafer-thin majority that the government won in a historic confidence vote that unseated Netanyahu on Sunday.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland urged all sides to behave responsibly to avoid damage to a hard-won May 21 cease-fire that ended 11 days of heavy fighting in and around Gaza.
“Tensions are rising again in Jerusalem at a very fragile & sensitive security & political time, when UN & Egypt are actively engaged in solidifying the cease-fire,” Wennesland said.
“Urge all relevant parties to act responsibly & avoid any provocations that could lead to another round of confrontation.”
The US embassy called on its staff to avoid entering the walled Old City in the heart of east Jerusalem because of the march and “possible counter-demonstrations.”
Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem since the Six-Day War of 1967 is not recognized by most of the international community which says the city’s final status should be a matter of negotiation between the two sides.
The Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
The iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the heart of the Old City is Islam’s third holiest site and a national symbol for all Palestinians regardless of religion.
It is also considered by Jews to be Judaism’s holiest site but by longstanding convention Jews are not allowed to pray inside the compound and visits by Israeli Jewish politicians often trigger disturbances.
When the march was originally announced for last week, senior Hamas official Khalil Hayya warned it could spark a return to violence like that of May 10-21.
“We warn the occupation (Israel) against letting the march approach east Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” Hayya said.
“We hope the message is clear so that Thursday doesn’t become (a new) May 10.”
Last month’s conflict started after Hamas issued a deadline for Israel to remove its security forces from flashpoint areas of east Jerusalem, and then fired a salvo of rockets at Israel when the ultimatum went unheeded.
Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip between May 10 to 21 killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, the Gaza authorities said.
In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets fired from Gaza, the Israeli police and army said.


UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan

UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan
Updated 15 June 2021

UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan

UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan
  • Passengers must wear tracking devices for a minimum of 10 days in a new circular from the General Civil Aviation Authority
  • Those who arrived in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah, have already been given the devices

DUBAI: The UAE has imposed new coronavirus measures for charter flights arriving from countries including India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Nepal and Uganda.
Passengers must wear tracking devices for a minimum of 10 days in a new circular from the General Civil Aviation Authority.
Those who arrived in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah, have already been given the devices, travel agencies and charter flight operators confirmed, local daily Khaleej Times reported.
Abu Dhabi has also been requiring arriving passengers to wear the devices during their 14-day home quarantine, since September of 2020.
Arrivals must also take a PCR test after landing in the country followed by two other PCR tests on the fourth and eighth day of their isolation period.
In Dubai, travelers have to isolate for 10 days and undergo a PCR test, Raheesh Babu, group COO of Musafir.com, an internet travel agency, said.
Crew members operating from the listed countries are also required to abide by the new regulations.
Passengers must also quarantine in a hotel during the transit period, and are only allowed movement when transferring between the hotel and the airport, without being in contact with people in the UAE community, the circular said.


Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi

Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi
Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah (R) meeting with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Doha on June 14, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 15 June 2021

Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi

Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi
  • Shoukry will attend the first meeting of the Palestine Committee

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Doha on Monday to convey a message from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the positive developments in Egyptian-Qatari relations following the signing of the “Al-Ula reconciliation agreement” on Jan. 5.
It also expressed Egypt’s aspiration to take further measures to advance the priority areas of bilateral cooperation to achieve the interests of the two countries and their people.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said in a statement that Shoukry will take part during his visit to Doha in the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers, which will be held at the invitation of Qatar — the president of the current session of the Council of the Arab League — to resume coordination and consultation on the current situation in the region, and ways to strengthen joint action mechanisms regarding the growing challenges facing Arab countries.

HIGHLIGHT

Shoukry will also participate in the ministerial level extraordinary meeting of the Arab League Council to discuss developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, which will be held at the request of Egypt and Sudan following the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers.

Shoukry will also participate in the ministerial level extraordinary meeting of the Arab League Council to discuss developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, which will be held at the request of Egypt and Sudan following the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers.
He will also attend the first meeting of the Palestine Committee.
A meeting is also scheduled with Shoukry and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.


Palestinians warn new Israel government ‘will not differ from predecessors’

Palestinians warn new Israel government ‘will not differ from predecessors’
Palestinian fishermen stage a demonstration at the Gaza seaport against the Israeli authorities’ reduction of the fishing area to six nautical miles. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 June 2021

Palestinians warn new Israel government ‘will not differ from predecessors’

Palestinians warn new Israel government ‘will not differ from predecessors’
  • The occupation is governed by a security and military system that does not stop practicing terrorism and aggression

GAZA CITY: Palestine should not expect a radical change in Israeli policy, especially toward Gaza, following the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership, Palestinian political figures have warned.
However, opinions still differ on the formation of the new Israeli government headed by Natfali Bennett.
Palestinian factions agreed that the new government will not differ from its predecessors.
Osama Hamdi, 33, hailed the departure of Netanyahu as “a great achievement.”
He told Arab News: “The fall of any tyrant, no matter who comes next, should be considered positive, regardless of who will follow in power, even though all Israelis are not doing anything in our favor.”
But Hamdi warned that the new government does not have a strong base in the Knesset and within Israeli society.
Israel’s parliament narrowly approved the new Bennett-led coalition government on Sunday, ending Netanyahu’s historic 12-year rule.
The divisive former prime minister — the longest to ever hold office in Israel — will now serve as opposition leader.
Under a coalition agreement, Bennett will hold office for the first two years of the term, and then Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, the architect of the coalition, will become prime minister.
Mohammed Sultan, 45, said that Netanyahu is a “strong figure” who can reach solutions with Palestinians, but in light of the weak new government, no real breakthrough can be achieved regarding Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip.
“Throughout history, strong leaders in Israel have taken bold steps — whether in war or peace — like Rabin, Sharon and Netanyahu. Now there is a government in which there is no real leader, so nothing can be achieved with it,” Sultan said.
Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control of the area in 2007. The coastal strip has witnessed four wars and a rounds of fighting since then. Hamas does not expect any change in its relationship with Israel following the inauguration of the new government, especially in light of ongoing tensions with Jerusalem, which led to a military confrontation last month.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said on Twitter: “We do not count on any change in the occupation governments.
“They are united on the policy of killing and confiscation of Palestinian rights, but the fall of Netanyahu is one of the successive consequences of the victory of the resistance.”
Islamic Jihad spokesman Tariq Salmi said in a press statement: “The occupation is governed by a security and military system that does not stop practicing
terrorism and aggression.
“Therefore, we must always be ready to defend our people, our land and confront this entity.”
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said: “The formation of a new occupation government headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid alternately will not change anything on the ground.
“The new prime minister agrees, in essence, with Netanyahu’s program and policies, which are based on aggression, settlements and Judaization.”
Mustafa Ibrahim, a writer specializing in Israeli affairs, also warned that there would be no real change in Israel’s relationship with the Gaza Strip.
“This government is not a change for the Palestinians,” he told Arab News.
“It is an extension of the Netanyahu government as a result of the contradictions in it. It cannot take fateful decisions, but it will be more concerned with internal Israeli issues.
“The new government will abide by the red lines set by the previous government, that easing the blockade imposed on Gaza is linked to the release of the Israelis in Gaza, and agreement on this requires a strong government and a strong Israeli leader, which is not present in the new government.”
However, Ibrahim said that foreign pressure, especially from the US, “may make a difference in Israel’s relationship with Gaza and could keep the flame of confrontation dormant for a period of time.”