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)
Short Url
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.


Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports

Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports
Updated 29 sec ago

Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports

Hezbollah threatens Beirut blast probe judge: reports
  • Should he drift off the course, we will remove him from his position,’ says head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit
  • Judge Tarek Bitar continues to question and subpoena former ministers and current MPs about the deadly Aug. 4, 2020 explosion

BEIRUT: Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the August 2020 Beirut Port blast, received a threat from the militant Hezbollah group, according to Lebanese news reports.

Arab News learned that the head of Hezbollah’s Liaison and Coordination Unit, Wafiq Safa, visited Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat and the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Suhail Abboud, on Monday.

The motives behind the visits were unknown but Safa reportedly said, “Bitar’s performance has raised the ire (of Hezbollah) and we will keep a close eye on his work until the end, and should he drift off the course, we will remove him from his position.”

In response to the threat, Bitar said: “It is fine, I do not care how they will remove me,” according to Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation reporter Edmond Sassine.

Bitar, who issued several arrest warrants over the past few weeks pertaining to his investigation, set up sessions to question former ministers and current MPs Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zeaiter, and Nohad Al-Machnouk about their knowledge of the deadly Beirut Port explosion.

Bitar summoned Khalil for interrogation on Sept. 30 and Zeaiter and Machnouk and Oct. 1. The judge took advantage of the expiration of the extraordinary parliament mandate after the Najib Mikati government was granted the vote of confidence in a session held on Monday, and the automatic lifting of parliamentary immunities, pending the launch of the regular mandate in mid-October.

The Beirut Port explosion on Aug. 4, 2020, killed more than 200 and left 6,500 injured when thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate detonated along with quantities of seized explosives. The deadly blast destroyed the Beirut waterfront and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Bitar charged the former ministers with “a felony of probable intent to murder” in addition to “a misdemeanor of negligence” because they were aware of the presence of ammonium nitrate and “did not take measures to avoid the explosion.”

Parliament had previously refused Bitar’s request to question the current MPs and Prime Minister Hassan Diab, arguing that it was not within his jurisdiction and the case is the subject of prosecution before the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.

In August, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah questioned Bitar, who had summoned political and security officials for interrogation. 

“Where is the evidence?” Nasrallah asked. “Based on what is he accusing them of? Why has the judiciary not published the results of the technical investigation?”

Nasrallah further accused Bitar of “playing a political game,” saying that either he sticks to a clear, technical investigation, or the judiciary has to find another judge.


Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’

Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’
Updated 2 min 43 sec ago

Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’

Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’
  • US president uses first UNGA speech to say a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the “best way” to ensure Israel’s future

NEW YORK: President Joe Biden told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that the United States would return to the Iranian nuclear deal in “full” if Tehran does the same.
He said the US was “working” with China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany to “engage Iran diplomatically and to seek a return to” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which America left in 2018.
“We’re prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same,” he added.
During his first speech to the General Assembly, Biden said a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the “best way” to ensure Israel’s future.
“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said.
“The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question and our support for an independent Jewish state is unequivocal,” he said.
“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state,” he said.
“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”
More broadly, Biden said the US is not seeking a new Cold War with China as he vowed to pivot from post-9/11 conflicts and take a global leadership role on crises from climate to COVID-19.
He promised to work to advance democracy and alliances, despite friction with Europe over France’s loss of a mega-contract.
The Biden administration has identified a rising and authoritarian China as the paramount challenge of the 21st century, but he made clear he was not trying to sow divisions.
“We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” Biden said.


Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya
Updated 21 September 2021

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya

Egypt seeks to strengthen relations with Libya
  • During a meeting in New York with Mohamed El-Menfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s full support
  • Shoukry praised the efforts of the Libyan House of Representatives in preparing the electoral law as an important step toward holding presidential and parliamentary elections

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has affirmed his country’s keenness to strengthen relations with neighboring Libya.

This follows visits by officials from both sides and last week’s meeting of the Egyptian-Libyan Joint Higher Committee in Cairo.

During a meeting in New York with Mohamed El-Menfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s full support for efforts to meet the aspirations of the Libyan people, stabilize the country and develop its various regions. 

Shoukry praised the efforts of the Libyan House of Representatives in preparing the electoral law as an important step toward holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

He also affirmed Egypt’s firm support for the preservation of Libyan sovereignty and opposition to foreign interference.


Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in few weeks

Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 September 2021

Iran says nuclear talks with world powers to resume in few weeks

Abbas Araghchi (C-L), political deputy at Iran’s Foreign Ministry, and Iran’s Governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharib Abadi (C-R) are returning to the ‘Grand Hotel Wien’ during closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna. (File/AFP)
  • World powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the US and Iran in Vienna
  • The talks stopped in June, pending the start of Iran’s new government

DUBAI: Iran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers over reviving its 2015 nuclear deal would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
“Every meeting requires prior coordination and the preparation of an agenda. As previously emphasized, the Vienna talks will resume soon and over the next few weeks,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to IRNA.
The world powers held six rounds of indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Vienna to try and work out how both can return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which was abandoned by former US President Donald Trump in 2018.
The Vienna talks were adjourned in June after hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iran’s president and took office in August.
Ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia will not meet jointly with Iran at the United Nations this week to discuss a return to the talks, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters on Monday.
But Khatibzadeh said Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian would meet individually with ministers from those countries on the sidelines of the annual UN gathering of world leaders and the nuclear deal and the Vienna talks would be among the main topics under discussion, IRNA reported.


Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government
Updated 21 September 2021

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

Libya’s eastern parliament pulls confidence from unity government

TRIPOLI: Libya’s eastern-based parliament said on Tuesday it had withdrawn confidence from the unity government, though it would continue to operate as a caretaker administration.
The vote in the House of Representatives exemplifies the wrangling between rival factions and state bodies that has plagued UN-backed efforts to resolve Libya’s decade-long crisis by establishing a unity government and holding national elections.
In 2014, eastern and western factions split Libya in two in a civil war, with an internationally recognized government in Tripoli and a rival administration backed by the House of Representatives in the east.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s unity government was selected through a UN-sponsored dialogue and his government was installed by the House of Representatives in March.
Dbeibeh has a mandate to unify state institutions, improve government services and prepare for national presidential and parliamentary elections.
However, on Tuesday, after parliament summoned Dbeibeh and his ministers to answer questions this month, 89 of the 113 members present voted to withdraw confidence in him, the chamber’s spokesman and several other parliament members said.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
The UN forum decided that presidential and parliamentary elections should take place on Dec. 24, but disagreements now rage over the legal basis for the votes and the laws that will govern them.
This month, parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh said the House of Representatives had passed a law for the presidential election, though it did not hold a final vote on the bill.
The validity of that law was promptly challenged by the High Council of State based in Tripoli, in the west, which produced its own, alternative election law.
The House of Representatives, which was elected seven years ago but divided when Libya split, has not yet produced a law for a parliamentary election.