Iran to impose six-day lockdown as new coronavirus wave wreaks havoc

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi visits Imam Khomeini Hospital and Corona Vaccination Center in the capital Tehran. Iran reported over 500 daily COVID-19 deaths for the first time, its health ministry announced. (AFP)
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Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi visits Imam Khomeini Hospital and Corona Vaccination Center in the capital Tehran. Iran reported over 500 daily COVID-19 deaths for the first time, its health ministry announced. (AFP)
Iranians wait for their turn to be inoculated at a COVID-19 vaccination center set up inside the Iran Mall in Tehran on August 14, 2021. (Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP)
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Iranians wait for their turn to be inoculated at a COVID-19 vaccination center set up inside the Iran Mall in Tehran on August 14, 2021. (Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP)
An Iranian health worker inoculates a man at a COVOD-19 vaccination center set up inside the Iran Mall in Tehran on August 14, 2021.(Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
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An Iranian health worker inoculates a man at a COVOD-19 vaccination center set up inside the Iran Mall in Tehran on August 14, 2021.(Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2021

Iran to impose six-day lockdown as new coronavirus wave wreaks havoc

An Iranian health worker inoculates a man at a COVOD-19 vaccination center set up inside the Iran Mall in Tehran on August 14, 2021.(Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
  • Iran is struggling to contain what officials have called a "fifth wave" of the virus caused by Delta variant
  • The country has officially recorded more than 97,000 deaths and over 4.38 million infections

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran will impose a six-day national lockdown from Monday amid a soaring death toll from a fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The national coronavirus taskforce ordered all markets, public offices, banks, cinemas, gyms, restaurants and nonessential businesses in every city to be closed until next Saturday, and banned travel between all cities from Sunday to Friday.

Iran has suffered the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the Middle East, driven recently by the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus. On Saturday, it reported 466 deaths and 29,700 new cases of coronavirus patients in a single day. That brought the total pandemic death toll to 97,208, and total confirmed cases to 4,389,085.

Last week, Iran hit a record in both its single-day death toll and confirmed new cases of COVID-19, with 42,541 new coronavirus cases and a daily death toll of 588. Health authorities acknowledge that the official figures underestimate the country’s real toll.

Authorities have tried to speed up the country’s inoculation campaign amid criticism that it began too late, and as Iran’s exhausted healthcare system struggles to cope with rising case numbers. Only 3.8 million have received the necessary two vaccine doses, out of a population of 83 million.




Iranians wait for their turn to be inoculated at a COVID-19 vaccination center set up inside the Iran Mall in Tehran on August 14, 2021. (Photo by Atta Kenare / AFP)

Several thousand people lined up on Saturday at a vaccination center at the Iran Mall in Tehran, where Health Ministry representative Bahare Karimi said health workers were “very tired now.”

She said the center was administering the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, but the type of jab might differ from day to day. As well as Sinopharm, Iran is also using Russia’s Sputnik V, India’s Bharat Biotech and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.

Authorities have approved the emergency use of two locally made vaccines, but the only mass-produced one, COVIran Barekat, is in short supply.

Pharmacy worker Hamed Rahmati complained as he waited in line for his jab. “They didn’t import vaccines when they were supposed to and now it’s too late,” he said.

President Ebrahim Raisi said that Iran needed an additional 60 million vaccine doses to “control the unfavorable coronavirus situation.” Raisi told a COVID-19 taskforce meeting on Saturday that 30 million doses would be imported and made available “in a short time,” but he did not explain where they were coming from.

Choked by US sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran has said that it has struggled to import vaccines.

In January, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the use of vaccines made by the US and Britain, which he described as “completely untrustworthy” — despite the fact that vaccine campaigns in both countries have dramatically reduced the spread of COVID-19.

(With AFP)


Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture

Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture
Updated 33 sec ago

Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture

Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture
  • Damascus boasted an abundance of busy bookshops and publishing houses printing and distributing original and translated works

DAMASCUS: The Damascus bookshops and publishing houses that once stood as beacons of Syria’s intellectual life are being replaced with shoe shops and money changers, as culture falls casualty to crisis.

Syria is home to some of the Arab world’s literary giants, and Damascus boasted an abundance of busy bookshops and publishing houses printing and distributing original and translated works. But the city’s literary flare has faded.

A decade-old civil war, a chronic economic crisis and a creative brain drain that has deprived Syria of some of its best writers and many of their readers, have compounded worldwide problems facing the industry, such as the growing popularity of e-books. “People can’t afford to read and bookstores can’t cover the expenses of staying open,” said Muhammad Salem Al-Nouri, 71, who inherited one of the capital’s oldest bookshops from his father.

Last month, the iconic Nobel bookshop in Damascus, founded in 1970, closed its doors.

The Al-Yaqza bookshop, founded in 1939, shut seven years ago, with a shoe store now taking its place.

A money exchange office has replaced the Maysalun bookshop which was open for four decades.

The Al-Nouri bookstore, founded in 1930, is at risk of meeting the same fate.

“We wanted it to remain for our children and grandchildren,” Nouri told AFP. “But the Al-Nouri bookshop is threatened with closure, as are other bookstores.”

The Nouri family currently runs two bookshops in central Damascus.

Three years ago, the family was forced to close a third bookshop they had opened in the capital in 2000 because of poor sales and growing costs.

Its stock remains in place, gathering dust on fully stacked shelves.

On a wooden desk, old photos of celebrity customers, including politicians, artists and poets, are placed on display.

For Sami Hamdan, 40, the cultural heyday of the 1950s and 1960s is long gone. “The war has destroyed what was left” of a cultural scene that was already in retreat, said the former owner of the Al-Yaqza bookstore.

With 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line and prices skyrocketing in the face of the plummeting value of the Syrian pound, “no one is going to invest in a bookshop during conflict,” Hamdan told AFP.

For Khalil Haddad of the Dar Oussama publishing house, books have become a “luxury” for Syrians.

Surging printing costs and logistical difficulties linked to power cuts have combined to make books too expensive for most, the 70-year-old told AFP.

“People’s priorities are food and housing,” he said.


Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow
Updated 22 min 3 sec ago

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow

Iraq blames Iran for drastic decline in river flow
  • The Sirwan river begins in Iran, flowing to Darbandikhan Dam in northeastern Iraq before going through the rural province of Diyala and joining the Tigris

DARBANDIKHAN, Iraq: Iraqi officials warned Tuesday of a drastic drop in the flow of water in a river from Iran due to low rainfall and dam-building in the neighboring Islamic republic.

The Sirwan river begins in Iran, flowing to Darbandikhan Dam in northeastern Iraq before going through the rural province of Diyala and joining the Tigris.

“There has been an unprecedented decline,” said Rahman Khani, the dam’s director. “The water level has fallen by 7.5 meters in one year.”

The drop was attributed to low precipitation and “the building of more dams in Iran which retain water,” he told AFP.

Khani said the dam had this year received 900 million cubic meters of water — a fraction of the annual average of 4.7 billion cubic meters.

The decline had led to a 30 percent fall in electricity production from the dam, he added, warning against the impact on agriculture in Diyala province.

Iraq — which relies on Iran for much of its electricity — has suffered extreme water shortages in many areas in recent years.

This is owing in large part to upstream dam-building in Iran and Turkey, but also to factors relating to climate change and droughts, which have affected the wider region.

The situation has prompted Iraq’s Water Resources Minister, Mahdi Al-Hamdani, to call on his government to file a complaint against Iran at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

A foreign ministry spokesperson refused to comment on the matter.

Aoun Thiab, a senior adviser at the water ministry, said Iran was “violating international law by diverting a river flow” based on the 1997 UN Watercourses Convention on the use of water that crosses international borders.

Thiab acknowledged however that seeking justice would be “a political decision and not a technical one.

“The waters of the Sirwan river have been completely cut off,” he told AFP.

Iran has also its own decline in water levels due to drought, said a report from the country’s space agency cited by Mehr news agency.

On Tuesday, an official said Tehran was facing its worst drought in 50 years as he reported a 97 percent drop in monthly rainfall compared with last year.

The Iranian capital has had 0.4 millimeters of rain since Sept. 23, compared with 14.3 mm over the same period in 2020, said Mohammad Shahriari, deputy director of the company that supplies the region.

“Groundwater and surface water are at a critical state and there has not been a similar drought for the past 50 years,” he was quoted as saying by Iran’s ISNA news agency.

In July, deadly protests broke out in the drought-hit southwestern province of Khuzestan after people took to the streets to vent their anger over water shortages.


UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified
Updated 15 min 4 sec ago

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified

UN says Israel move designating Palestinian groups as ‘terrorist organizations’ unjustified
  • The Jewish state said its move last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

GENEVA: Israel’s designation of six leading Palestinian civil society groups as outlawed “terrorist organizations” is an unjustified attack, the UN human rights chief said Tuesday.

The Jewish state said its move last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

It accused the six of working covertly with the leftist militant group, which pioneered plane hijackings in the 1970s to highlight the Palestinian cause and is blacklisted by several Western governments.

Michelle Bachelet said the decision was an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation.

She called for the move to be immediately revoked.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said anti-terrorism legislation should not be applied to legitimate human rights and humanitarian aid activities.

“The organizations ... face far-reaching consequences as a result of this arbitrary decision, as do the people who fund them and work with them,” said Bachelet.

“The crucial work they perform for thousands of Palestinians risks being halted or severely restricted,” she added.

She said the decision would have “a chilling effect” on human rights defenders.


Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
Updated 26 October 2021

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says

Lebanon top politicians agree solution to political tensions, cleric says
  • "There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis," Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said
  • An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric on Tuesday said the country’s three leading politicians agreed to a “solution” to political tensions and government paralysis tied to high-profile judicial investigations.
“There is a constitutional and legal solution to the current crisis,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said during a news conference after a day spent shuttling between the prime minister, the parliament speaker and president.
An official source said the solution involved prosecuting former ministers charged over the August 2020 Beirut port explosion at a special court made up of MPs and judges while allowing blast investigator Tarek Bitar to continue with the cases of lower-level officials.
The special court, formed by a parliamentary vote, has never held any official to account.
Bitar has sought to question top officials including former ministers affiliated with the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal movement and the Marada Movement, both allies of Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has responded with a smear campaign accusing Bitar of politicizing the probe.
Rai had earlier said after a meeting with Berri that issues had to be resolved “because Lebanon is dying, the people are dying and the state is disintegrating.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not convened a Cabinet meeting since Oct. 12, pending a solution to the standoff that has paralyzed government for over two weeks.
The dispute spilt over into the Cabinet when ministers allied to those parties called for Bitar’s removal in a heated discussion during the last session.
Rai also said he was “slightly upset” about the summoning of Lebanese Forces party leader Samir Geagea by army intelligence for a hearing over fatal clashes in Beirut’s Ain Al-Remmaneh neighborhood this month.
On Oct. 14, seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and Amal, were shot dead during a Beirut protest the parties organized against Bitar, the worst street violence in more than a decade.
The parties said the seven were killed by supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party headed by Samir Geagea, who has backed the blast investigation. Geagea has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Geagea was summoned for a hearing on Wednesday by army intelligence. No other top politician has received such a summons.
On Tuesday, Geagea’s lawyers filed a motion claiming the summons was unlawful, while attorneys representing a number of detainees submitted a motion requesting that Judge Fadi Akiki recuse himself from the case.
A group of Ain Al-Remmaneh residents this week filed a lawsuit against Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, claiming fighters under his command involved in the clashes had undermined “national unity” and committed terrorist acts.
President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who has said Bitar’s probe should continue, on Tuesday urged the government to resume Cabinet meetings in order to reach a funding agreement with the International Monetary Fund, widely seen as the only way for Lebanon to access desperately needed international aid.
Rima Zahed, the sister of port blast victim Amin Zahed and a member of a committee representing the families of victims, warned against “any kind of settlement or deal” that infringed upon the reach of the investigation.
“No-one can threaten us with sectarian tensions or the difficult situation the Lebanese people are in. Politicians need to know this,” she said. “There will be no deals made over the blood of our martyrs.”


Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
Updated 26 October 2021

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him

Iranian pilot exiled in Turkey fears Tehran will assassinate him
  • Mehrdad Abdarbashi defected when he was ordered to fight in Syria
  • He was recently targeted by 2 Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him

LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month.

Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his resignation and seized his passport.

In 2018, he said he received orders to be deployed to Syria on behalf of the Assad regime and decided it was time to flee Iran.

“It was the first time I was being deployed there, and I refused because I did not want to be involved in a proxy war going on there,” he told Al Jazeera.

He is now in hiding in eastern Turkey, and was recently targeted by two Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him.

Turkish intelligence, which had been in contact with Abdarbashi, foiled the plot. The Iranian agents were charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit a crime in a Turkish court earlier this month.

But Abdarbashi said he still fears the Iranian regime will reach him despite Ankara’s protection.

“I don’t think I am safe in any city in Turkey right now. I think Iranian intelligence will come after me, and this time they won’t try to kidnap me, this time they will just kill me,” he said.

“Of course, Turkish police and intelligence are still looking after me. But I still think Iranian agents will somehow reach me.”

Iranian exiles in Turkey are often targeted by Tehran’s agents, who try to kidnap them to bring them back to the Islamic Republic.

In June 2020, Eisa Bazyar, a writer critical of the Iranian regime, was forced into a car in western Turkey and held for two days before he managed to escape.

The following November, Habib Chaab, an Iranian dissident with Swedish citizenship, was seized as he transited through an Istanbul airport.

For a period of time, it appeared that Ankara was complying with and even directly cooperating with Tehran’s attempts to kidnap foreign dissidents and bring them back to Iran.

In two cases, Ankara assisted with the capture and deportation of men sentenced to death for their role in anti-regime protests.

But last year’s war between Azerbaijan — perhaps the nation with the closest ties to Ankara — and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to have prompted a cooling in relations between Turkey and Iran. Their opposing sides in the Syrian conflict has also proved a more subtle bone of contention.

As relations between the two large Middle Eastern states — which share a long border and have a centuries-old history of Persian-Turkic competition — have declined, Ankara’s cooperation with Iranian intelligence operations on Turkish soil appears to have ceased.

In February this year, Turkish police arrested an Iranian diplomat at the Istanbul consulate in connection with the assassination of spy-turned-dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in November 2019.