US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters

US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters
The navy said it boarded and searched the ship, which last year was caught carrying thousands of weapons and handed to Yemen's coast guard. (FIle/AFP)
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Updated 23 January 2022

US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters

US detains Iranian smuggling ship, UK seizes drugs in Mideast waters
  • The interdictions were just the latest in the volatile waters of the Arabian Gulf as American and British authorities step up seizures of contraband during the grinding conflict in Yemen

DUBAI: The US Navy announced Sunday it seized a boat in the Gulf of Oman carrying fertilizer used to make explosives that was caught last year smuggling weapons to Yemen. The British royal navy said it confiscated 1,041 kilograms (2,295 pounds) of illegal drugs in the same waters.

The interdictions were just the latest in the volatile waters of the Arabian Gulf as American and British authorities step up seizures of contraband during the grinding conflict in Yemen and ongoing drug trafficking in the region.

The US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said its guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and patrol ships halted and searched the sailboat, a stateless fishing dhow, that was sailing from Iran on a well-worn maritime arms smuggling route to war-ravaged Yemen last Tuesday. US forces found 40 tons of urea fertilizer, known to be a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, hidden on board.

Authorities said the vessel had been previously seized off the coast of Somalia and found last year to be loaded with thousands of assault rifles and rocket launchers, among other weapons. UN experts say weapons with such technical characteristics likely come from Iran to support the Houthi rebels. The Navy turned over the vessel, cargo and Yemeni crew to Yemen’s coast guard earlier this week.

Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into the country's poorly controlled ports over years of conflict. Since 2015, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition for control of the nation. Iran says it politically supports the rebels but denies arming them, despite evidence to the contrary.

The smuggled weapons have helped the Houthis gain an edge against the Saudi-led coalition in the seven-year war. Violence has drastically escalated over the past week amid stalled international attempts at brokering peace. Following a deadly drone attack claimed by the rebels on Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Officials also revealed Sunday that a British royal navy vessel had seized a large quantity of illegal drugs valued at some $26 million from a boat sailing through the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 15.

The HMS Montrose confiscated 663 kilograms (1,461 pounds) of heroin, 87 kilograms (191 pounds) of methamphetamine and 291 kilograms (641 pounds) of hashish and marijuana, the joint maritime task force said in a statement.


Reformists surge in Lebanon polls

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls
Updated 14 sec ago

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls

Reformists surge in Lebanon polls
  • The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial crisis and soaring poverty
  • The new house is expected to elect a new speaker amid the absence of parliamentary consensus to reelect standing speaker Nabih Berri

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group and its allies lost their parliamentary majority while independents achieved surprise breakthroughs, final elections results showed Tuesday.

The results indicate a fragmented and polarized parliament divided between pro- and anti-Hezbollah lawmakers who will likely find it difficult to work together.

The outcome signaled a shift in a country devastated by an ongoing financial crisis and soaring poverty.

New reformist faces who entered the legislative race on the values of a 2019 anti-establishment uprising made a stronger showing than many had predicted.

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Al-Bukhari tweeted that the result “proves the inevitability that the logic of the state will win against the absurd excesses of the statelet disrupting political life and stability in Lebanon.”

In the words of a political observer, “neither Hezbollah nor the Free Patriotic Movement is controlling parliament.”

On May 22, the term of the new parliament begins and Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet will become a caretaker government.

The new house is expected to elect a new speaker amid the absence of parliamentary consensus to reelect standing speaker Nabih Berri, who has held the position since 1992.

Beirut witnessed on Tuesday morning the burning of a “Revolution Fist” that was set up in the Martyrs’ Square as a symbol of popular protest against the ruling class.

Moreover, the exchange rate of the US dollar against the Lebanese pound on the black market surpassed 30,000 Lebanese pounds for the first time after the elections.

The presidential palace announced that President Michel Aoun was transferred to Hotel-Dieu de France hospital in Beirut “to undergo some medical tests and X-rays.” They reassured the public that Aoun “will leave the hospital in the next few hours when the tests are done.”

The elected parliament does not resemble any of the six previously elected parliaments since the Taif Agreement in 1989. According to political observers, “it reflects the political turmoil the country is going through.”

The loss of several veteran political figures was remarkable in the election. Minister of Information Ziad Makkari said that those forces and figures “should reconsider the work they’ve done for their people.”

He added: “We hope that the forces of change that have reached the parliament seriously contribute to the rise of the country because it can’t endure any longer.”

Remarkably, Hezbollah and its allies won a total of 59 seats out of 128. The group’s allies include the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Tachnag party and Al-Ahbash Association, along with Jihad Al-Samad, Farid Al-Khazen and Hassan Mourad.

The Amal Movement, headed by Nabih Berri, won 15 Shiite seats, most of which are occupied by current deputies, including two who were charged in the Beirut port explosion case.

Hezbollah won 13 Shiite seats, including current deputies and two new ones.

One Shiite and two Sunni deputies allied with Hezbollah also won.

The Lebanese Forces won 20 seats, including one Sunni deputy who was running on a list supported by the party.

The Free Patriotic Movement won 18 seats.

The Progressive Socialist Party, headed by Walid Jumblatt, won nine seats.

The Lebanese Phalangist Party won five seats, including an Armenian deputy.

The Independence Movement won two seats.

The Marada Movement won two seats, while Al-Ahbash won two seats — one in Beirut and one in Tripoli.

The Islamic Group won one seat.

Camille Dory Chamoun from the National Liberal Party won one seat. The party announced on Tuesday that “they will be part of the bloc that includes the Lebanese Forces and their allies.”

The elections also witnessed the victories — mostly in the north — of six former members of the Future Movement who left the party following former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to suspend his political activity.

Eleven independent candidates won, including some fiercely opposed to Hezbollah, such as Achraf Rifi in Tripoli and Fouad Makhzoumi in Beirut.

Fifteen deputies from civil society and the 2019 revolution won, including doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, businessmen and academicians. Their victory breaks the monopoly of the conventional political parties and reflects voters’ revolt against their traditional leaders.

The winners include Rami Fanj, candidate for the Sunni seat in Tripoli. He ousted deputy Faisal Karami, who comes from a veteran political family.

Eight out of 155 women candidates were able to break the parliament’s overwhelming male dominance.

Three of these female winners were already deputies, including Inaya Ezzedine from the Amal Movement, Paula Yaacoubian, who resigned amid the 17 October revolution, and Sethrida Geagea of the Lebanese Forces.

The remaining women deputies are Nada Boustani, former minister of energy affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement, Ghada Ayoub from the Lebanese Forces and Cynthia Zarazir, Najat Saliba and Halima Kaakour from the civil society movement.


Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem
Updated 33 min 16 sec ago

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem

Scores injured as Israeli forces attack Palestinian funeral in Jerusalem
  • Return of Israeli attack helicopters mooted as violent clashes intensify

RAMALLAH: More than 70 Palestinians were wounded as Israeli forces attacked a funeral in East Jerusalem late on Monday. 

The unrest unfolded as Palestinians were burying Walid Al-Sharif, 23, who died on Saturday of wounds suffered during clashes last month at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The violence spread to the West Bank with Israeli forces arresting 16 Palestinians and a further 35 from East Jerusalem.

The attack on Al-Sharif’s funeral was similar to the brutal crackdown by Israeli police on the May 14 funeral of Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot on May 11 by Israeli soldiers without any provocation.

Meanwhile, dozens of students and civilians suffered after inhaling tear gas in Al-Aroub refugee camp, north of Hebron, following clashes with the Israeli army. The violence erupted as school students conducted a march in memory of a Palestinian who was killed by the Israeli military. The injured were treated at the site.

Clashes also erupted between school students and Israeli soldiers in the south of ​​Hebron city, near the Ibrahimi Mosque. Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers who lobbed tear gas canisters at the students, leaving several injured.

Israeli sources said the Israeli army is considering using combat helicopters during its operations in the occupied West Bank. This escalation follows the killing of an Israeli officer from a special unit during an armed clash with Palestinian resistance fighters in Jenin on May 14.

The Israeli army deployed combat helicopters during the second Palestinian Intifada from 2000 to 2004. The vehicles were occasionally flown over Palestinian territories during intense clashes with militants in the West Bank.

Israeli sources stated that “the strategy proposed by the Israeli security services, and adopted by the political leadership, is to expand arrests and raids, mainly in Jenin, to produce and obtain more intelligence and arrest more wanted persons.”

Ibrahim Melhem, the spokesperson for the Palestinian government, told Arab News: “The absence of deterrent punishment and the constant feeling of impunity (enjoyed) by the Israeli occupation drives it to persist and continue this policy of escalating brutal and racist violence against the Palestinian people.

“The international resolutions calling for imposing sanctions on Israel must be activated because if sanctions are not imposed, and no measures are taken, it will be considered the green light for Israel to commit more crimes against the Palestinians.”

Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, said during his speech at a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, that the recent Palestinian attacks in Israel are interlinked and inspired by the incitement from organizations in the region. “This incitement does not receive sufficient condemnation from the world and the leaders of the region.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that his directives are clear about targeting Palestinian militants “wherever they are, and with all kinds of weapons.”

He added: “We fully support the army and police in their efforts to target any militant, whether in Jerusalem, the West Bank, or anywhere else in the country, who raises his hand on any settler or soldier from the army.”

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassim said Bennett, by allowing his army to target Palestinians with all means, has shown that “he intends to use the systematic terrorist policy in dealing with our people.”

Qassim said these statements expose how the occupying forces intend to escalate their aggression, indicating that Hamas will respond to the occupation by escalating the act of resistance in all its forms and continuing the revolution in all areas of the struggle.

Meanwhile, Bennett welcomed a recent decision to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank that the Palestinians and most of the international community view as illegal.

During a visit to the settlement of Elkana, he depicted the expansion of settlements as a response to recent Palestinian violence. 

Most of the international community, including the White House, view the settlements as an obstacle to peace because they shrink and divide territory where an independent Palestinian state would be established.


Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites
Updated 52 min 25 sec ago

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites

Israel says Iran working on advanced centrifuges at new underground sites
  • Centrifuges are used to purify uranium for civilian projects or, at higher levels, to make bomb fuel
  • "Iran is making an effort to complete the manufacturing and installation of 1,000 additional advanced IR6 centrifuges in its nuclear facilities," Defence Minister Benny Gantz said

HERZLIYA, Israel: Iran is working on advanced uranium centrifuges at new underground sites being built near its Natanz nuclear plant, Israel’s defense minister said on Tuesday, giving figures that appeared to go beyond those published by a UN watchdog.
Centrifuges are used to purify uranium for civilian projects or, at higher levels, to make bomb fuel. Iranian progress in the field is being watched by world powers trying to resurrect a nuclear deal with Tehran, which denies having military designs.
“Iran is making an effort to complete the manufacturing and installation of 1,000 additional advanced IR6 centrifuges in its nuclear facilities, including new facilities being built at underground sites abutting Natanz,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a speech at Reichman University near Tel Aviv.
A March 3 report by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had installed or planned to install a total of three IR6 cascades, amounting to around 660 machines.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said last month that Iran had set up a new underground Natanz workshop for making centrifuge parts, an apparent precaution against attacks.
In his remarks, Gantz alluded to Israel’s long-standing threat to take military action if it deems diplomacy is at a dead end to deny its arch-enemy the means to make nuclear weapons.
“The cost of such a future war, which we hope will not happen, can be prevented or reduced” with tougher negotiations by world powers, he said.
Ram Ben-Barak, head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, confirmed Israeli media reports on Tuesday that Israel’s air force, as part of a scheduled one-month military exercise, would be simulating an attack on Iran.
“This exercise was planned long ago,” Ben-Barak told Reshet Bet Radio. “We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”


Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’

Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’
Updated 17 May 2022

Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’

Algeria says arrested activist died of ‘natural causes’

ALGIERS: Algeria on Tuesday blamed “natural causes” for the death of a pro-democracy activist in detention last month, which sparked a wave of anger and prompted a lawsuit for manslaughter.
Hakim Debbazi, 55, was arrested in February after publishing Facebook posts in support of Hirak, a pro-democracy movement. He died on April 24, according to the Algerian rights group LADDH.
Earlier this month, his family said they were suing the state for manslaughter and “failing to help a person in danger,” and were seeking a billion euros in compensation.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Abderrachid Tabi told parliament that Debbazi had been transferred to hospital on April 17 “after falling ill” at the Kolea prison near the capital Algiers.
“He died at the hospital three days later,” Tabi said, local media reported. “The autopsy found that he had died of natural causes.”
Amnesty International has called on authorities to allow an independent investigation into his death.
His death comes after activists Mohamed Tamalt and Kamel Eddine Fekhar both died in detention in 2016 and 2019 respectively.
The CNLD prisoners’ support group says more than 260 people are behind bars in Algeria in relation to the Hirak protest movement or rights campaigning.


UN envoy says talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing

UN envoy says talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing
Updated 25 min 46 sec ago

UN envoy says talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing

UN envoy says talks to extend Yemen truce are ongoing
  • Grundberg thanked the Kingdom for its support
  • He said there has been a “positive impact on the daily lives of many Yemenis” as a result of the truce

RIYADH: Talks to extend the two-month truce in Yemen with the parties concerned are ongoing, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg said on Tuesday.

“I continue to engage the parties to overcome outstanding challenges and to ensure the extension of the truce which is set to expire in two weeks,” Grundberg said.

Speaking to the press from Amman, the UN envoy said he was “grateful for the consistent and robust support of the international community in advocating for the implementation and the extension of the truce.

“I would like to note in particular the support provided by Saudi Arabia.”

He said there has been a “considerable positive impact on the daily lives of many Yemenis” as a result of the truce which came into effect on April 2.

He applauded the parties to the truce for taking the “courageous” steps of agreeing to it and “prioritising alleviating the suffering of the Yemeni people.”

“The truce is holding in military terms. For the past six weeks civilian casualties have dropped considerably, fighting has sharply reduced,” Grundberg added.

“There are reports of increasing humanitarian access including in some front line locations that had previously been extremely difficult to access,” he said.