Abu Dhabi crown prince receives US CENTCOM commander

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed meets Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command in the Middle East. (WAM)
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Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed meets Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command in the Middle East. (WAM)
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed meets Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command in the Middle East. (WAM)
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Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed meets Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command in the Middle East. (WAM)
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Updated 13 May 2022

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives US CENTCOM commander

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed meets Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command in the M

RIYADH: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed received Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the commander of the US Central Command in the Middle East (CENTCOM), state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
During the meeting, which was held at Qasr Al-Shati palace, the two sides discussed “prospects of further consolidating the friendship ties and aspects of defense cooperation” between the UAE and the US as part of the strategic relations binding the two nations, the statement said.
They also exchanged views on a number of regional and international issues of mutual interest.


Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
Updated 12 sec ago

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises

Iran protesters seek justice as building collapse toll rises
TEHRAN: Hundreds of people took to the streets in southwestern Iran demanding justice after a tower block collapse killed 24 people, news outlets in the Islamic republic said on Friday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in the city of Abadan, in Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday, causing one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.
Images published by Fars news agency showed hundreds of residents marching along Abadan’s streets on Thursday night, mourning those who lost their lives by banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals.
Some shouted “Death to incompetent officials” and hailed the “Martyrs of Metropol,” Fars said.
People also took to the streets of Khorramshahr city, in the same province, expressing their sympathy with the families of those who died and calling for “a decisive and serious” trial of those responsible, it added.
Similar protests were held on Wednesday night in Abadan, state TV had reported.
More than four days after the tower block’s collapse, rescue teams were still recovering bodies from under slabs of cement.
A video posted on Tasnim news agency’s website on Friday showed rescuers carrying a gurney with a body wrapped in a black bag.
Abadan governor Ehsan Abbaspour, cited by ISNA news agency, said the number of people killed in the disaster stood at 24, up from 19 previously.
Officials said 37 people were also injured, although most have since been discharged from hospital.
It remains unknown how many people may still be trapped under the rubble.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had called for perpetrators to be prosecuted and punished, in a statement posted on his official website on Thursday.
The provincial judiciary said at least 10 people were arrested following the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, accused of being “responsible” for the collapse, the Judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
An investigation has been opened into the cause of the disaster in Abadan, a city of 230,000 people, 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of Tehran.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber visited Abadan on Friday to “investigate the dimensions of the building collapse incident,” according to ISNA.
In a previous major disaster in Iran, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the capital’s 15-story Plasco shopping center in January 2017.

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
The ministry called for an immediate release of the ship and its cargo. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US seizure of Iranian oil
  • The US seized Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece

Iran on Friday summoned the envoy of Switzerland, which represents US interests in Tehran, to protest against the US seizure of Iranian oil from a Russian-operated ship near Greece, the foreign ministry said in a statement quoted by Iranian media.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ship and its cargo, the IRNA state news agency quoted it as saying.
The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.
A spokesperson for the US Department of Justice declined to comment on the oil seizure.
“The Islamic Republic expressed its deep concern over the US government’s continued violation of international laws and international maritime conventions,” IRNA and other media quoted the foreign ministry as saying.
A source at Greece’s shipping ministry told Reuters on Thursday that the US Department of Justice had “informed Greece that the cargo on the vessel is Iranian oil.”
It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian links. Iran and Russia face separate US sanctions.
Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that the US plans to send the cargo to the United States aboard another vessel.
The Iranian-flagged ship, the Pegas, was among five vessels designated by Washington on Feb. 22 — two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — for sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector.
IRNA reported on Wednesday that its foreign ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo of a ship which was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government.
IRNA quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization as saying the tanker had sought refuge along the Greek coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, adding that the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.” 


US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
Updated 27 May 2022

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil

US seizes 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil
  • Cargo confiscated off coast of Greece 
  • Sanctions enforced again as nuclear deal hopes fade

JEDDAH: The US has confiscated more than 600,000 barrels of smuggled Iranian crude oil from a tanker off the coast of Greece in a new wave of sanctions enforcement.
The cargo of oil was pumped off the tanker into another vessel on Thursday and is now being transferred to the US.
The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.
The Pegas was one of five vessels named by Washington on Feb. 22, two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defense sector. The tanker was renamed Lana on March 1 and has been flying the Iranian flag since May 1.
The vessel, with 19 Russian crew members on board, was initially impounded by Greek authorities last month off the coast of the southern Greek island of Evia.
Greece said the ship had been seized as part of EU sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, but the vessel was later released.

FASTFACT

The oil tanker, the Pegas, was targeted under two sets of sanctions — against Russia because it is Russian owned, and against Iran because it was carrying Iranian oil.

However, the US imposed new sanctions this week on a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for the Quds Force, the foreign operations unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. As a result, the oil tanker was seized again.
Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said the tanker had sought refuge along Greece’s coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather, and the seizure of its cargo was “a clear example of piracy.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the charge d’affaires of Greece’s embassy in Tehran following the seizure of the cargo.
The ship was “under the banner of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Greek waters and he was informed of the strong objections” of Iran’s government, the ministry said.
In 2020, Washington confiscated four cargos of Iranian fuel aboard foreign ships that were bound for Venezuela and transferred them with the help of undisclosed foreign partners on to two other ships which then sailed to the US.
Operations against smuggled Iranian oil had tailed off recently amid hopes for a revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, including those targeting oil exports.
However, talks on reviving the deal have stalled, and the new oil cargo seizure suggests that the US is again enforcing sanctions.
Washington’s Iran envoy said this week the chances of reviving the nuclear deal were now shaky at best, and the US was ready to tighten sanctions on Iran.


Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says

Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says
Updated 27 May 2022

Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says

Talk of closing last Syrian aid lifeline ‘a moral abomination,’ UN commission says
  • Cross-border agreement set to expire on July 10, with Security Council members already sparring over whether it should be extended
  • Number of Syrians facing hunger has almost doubled since 2019, as Ukraine war pushes up prices, and hits wheat and fuel supplies

NEW YORK: With the current UN Security Council’s exceptional authorization for humanitarian aid delivery through the last remaining border crossing into northwest Syria set to expire on July 10, the UN Syria Commission of Inquiry warned that it would be a “failure of the highest order” if the council failed to extend the life-saving operation.

“As the country faces its worst economic and humanitarian crisis since the start of the conflict, the international community must safeguard existing, life-saving cross-border assistance and increase their funding pledges to support this aid,” said a commission statement, which also expressed alarm at what it called a “trajectory of consistent narrowing of the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery.”

When deliveries of international aid to Syria began in 2014, the Security Council approved four border crossings. In January 2020, permanent member Russia used its power of veto to force the closure of all but one, Bab-al-Hawa.

Moscow argues that international aid operations violate Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Security Council discussions about the issue often prove difficult, with Russia and China consistently insisting that all humanitarian aid deliveries require the consent of the Syrian authorities.

Opposing views among council members last week on the need to extend the cross-border mechanism have sparked concern among humanitarian agencies, as the crossing so far has guaranteed access to desperately needed aid for millions of Syrians since 2014.

“It is a moral abomination that a Security Council resolution was in itself deemed necessary to facilitate cross-border aid in the face of consistent violations — by the government of Syria and other parties — of their obligations under international law to allow and facilitate humanitarian relief for civilians in need,” Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the UN Syria Commission, said.

The July 10 renewal vote comes as humanitarian needs throughout Syria are at their highest since the start of the war 11 years ago.

The UN estimates that 14.6 million Syrians are now in need of aid. Across the war-ravaged country, 12 million people face acute food insecurity, a staggering 51 percent increase since 2019, amid a conflict in Ukraine that has sent food prices skyrocketing and threatened supplies of wheat and other commodities.
 
In opposition-held northwest Syria, conditions are deteriorating due to continuing hostilities and a deepening economic crisis. About 4.1 million people there, mostly women and children, depend on aid to meet their basic needs.

Cross-border operations authorized by the Security Council allow aid to reach around 2.4 million people every month.

The commission said in its latest report that this lifeline is vital to the population in northwest Syria, adding that while some aid is delivered cross-line from within Syria, these deliveries contain much smaller, insufficient quantities and are exposed to attacks along a dangerous delivery route that crosses active front lines.

During its 11 years of investigating the conflict, the commission has documented that both the government and armed groups have repeatedly used humanitarian aid as a political bargaining chip, often deliberately withholding it for specific populations, particularly those under siege.

The commission also maintains that across all territories of Syria, staff members of humanitarian organizations constantly run the risk of being harassed, arbitrarily arrested and detained.

Commissioner Hanny Megally said: “Parties to the conflict have consistently failed in their obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need across Syria. It is unconscionable that the discussion seems to focus on whether to close the one remaining authorized border crossing for aid, rather than how to expand access to life-saving aid across the country and through every appropriate route.”

Earlier this month, humanitarian aid organizations sounded the alarm at an EU-hosted Brussels VI Conference on Syria.

“The funds for humanitarian assistance are simply not sufficient to address the needs and protect the Syrians right now,” Pinheiro said.

“The international community cannot now abandon the Syrian people. They have endured 11 years of devastating conflict that has inflicted unspeakable suffering. They have never been more impoverished and in need of our help.”


Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike

Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike
Updated 27 May 2022

Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike

Doctors, hospitals in Lebanon go on strike
  • The strike was declared by two medical professionals’ unions, which say they could no longer put up with Central Bank policies that have allowed banks to impose random capital controls

BEIRUT: Dozens of doctors, nurses and medical personnel rallied on Thursday outside the Central Bank in the Lebanese capital of Beirut after declaring a two-day general strike to protest rapidly deteriorating economic conditions.

The strike was declared by two medical professionals’ unions — The Syndicates of Doctors in Beirut and the North and the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners — which say they could no longer put up with Central Bank policies that have allowed banks to impose random capital controls and other restrictions.

During the strike, which ends on Friday, only emergency cases and dialysis patients would be admitted to hospitals, the unions said.

Lebanon’s medical sector, which up until few years ago was among the best in the Middle East, is on the brink of collapse, barely surviving the country’s unprecedented economic and financial meltdown.

The crisis that started in October 2019 has seen the local currency lose more than 90 percent of its value to the dollar, wiping out salaries and savings.

The hardship has led to the emigration of thousands of doctors and nurses and the closure of a large number of pharmacies, as well as severe shortages in medicines and medical equipment.

A number of hospitals have been warning they will have to close because they can no longer pay for their expenses or pay their employees’ salaries.

“Hospitals will close because there is no way they can continue. We have to pay cash when we have no access to cash,” said Suleiman Haroun, head of the private hospitals’ union, who joined the protest in Beirut along with a few hundred other colleagues.

He blamed Central Bank policies for destroying the sector.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese pound continued to hit new lows against the dollar, which was selling at around 35,600 pounds on the black market Wednesday.

The Lebanese currency was pegged at 1,500 pounds to the dollar for 22 years until the crisis erupted in late 2019.