COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches

COVID-19, Palestine and Iranian nukes feature in first day of UN General Assembly speeches
  • The leaders of the US, Egypt and Turkey raised the issue of Palestinian rights and statehood, and called for a just and comprehensive solution
  • Iran’s president took aim at Washington, saying it has ‘no credibility; Qatar’s emir hailed the resolution of the dispute with neighboring countries

NEW YORK: The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the first day of speeches by world leaders during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly. But some also took the opportunity to raise the question of Palestinian statehood and express their fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. 

The leaders of the US, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Iran were among the premiers who addressed the UNGA on Tuesday. The speeches continued late into the evening, with many running over their allotted 15-minute slots.

US President Joe Biden declared that the US is back on the world stage and remains committed to multilateralism. As evidence of this he cited the nation’s return to the Paris Climate Agreement and its contribution to the international Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.

“Already, the United States has put more than $15 billion toward the global COVID response,” said Biden, who was making his first in-person speech to the UN as president. “We’ve shipped more than 160 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to other countries. This includes 130 million doses from our own supply,” with “no strings attached.”

Moving on to other issues, he called for the establishment of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state, saying that this is the “best way” to safeguard 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.

“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.

“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.”

On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Biden said: “We’re prepared to return to full compliance (with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) if Iran does the same.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also addressed the issue of Palestinian statehood.

“There can be no stability in the Middle East without a just, lasting, and comprehensive solution for the Palestinian question, which remains the central cause of instability for the Arab region,” he said. “This must happen in accordance with international resolutions to establish a Palestinian state along the June 4, 1967 border, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“Egypt also calls upon the international community to take the necessary measures to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people.”

Turning his attention to matters closer to home, El-Sisi said Egypt is “immensely proud” of its African identity but decried the lack of progress in negotiations over the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam project. Located upriver on the Nile, Egyptian authorities say it threatens their country’s existence due to its reliance on Nile water.

In his prerecorded speech, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who assumed office this year, took aim at the US over its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Capitol riots in Washington on Jan. 6, saying that America has “no credibility.”

He also blamed American authorities for causing the COVID-19 crisis in Iran, accusing them of preventing the country from obtaining vaccine supplies. He failed to mention that in January, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei banned the import of Western-produced vaccines, falsely claiming they could not be trusted. The ban was subsequently reversed but left Iran facing relentless waves of COVID-19 infections.

Raisi also attempted to convince world leaders that his country does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. “Nukes have no place in our defense doctrine and deterrence policy,” he said.

He also made a plea for sanctions relief, saying: “The Islamic Republic considers useful the talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions.”

The leaders of Qatar and Turkey called on the international community to cooperate in delivering vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani also urged the world to take action to fight what he called the “other pandemic:” COVID-19 misinformation.

He also celebrated his country’s return to the fold of Middle East diplomacy in January, after a dispute with a number of neighboring countries, including Saudi Arabia, was resolved through the AlUla declaration.

“We have repeatedly stressed the importance of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and our commitment to settling any differences through constructive dialogue,” he said. “The AlUla declaration came as an embodiment of the principle of settling differences through dialogue.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would soon start to provide vaccines produced there to the international community. He also echoed the comments by other leaders about the importance of working to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Heads of state will continue to address the General Assembly throughout the week. The speech by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.


Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires
Updated 58 min 1 sec ago

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires

Syria says 24 executed over starting wildfires
  • Those executed on Wednesday were charged with "committing terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure”
  • Eleven others were sentenced to hard labour for life, 4 were hit with temporary penal labour and 5 minors were handed jail sentences

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government has executed 24 people it convicted of deliberately starting deadly wildfires that raged in the summer of last year, state media reported Thursday.
Those executed on Wednesday were charged with “committing terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure and public and private property through the use of flammable material,” the official SANA news agency said.
Eleven others were sentenced to hard labor for life, four were hit with temporary penal labor and five minors were handed jail sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years over similar charges, SANA added.
Their identities were not disclosed, and no details were provided on where and how the executions took place.
The suspects, the state agency said, were identified late last year in an interior ministry probe into wildfires in the provinces of Latakia, Tartus and Homs.
“They confessed that they had started fires at several locations in the three provinces and they also confessed to convening meetings to plan the fires” that occurred intermittently in September and October 2020, according to SANA.
The agency said it documented 187 fires affecting 280 towns and villages last year.
They devastated 13,000 hectares of agricultural land and 11,000 hectares of forest land, while also damaging more than 370 homes, SANA said.
At least three people were killed and dozens wounded, state media reported at the time.
Syrian law still provides for the death penalty for offenses including terrorism, arson and army desertion, according to rights group Amnesty International.
In its latest death penalty report published this year, Amnesty said it was able to corroborate information indicating that executions took place in Syria in 2020 but said it did not have sufficient information to give a reliable minimum figure.
The death penalty is usually carried out by hanging in Syria.


Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians
Updated 44 min 56 sec ago

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians

Arab coalition announces Sanaa operation to stop Houthis targeting civilians
  • The coalition warned that it would “strike with an iron fist” if Houthi violations continue
  • Operation is a response to the Houthi threat and aims to deter the militia from targeting civilians

RIYADH: The Arab coalition has launched an operation in Sanaa to stop the Houthis attacking civilian targets.
The coalition said the offensive would neutralize the threat of imminent attacks on civilian facilities in the Kingdom.
The coalition warned that it would “strike with an iron fist” within the framework of international humanitarian law if Houthi violations continue.
The operation took into account preventive measures to protect civilians and the militia is an existential threat to international peace and security, the coalition said.
It said the alliance had exercised the highest degree of restraint in the face of recent Houthi violations.


Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole

Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole
Updated 21 October 2021

Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole

Footage shows violent arrest of Iranian woman with dog-catching pole
  • Rights campaigner: Police often ‘make up charges’ against women who breach morality laws

LONDON: Footage circulating online appears to show the violent arrest with a dog-catching pole of an Iranian woman accused of breaking morality laws.

The footage shows the unidentified woman being pulled violently by her hair through the streets of Tehran, ensnared by the catchpole, before being bundled into a “morality police” van.

Two men and a woman are seen forcing her into the van as she tries to resist. The victim’s head is smashed into the roof of the van as she is pushed inside.

 

 

Masih Alinejad, a prominent Iranian women’s rights campaigner who uploaded the footage, said the woman was arrested for failing to wear a head covering, which is mandatory for women in the country. “Unveiled women (are accused) of prostitution or creating moral corruption,” she tweeted.

Tehran’s police chief said the woman was arrested for being “insulting and aggressive,” but Alinejad said police often “make up other charges” against women who breach morality laws.

Police told Iranian media that further charges had been brought by a local shop owner, but they did not disclose what charges or by whom.

Tehran’s police also did not say whether the woman was injured during the arrest, but pledged to investigate the footage.

Alinejad said it is a “big lie” that officers will be held accountable for their actions. “Last time when morality police savagely beat women, police showed the same reaction,” she added. “But as soon as the atmosphere calmed down, they prosecuted the woman who filmed it.”

Rights groups have long criticized Iran’s treatment of women in Iran, who face discrimination across a host of areas.


Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election

Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election
Updated 21 October 2021

Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election

Libyan PM backs Dec. 24 election
  • Dbeibah said it was possible to end the lengthy crisis since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi

TRIPOLI: Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah supported on Thursday the holding of a national election on Dec. 24 as envisaged in a UN-backed peace plan.
Speaking at the Libya Stabilization Conference in Tripoli, he said it was possible to end the lengthy crisis that has engulfed the country since the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
“We support the efforts of the higher election committee to hold (the vote) on the planned date. I call for a wide and effective participation of Libyans in the elections,” Dbeibah said.
The election, agreed under a UN-supported peace process, has been viewed as a key step in efforts to end a decade of violence by creating a new political leadership whose legitimacy is widely accepted.
Wrangling over the constitutional basis for an election, the rules governing the vote and questions over its credibility have threatened to unravel the peace process.
The United Nations process has called for presidential and parliamentary elections for December 24.
However, although the parliament has issued a law for the presidential election on that date, it has issued a separate law saying the parliamentary election will happen at a later date. Other political institutions in Libya have rejected the parliament’s proposals.


Iran holds nationwide air force drill, latest armed exercise

Iran holds nationwide air force drill, latest armed exercise
Updated 21 October 2021

Iran holds nationwide air force drill, latest armed exercise

Iran holds nationwide air force drill, latest armed exercise
  • Iran’s annual air force drill comes a week after its held a two-day annual air defense drill in the country’s sprawling central desert

TEHRAN: Iran on Thursday kicked off an annual air force drill across the country, a week after holding another massive exercise in air defense, state TV reported.
The report said bombers, jet fighters, and attack and surveillance drones will participate in the drill, using heavy weapons including laser-guided missiles.
It said all Iranian military air bases will participate in the maneuver. Reportedly, Iran has 12 air bases. The report did not say how long the drill will last.
It came a week after Iran held a two-day annual air defense drill in the country’s sprawling central desert, with both the army and the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard taking part.
Iran regularly holds such drills and says they assess the troops’ combat readiness and demonstrate the nation’s military capabilities.
The region remains on edge over Iran’s escalating nuclear program. Talks in Vienna to revive Tehran’s now-tattered 2015 accord with world powers have stalled since June, with no date set for their resumption.
The 2015 nuclear deal saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.