Suspected Iranian nuclear production plant hit by drones, Tehran claims ‘sabotage attack’

Iran's southern Bushehr nuclear power plant has been temporarily shut down over a
Iran's southern Bushehr nuclear power plant has been temporarily shut down over a "technical fault" and will be reconnected to the grid and the issue will be resolved "in a few days", the country's atomic energy body said. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 24 June 2021

Suspected Iranian nuclear production plant hit by drones, Tehran claims ‘sabotage attack’

Iran's southern Bushehr nuclear power plant has been temporarily shut down over a "technical fault" and will be reconnected to the grid and the issue will be resolved "in a few days", the country's atomic energy body said. (AFP/File Photo)
  • There was no immediate comment or attribution of blame from either Israel or Iran

LONDON: A drone attack on a building in Iran, thought to be a nuclear facility, has caused considerable damage, it was claimed Thursday, despite Tehran stating on Wednesday it had foiled the “sabotage” attempt on the building.

At least one small rotor-powered drone hit a factory owned by the Iran Centrifuge Technology Co. in Karaj, according to a US intelligence tip off published by the New York Times.

The factory, just outside Tehran, is believed to produce aluminium blades for use in Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, UK paper The Times reported.

Israeli media also said the building had been hit in an attack, with some reports saying it had involved “several” drones.

There was no immediate comment or attribution of blame from either Israel or Iran.

The incident “left no casualties or damages and was unable to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program,” Iranian state television said, before adding that authorities were now working to identify the perpetrators.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN body that monitors Tehran’s nuclear program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The factory was allegedly on a list of targets presented to the administration of former US President Donald Trump last year by Israel, which regards the Iranian nuclear program as a cover for developing nuclear warheads, a claim denied by Tehran.

The incident follows several sother uspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program that have heightened regional tensions in recent months, amid diplomatic efforts to resurrect Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with world powers.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal in 2018 has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest ever levels, although still short of those required to develop weapons. 

Iran has said that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the US lifts sanctions imposed after Trump withdrew from the JCPOA.

Earlier this week, Iran’s sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr underwent an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown. Authorities had warned earlier this year of the plant’s possible closure because of US sanctions that supposedly prevented Iran procuring equipment for repairs.

In April, Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later also described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

* With AP


Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported
Updated 4 min 31 sec ago

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

Explosion on military bus in Damascus, injuries reported

BEIRUT: An explosion took place on a military bus in Damascus, state news agency SANA reported on Wednesday.
There are reports of injuries, the agency said without giving further details.


UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots

UAE expands provision of COVID-19 booster shots
  • The booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose
  • The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will start providing a booster shot against COVID-19 to all fully vaccinated individuals in the Gulf Arab state, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said on Tuesday.
It said on Twitter the booster shot would be available to people considered at high risk three months after their second vaccine dose, and six months for others.

The Gulf state, which has approved five types of COVID-19 vaccines, had in June begun providing booster shots to those initially immunized with a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
The regional tourism and business hub has among the world’s highest immunization rates. Around 79 percent of the population of roughly 9 million had received one vaccine dose, while some 70 percent had been fully vaccinated, according to latest official data.


Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
Updated 04 August 2021

Amid anger and despair, Lebanon braces for port explosion anniversary

People on Tuesday put white roses on portraits of victims of last year’s Beirut port blast as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Aug 4 explosion. (Reuters)
  • Legislative authority yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs

BEIRUT: The families of the Beirut port explosion victims are reticent about revealing the steps they will take on Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the explosion.

The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.
It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.
On the occasion of the first anniversary, UNICEF reported that six children were among the deceased as more than 1,000 children were also injured in the blast.
“All that can be said is that people are angry and will express their anger,” an activist among the groups that will participate in planned protests on Wednesday told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
“We will see some unexpected action if the security forces confront the protesters with violence. We know that tight security measures will be taken. Public institutions and administrations will be occupied and the sit-in will only end once the immunity is lifted for officials summoned by the judiciary in the port explosion investigation.”
The Lebanese parliament is yet to decide on Judge Tarek Bitar’s request to lift the immunity of three MPs accused in the Beirut port explosion: former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, and Former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy refused to lift the immunity of the defendant Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese General Security, last week. Only the Bar Association lifted the immunity of the accused lawyers. Judge Bitar had previously charged the three MPs, and former minister Youssef Fenianos, with “negligence” and “possible intent to murder” because they were aware of ammonium nitrate “and did not take measures to spare the country the risks of an explosion.”
The legislative authority has so far refrained from lifting the immunity of any politicians and has not authorized prosecuting security officials.
In addition, Judge Bitar also requested to question Ibrahim and Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, as well as several judges.
Civil society groups appealed to Lebanese citizens this week and asked them to join victims’ families along with the civil defense and the fire fighting brigade, which also lost several members in the explosion.
A vigil is scheduled after the call to prayer, which will be followed by a mass held by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi. “The groups that will participate in the commemoration are retired soldiers, trade unionists, and self-employed professionals,” the activist said.

FASTFACTS

• The massive blast — the country’s worst peacetime disaster — destroyed a large section of the capital on Aug. 4, 2020, killed at least 214 people, and injured more than 6,500.

• It was caused when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored at the port for several years without proper safety precautions, ignited during a fire and exploded.

“They will head to several locations, the politicians’ residences included.”
He pointed out that the American University Hospital in Beirut alerted its emergency department to be on high alert for Wednesday’s protests.
Medical teams from the hospitals damaged in the blast, including Saint Georges, Hotel Dieu, Geitaoui, Rizk, and Wardieh hospitals will also gather at the port.
The victims’ faces will accompany people attending the vigil as they head to the port since volunteer artists drew the faces of many victims along the walls of the sidewalks leading to where the blast occurred.
Lebanon will mark the day of mourning on Wednesday as all institutions will be closed, including banks, restaurants, and cafes. The flags will be lowered and black flags will be raised above the buildings.
“I expect a major turnout because people are furious and those responsible for this crime must be held accountable. We will try to avoid getting injured, but we do expect some injuries among our ranks,” the activist said.
Activists took to social media to call on “soldiers and officers in the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces, whose salaries have become less than $70, not to protect the killers and suppress the angry people on Aug. 4.”
Lebanese expatriates in Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco, and Cleveland are organizing sit-ins to stand with Beirut.
Most notably, France and the UN are organizing an Aug. 4 international conference “to address the humanitarian needs of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people.”
The spokesman for the families of the victims, Ibrahim Hoteit, had given the politicians a 30-hour deadline, ending on Wednesday afternoon, to lift the immunity. He said in a press conference that the protests would be “a bone-breaking battle now that we are done with the routine peaceful movements.”
Political parties joined the commemoration of Aug. 4, but they did so on Aug. 2 and 3, in order to avoid any clashes between their supporters and other protesters.
Economic and living crises are ever-increasing amid the political deadlock.
These crises have exacerbated the citizens who lack electricity, medicine, and fuel, while they lost 90 percent of their income’s value in light of the Lebanese pound’s devaluation.
In a statement issued on the eve of the anniversary of the port explosion, the International Support Group for Lebanon (ISG) renewed its solidarity “with the families of the victims and all those whose lives have been affected.”
The ISG, which includes representatives of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, the US, the EU, and the League of Arab States, urged the Lebanese authorities to “swiftly complete the investigation into the port explosion so that the truth may be known and justice rendered.”
Meanwhile, Democracy Reporting International (DRI) accused the Lebanese authorities of “continuing to weaken the judicial investigations and prevent the lifting of immunity for MPs, ministers and security leaders who remained silent or tolerant of the presence of ammonium nitrate, and did nothing.”


Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisian labor union urges new PM appointment to ease crisis

Supporters of the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces. (AP/File Photo)

TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful labor union urged the president on Tuesday to rapidly announce a new government that should be small and led by an experienced premier, after he seized executive control in a move his opponents called a coup.

President Kais Saied has defended his actions as constitutional and said he will govern alongside a new prime minister during an emergency period, but nine days after his intervention, he has yet to name one.

“We can’t wait 30 days for the announcement of a government,” said Sami Tahri, a spokesman for the UGTT union, one of Tunisia’s most powerful political forces.

UGTT chief Noureddine Taboubi said later on state television later on Tuesday that the cabinet should be small and headed by somebody with experience, sending a positive message to both Tunisians and international lenders.

“We must speed up the formation of the government to be able to face economic and health challenges,” he said.

Saied’s sudden intervention on July 25 appeared to have widespread public support but raised fears for the future of the democratic system that Tunisia adopted after its 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring.

On Tuesday Saied removed Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, the latest in a string of dismissals of senior and mid-ranking officials over the past week including several ministers. He did not immediately name a replacement.

He is also still to announce a roadmap to end an emergency period that he initially set at one month but later announced could be two months.

A source close to the presidential palace in Carthage said earlier that Saied might announce the new premier on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters that Central Bank Governor Marouane Abassi and two former finance ministers, Hakim Hammouda and Nizar Yaich, are contenders.

Saied’s most powerful organized opponent, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, has meanwhile been riven by internal splits over its response to the crisis and its longer-term strategy and leadership.

Tunisians had over the past decade grown ever more frustrated by economic stagnation, corruption and bickering among a political class that often seemed more focused on its own narrow interests than on national problems.

The coronavirus pandemic ripped through Tunisia over the past two months as the state vaccination effort crawled, leading at one point to the worst infection and death rates in Africa. Pandemic counter-measures last year hammered the economy.

On Monday Saied replaced the finance, agriculture and telecoms ministers after having said last week that “wrong economic choices” had cost the country.

On Sunday he said there were contacts with “friendly countries” for financial assistance. (Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)


Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals

Tunisia leader fires ambassador to US in rash of dismissals
  • President Kais Saied has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago
  • Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions

TUNIS, Tunisia: A day after naming a new economy minister, President Kais Saied on Tuesday added Tunisia’s ambassador to the United States to a rash of dismissals.
Yet he has to say who will replace the prime minister he fired less than two weeks ago or when.
Saied, who took on executive powers July 25 and began ruling by decree, has also undertaken globe-spanning consultations, meeting Tuesday with the foreign minister of Egypt, a critical ally in the Middle East.
Local polls say there is large support for Saied’s controversial actions, which importantly included freezing Tunisia’s parliament,
The North African country has been cementing its democracy since chasing out its former autocratic ruler a decade ago, triggering the Arab Spring. Tunisia is the only success story to emerge from those chaotic times, and allies, from the United States to Europe and the Middle East, have worried about what comes next.
Tunisia is coping with economic, social and health crises, with the coronavirus pandemic overwhelming its hospitals. Saied, using an article in the constitution that allows a president to step in under grave circumstances, has said he did so to save the country.
In his meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, the president highlighted “the correlation between Egypt’s and Tunisia’s security and stability,” the official TAP news agency said.
Egypt’s envoy said that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi backed Saied’s moves with “his full support for the historic steps” of the Tunisian leader, TAP added. “Egypt and Tunisia are working together to ensure stability not only in the two countries, but also across the region,” the agency quoted the foreign minister as saying after the meeting.
The important Economy Ministry got a new acting minister Monday, with the dismissal of Ali Kooli, as did the Communications Technology ministry.
The rash of firings that began when Saied assumed all executive power continued Tuesday. Tunisia’s ambassador to Washington, Nejmeddine Lakhal, was the latest dignitary terminated, the official news agency said. No explanation was given. Also Tuesday, the president fired the governor of the important Sfax region in eastern Tunisia.
Some lawmakers have not been spared, snared by judicial officials on complaints that could not be prosecuted earlier. The president lifted the immunity of the parliamentary body when he took on all powers, and a handful have been summoned to answer to charges they had escaped.