Iran’s Raisi says tackling COVID-19, reviving economy priorities

Iran’s Raisi says tackling COVID-19, reviving economy priorities
Iran’s ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi said Saturday his government will prioritize tackling COVID-19 and accelerating vaccinations. (AFP)
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Updated 21 August 2021

Iran’s Raisi says tackling COVID-19, reviving economy priorities

Iran’s Raisi says tackling COVID-19, reviving economy priorities
  • Since late June, Iran has seen what officials have called a ‘fifth wave’ of COVID-19 infections
  • More than 16.3 million people out of the country’s 83 million inhabitants have been given a first vaccine dose

TEHRAN: Iran’s ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi said Saturday his government will prioritize tackling COVID-19 and accelerating vaccinations ahead of an economic revival, as he defended his cabinet choices before parliament.
The conservative-dominated parliament began debating the male-only, largely conservative lineup in the morning ahead of a vote of confidence expected later this week.
“The government’s first priority is controlling the coronavirus, improving the health situation and widespread vaccination,” Raisi said.
“The economy and the livelihood situation is the second” priority, he added, noting that his lineup is meant to bring about “justice and progress.”
Since late June, Iran has seen what officials have called a “fifth wave” of COVID-19 infections, the country’s worst yet, which they have largely blamed on the more contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Daily infections and deaths have hit record highs several times this month, raising total cases since the pandemic started to over 4.5 million and fatalities to more than 100,000.
Iran, battling the Middle East’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, launched a vaccination drive in February but it has progressed slower than authorities had hoped.
Choked by US sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran says it has struggled to import vaccines.
Raisi has tapped 63-year-old optometrist Bahram Eynollahi as his health minister.
He defended his pick as “a figure who can rally forces in the fight against coronavirus.”
Eynollahi was named by local media as a signatory of a January open letter that warned former president Hassan Rouhani against importing vaccines made by the United States, Britain and France, as they may cause “unknown and irreversible complications.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had in the same month banned the use of vaccines made by the US and Britain, calling them “completely untrustworthy.”
More than 16.3 million people out of the country’s 83 million inhabitants have been given a first vaccine dose, but only 5.4 million have received the second, the health ministry said Friday.


Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process
Updated 25 sec ago

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process

Arab foreign ministers pledge support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process
  • Arab League representatives also discussed the Ukrainian war, food and energy
  • The meeting will prepare for the Arab summit to be held in Algeria in October

BEIRUT: Arab foreign ministers on Saturday pledged their support for Lebanon’s IMF negotiations and reform process, following an Arab League meeting held in Beirut.

They said their presence in Lebanon amid its “significantly difficult” economic and political circumstances signaled that Arab countries supported stability and stood by the country’s negotiations with the IMF and the reform process.

Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “We came to say that there’s a problem and you must seek to resolve it.”

He told a press conference that the meeting had discussed the preparations, timing, and attendees of the upcoming Arab League summit.

“We just held some discussions and exchanged views to be decided upon in the appropriate place. We also went over the Ukrainian war, food, energy, and the topic of Somalia, where millions of Somalis might be at risk of starvation.

“We also discussed the Palestinian cause amid the American-Israeli moves and how we react to these events. We did not agree on anything because they are mere discussions that we will not reveal.

“Everyone supports ending the pressure of Syrian refugees. The Lebanese state provides them with care but, when decisions similar to agreeing on their return to their country are taken, some specific circumstances should be present.”

He said there was a civil war going on in Syria and “huge” destruction.

“At least $500 million is needed to rehabilitate the Syrian infrastructure,” he added. “These are very complex issues that cannot be resolved with a simple decision. But the international community has the will to end the Syrian war and is still exerting pressure when it comes to the matter of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries.”

Lebanon, which was represented by caretaker Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, chaired the ministerial meeting.

Algeria will host the Arab League summit in early November after it was postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

Saturday’s meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Kuwait, Yemen, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, Algeria, the Comoro Islands, Sudan, Somalia, Palestine, the deputy foreign minister of Egypt, and the league’s permanent representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Djibouti, Iraq, Morocco, Oman, Libya, a representative from Mauritania, and the Bahraini ambassador to Syria.

The Arab ministerial delegation met Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who expressed the importance of regional relations in the “critical circumstances the Arab world is going through, the challenges it is facing, and that requires the utmost consultation and cooperation.”

He talked about the crises facing Lebanon and the burden of Syrian refugees in the country which, he said, was “no longer capable of handling this reality.”

“We seek to reach an agreement with the IMF. There’s an American mediation to demarcate the southern maritime borders of Lebanon,” he said, adding that Lebanon retained its water, oil, and gas resources.

Responding to media questions about revoking the suspension of Syria’s Arab League membership, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said: “We didn’t support its membership suspension because Syria is a founding member of the league. The Syrian foreign minister will visit Algeria and we will go over this point with a high sense of responsibility.”

The Arab ministerial delegation also met Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who said Lebanon was now requesting that its “Arab brothers come and get to the core of its suffering.”

He told his guests that the indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, with US mediation, to demarcate the maritime borders in preparation for gas extraction were advancing.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati met the delegations on Friday night.

He reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to implementing all the resolutions from the UN Security Council and the Arab League in a way that reinforced the dissociation policy toward any Arab dispute, extending the state’s sovereignty over all its territory, and preventing offense to any Arab state and threats to its security.

Aboul Gheit received a political letter from the Sovereign Front for Lebanon opposing Hezbollah and Iran’s role in Lebanon.

The letter demanded “the activation of Lebanon’s right to be free from the Iranian dominance that uses Lebanon and its territories as a platform to conduct hostilities, putting the country in danger and exposing it to attacks from all sides.”   

It highlighted “the persistence of illegal weaponry represented by Hezbollah’s organized armed militia, which receives support, orders, and funding from Iran.”


Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
Updated 59 min 17 sec ago

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz

Houthis criticized over refusal to open main roads in Yemeni city of Taiz
  • Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces
  • The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen will not begin discussing other issues with the Houthis under a UN-brokered truce until the militia accepts a proposal to open roads in Taiz, a government official has told Arab News.
Last month on June 6, UN Yemen envoy Hans Grundberg proposed opening a main road linking Taiz with other provinces that would partially ease the Houthi siege on the city, with the aim of resolving stalled negotiations between the two sides.
The government previously insisted on a complete lifting of the siege but accepted the proposal as long as other roads opened during subsequent rounds of talks.
But the Houthis rejected Grundberg’s proposal, dealing a blow to the talks and the truce that has by and large been holding since April 2.
“We will not accept discussing other issues or offer more concessions before they agree to the UN envoy’s proposal,” the Yemeni government official said anonymously because he was not authorized to brief reporters. “We have not received any invitation (from the UN envoy) to take part in a new round of discussion on the Taiz file.”
The Houthis alternatively proposed opening an old, rough road connecting Taiz with the countryside.
Taiz residents and local government officials told Arab News that the proposed road was narrow, unpaved, and had been abandoned for over six decades.
The head of the Houthi delegation to the talks, Yahiya Abdullah Al-Razami, said on Friday that the movement would unilaterally open the old road, claiming it had not pledged to open main roads in Taiz when it signed the truce.
“This is not true. The Houthis signed the elements of the truce that include Sanaa airport, Hodeidah port, and opening roads in Taiz,” the government official said.
The Yemeni army has accused the Houthis of breaking the truce more than 100 times last week in Hodeidah, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, Jouf, and Marib, and killing a soldier and wounding four more.
In Taiz, the army on Saturday said it had shot down a small explosives-rigged drone sent by the Houthis to government-controlled areas north of the city.
The Houthis have been laying siege to Taiz for the past seven years, having failed to take control of it due to resistance from government troops.
Yemeni and Western diplomats have criticized the Houthis for refusing to lift their siege and called on the movement to respond positively to peace efforts.
“The UN calls for access around Yemen’s third-largest city, Taiz. The Houthis must find a way to compromise on the UN proposal so we can move forward to broader issues important to Yemenis,” US Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking told France 24 Arabic TV on Friday.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak warned that the Houthis’ unwillingness and delays in opening roads in Taiz would jeopardize the truce.
He said his government had accepted the UN proposal on Taiz as it was a test of the militia’s motivations for making peace and ending the war.
“Lifting the siege is one of the main elements of the truce. We affirm our keenness to respect the truce and treat it as a space of hope and a window for peace. But the continued intransigence of the Houthi militia threatens the truce very seriously,” he told Lebanon’s Annahar Al-Arabi news website.


UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
Updated 02 July 2022

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament

UN condemns protesters’ storming of Libya’s parliament
  • The UN’s top Libya envoy Stephanie Williams says ‘riots and acts of vandalism’ were ‘totally unacceptable’
  • Libyan protesters say they will keep demonstrating until all the ruling elites quit power

CAIRO/TRIPOLI: A senior UN official for Libya on Saturday condemned the storming of the parliament’s headquarters by angry demonstrators as part of protests in several cities against the political class and deteriorating economic conditions.
Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the capital, Tripoli, and other Libyan cities on Friday, with many attacking and setting fire to government buildings, including the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk.
“The people’s right to peacefully protest should be respected and protected but riots and acts of vandalism such as the storming of the House of Representatives headquarters late yesterday in Tobruk are totally unacceptable,” said Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser on Libya, on Twitter.
Libyans, many impoverished after a decade of turmoil and sweltering in the soaring summer heat, have been enduring power cuts of up to 18 hours a day, fuel shortages, and crumbling services and infrastructure, even as their country sits atop Africa’s largest proven oil reserves.
In both the main eastern city of Benghazi — the cradle of the 2011 uprising — and the capital Tripoli, thousands took to the streets to chants of “We want the lights to work.”
Friday’s protests came a day after the leaders of the parliament and another legislative chamber based in Tripoli failed to reach an agreement on elections during UN-mediated talks in Geneva. The dispute now centers on the eligibility requirements for candidates, according to the UN.
Libya failed to hold elections in December, following challenges such as legal disputes, controversial presidential hopefuls and the presence of rogue militias and foreign fighters in the country.
The failure to hold the vote was a major below to international efforts to bring peace to the Mediterranean nation. It has opened a new chapter in its long-running political impasse, with two rival governments now claiming power after tentative steps toward unity in the past year.
The protesters, frustrated from years of chaos and division, have called for the removal of the current political class and elections to be held. They also rallied against dire economic conditions in the oil-rich nation, where prices have risen for fuel and bread and power outages are a regular occurrence.
There were fears that militias across the country could quash the protests as they did in 2020 demonstrations when they opened fire on people protesting dire economic conditions.
Sabadell Jose, the European Union envoy in Libya, called on protesters to “avoid any type of violence.” He said Friday’s demonstrations demonstrated that people want “change through elections and their voices should be heard.”
Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country was then for years split between rival administrations in the east and west, each supported by different militias and foreign governments.
Libya’s energy sector, which during the Qaddafi era financed a generous welfare state, has also fallen victim to political divisions, with a wave of forced closures of oil facilities since April.
Supporters of the eastern-based administration have shut off the oil taps as leverage in their efforts to secure a transfer of power to Bashagha, whose attempt to take up office in Tripoli in May ended in a swift withdrawal.
Libya’s National Oil Corporation has announced losses of more than $3.5 billion from the closures and a drop in gas output, which has a knock-on effect on the power grid.
(With AP and AFP)


Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination

Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination
Updated 8 min 43 sec ago

Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination

Palestinians to hand bullet that killed journalist to US for examination

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority will hand the bullet that killed prominent Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to US authorities for forensic examination, a Palestinian official said on Saturday.
Abu Akleh was killed on May 11 while was covering an Israeli military raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
After an investigation, the Palestinian Authority said she had been shot by an Israeli soldier in a “deliberate murder.”
Israel has denied the accusation and says it is continuing its own investigation. But it says it cannot determine whether she was shot accidentally by an Israeli soldier or by a Palestinian militant during an exchange of fire without examining the bullet to see if it matches an Israeli military gun.
“We agreed to transfer the bullet to the Americans for examination,” Akram Al-Khatib, General Prosecutor for the Palestinian Authority, told Reuters without providing further details.


UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
Updated 02 July 2022

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan

UAE sends three planes of medical aid to Afghanistan
  • The dispatched field hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms

The UAE has sent three planes of medical supplies, including a 1,000 square-meter-field hospital, to aid the injured of Afghanistan's earthquake that killed over 1,000 people and wounded scores more, Emirates new agency (WAM) reported on Saturday.
The dispatched hospital includes 75 beds and two operating rooms equipped with medical supplies and devices, the WAM statement read.
The planes also carried 16 metric tonnes of equipment and a medical team to operate the hospital and provide urgent medical services.
The UAE earlier established an air bridge to transport aid in the wake of the disaster.
The relief efforts come as Afghan authorities reported a shortage of food, shelter and medical supplies for the victims of the country’s deadliest earthquake in decades.

Last week, the country dispatched a plane carrying 30 tons of urgent food supplies to Afghanistan as aid continued to pour in from different parts of the world.