Mike Pence salutes Iranian resistance movement during visit to its HQ in Albania

Special Mike Pence salutes Iranian resistance movement during visit to its HQ in Albania
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Former US Vice President Mike Pence addressing an audience of more than 2,000 Iranian dissidents in Tirana, Albania. (Supplied)
Special Mike Pence salutes Iranian resistance movement during visit to its HQ in Albania
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Iranian dissidents gather every year in support of the struggle to “free” Iran from the “tyranny and brutality” of its ruling ayatollahs. (Supplied)
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Updated 24 June 2022

Mike Pence salutes Iranian resistance movement during visit to its HQ in Albania

Mike Pence salutes Iranian resistance movement during visit to its HQ in Albania
  • The former US vice president accused President Joe Biden of ‘unraveling’ the progress made in undermining Tehran’s support for terrorism and its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon
  • He told a 2,000-strong audience ‘we share one common cause: The liberation of the Iranian people from decades of tyranny, and the rebirth of a free, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Iran’

CHICAGO: Former US Vice President Mike Pence visited the headquarters of Iran’s main opposition movement, in Tirana, Albania, on Thursday, where he paid tribute those who have been murdered by the Iranian regime and the continuing efforts of the resistance.

He also condemned President Joe Biden and his policies for “unraveling” the progress that had been made in undermining Tehran’s support for terrorism and its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

Pence was addressing an audience of more than 2,000 people in a packed hall at the Ashraf-3 camp. It is home to about 3,000 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, also known as the MEK. Iranian dissidents gather there annually in support of the struggle to “free” Iran from the “tyranny and brutality” of its ruling ayatollahs.

“I have traveled more than 5,000 miles, from my home in Indiana, to be here today because we share one common cause: The liberation of the Iranian people from decades of tyranny, and the rebirth of a free, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Iran,” Pence told the audience.

“This is the first opportunity I have had to visit Albania since completing my term as vice president of the United States. While I no longer speak on behalf of the American government, I do speak with confidence regarding the views of millions of Americans. And I can say to all of those gathered here, including to many of my fellow Americans, that the American people are with you as you stand and labor for freedom in Iran.”

Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a partner organization of the MEK, welcomed Pence to the camp.

“Three days ago marked the beginning of the 42nd year of our nationwide resistance against the mullahs’ regime,” she said. “On June 20, 1981, (Ayatollah) Khomeini ordered his Revolutionary Guards to open fire on the MEK’s half-a-million-strong, and peaceful, demonstration in Tehran and turned it into a mass killing.

“The same night, mass executions began, without even identifying the victims. Moments ago, in the Museum of Resistance, you saw a glimpse of the Iranian people’s suffering under the mullahs’ rule and also their resistance against the regime. One thousand political prisoners tortured by the Shah’s regime or the ruling religious dictatorship are present in this hall today. Some have lost 10 or 12 family members.”

Rajavi thanked Pence for his support, not only while vice president but also when he was a member of Congress and the governor of Indiana. She said he has “consistently supported” calls for the end of the regime in Tehran and “clearly fraudulent elections and decades of oppression.”

Pence said the cause that the Iranian resistance devotes itself to “is freedom” and that the world “must never be silent.” He criticized former President Barack Obama and Biden for only reluctantly supporting the call for justice “against Iran’s tyrannical leaders” following the massacre of Iranian civilians during a popular uprising in the country in 2009.

“As we witnessed that horror, I said at that time we were witnessing a ‘Tiananmen in Tehran,’” Pence said, referencing the June 1989 civilian protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, against China's Communist rulers.

When President Donald Trump was in office, he added, US authorities stood with the people of Iran and “took action” to confront the regime’s violence.

He criticized the inaction of Obama and Biden and said: “Under the Trump-Pence administration, I am proud that Americans did not turn a deaf ear to the pleas of the Iranian people. We did not remain silent in the face of the Iranian regime’s countless atrocities. We stood with freedom-loving people in Iran.”

Pence said that both he and Trump were determined to “never allow Iran a nuclear weapon.”

He added: “I came here today simply to say we stand unequivocally on the side of the Iranian people. One of the biggest lies the ruling regime has sold the world is that there’s no alternative to the status quo. But there is an alternative — a well-organized, fully prepared, perfectly qualified and popularly supported alternative.

“And let me thank Maryam Rajavi and all of those gathered here at Ashraf-3 for offering hope to your people in Iran. Your resistance units, commitment to democracy, human rights and freedom for every citizen is a vision for a free Iran and an inspiration to the world.

“The regime in Tehran wants to trick the world into believing that the Iranian protesters want to return to the dictatorship of the Shah as well. (But) Maryam Rajavi’s 10-point plan for the future of Iran will ensure the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, freedom for every Iranian to choose their elected leaders. It’s a foundation on which to build the future of a free Iran.”

The MEK has worked to establish an underground network of resistance inside Iran that engages in efforts to challenge the regime and its oppression.

Its sources inside Iran have helped to expose Tehran’s continuing efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, despite regime claims that it wishes to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Also known as the Iran nuclear deal, the agreement was designed to prevent the regime from pursuing a nuclear weapon in return for sanctions relief. Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Talks in Vienna on a US return to the JCPOA remain deadlocked.

The Iranian resistance relocated to Albania in 2016 after leaving Iraq, where they had built Ashraf-1 and Ashraf-2 camps. They are called “Ashraf” in honor of Ashraf Rajavi, a renowned MEK official who was a political prisoner under the Shah’s regime and killed by the Iranian regime in 1982.

Ashraf-3 features massive white buildings, along with memorials to the thousands of dissidents killed over the years, including the Eternal Flame of Freedom for Iran Rights, and the Museum of Resistance. The streets are lined with reminders of the fight for Iran’s freedom, including many green, red and white flags and other decorations.

Israel defies UN with raid on Palestine rights groups

Israel defies UN with raid on Palestine rights groups
Updated 13 sec ago

Israel defies UN with raid on Palestine rights groups

Israel defies UN with raid on Palestine rights groups
  • Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz repeats discredited claims of financing terror organizations
  • Nine EU countries have said they will continue working with the Palestinian groups because Israel has produced no evidence to support its accusations

RAMALLAH: Israel defied condemnation by the UN and the EU on Thursday by raiding and closing down seven Palestinian rights groups in the West Bank.

Security forces stormed the groups’ offices in Ramallah and seized files, computers and other equipment before sealing off entrances and declaring them permanently closed.

The seven groups are the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Al-Haq; Bisan Center for Research and Development; Defense for Children International — Palestine; Health Work Committees; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

Israel has designated six of the groups as terrorist, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday repeated discredited claims that they had raised funds for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which it views as a terrorist organization.

The UN called for the terrorist designations to be revoked. “Despite offers to do so, Israeli authorities have not presented to the UN any credible evidence to justify these declarations,” the UN Human Rights Office said. “As such, the closures appear totally arbitrary.”

Nine EU countries have said they will continue working with the Palestinian groups because Israel has produced no evidence to support its accusations. “Past allegations of misuse of EU funds in relation to certain Palestinian civil society organizations have not been substantiated,” EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell’s spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said on Thursday. “The EU will continue to stand by international law and support civil society organizations.”

After the raids, staff from Al-Haq removed the metal sheet covering their office door and vowed to get back to work. “We were established here not by Israel, not by their decision, and we will continue our work,” director Shawan Jabarin said.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh visited the group’s office and pledged his support. “This is not only an NGO, but this is also a state of Palestine institution — therefore as long as they work within the law, we will stand solid with them,” he said. 

Analysts speculated that Israel had attacked the groups because they were becoming increasingly effective at exposing Israel’s repression of Palestinian people. “I think Israel wants to restrict the activities of the Palestinian human rights institutions that worked to submit files to the International Criminal Court and were able to change world opinion of Palestinian human rights issues,” rights expert Majed Al-Arouri told Arab News.

Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen

Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen
Updated 23 min 38 sec ago

Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen

Lebanon public sector faces paralysis as strikes widen
  • Move to raise customs dollar rate plunges markets into turmoil 

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s public sector and legal system are under growing strain amid widening strike action over the plunging value of salaries in the crisis-hit country.

Hundreds of judges continued their strike on Thursday in protest at having their salaries based on exchange rate of 1,507 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Civil servants have also decided to go on strike again for the same reason, despite being granted monthly aid.

Meanwhile, Lebanese university professors are continuing their open-ended strike, while students wait for work to resume so they can take last year’s final exams.

Lebanon took preliminary steps to raise the customs dollar rate from 1,507 Lebanese pounds — the rate adopted before the economic crisis hit three years ago — to 20,000 pounds.

The move created confusion in markets, adding to the chaos they were already facing.

The customs dollar is the price for calculating the customs value of imports, and is paid in Lebanese pounds.

On Thursday, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati sent a letter to Finance Minister Youssef Khalil demanding the customs dollar rate of 20,000 pounds be adopted.

Khalil told an expanded ministerial consultative meeting about the move.

The ministerial committee enjoys exceptional powers that allow it to adjust the customs dollar rate without the need for Cabinet approval.

Amin Salam, the caretaker economy minister, told a press conference on Thursday that the preliminary decision will be the subject of discussions between the finance minister and the central bank governor.

Salam said that the impact of the new customs dollar rate on prices of goods would be “insignificant,” adding that the current rate was no longer fair.

“We want to adjust the wages and salaries of civil servants,” he said.

Salam also voiced fears that traders might store goods to be sold later under the new rate.

“We are waiting for traders to provide us with the lists of goods they purchased previously,” the minister said.

Foodstuffs that will be subject to the customs dollar can be substituted by alternative products available in Lebanon, in order to encourage the industrial sector and the Lebanese industry, he said.

Salam said that expensive cheese and canned vegetables are among products that will be subject to the customs dollar.

He warned traders against pricing old products based on the new customs dollar rate.

The customs dollar is one of the main elements feeding the Lebanese treasury, which receives a percentage of the price of imported goods.

MP Ibrahim Kanaan, chair of the parliamentary finance and budget committee, said that he doubted the customs dollar would take into consideration people’s means and needs.

“How can we come up with the customs dollar? What are the covered and non-covered goods, and who is going to monitor the prices?” he asked.

Four rates are currently adopted in Lebanon by the state and banks, in addition to the black market rate, which reached about 33,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on Thursday.

Economic analysts have predicted that the country will witness a new wave of price increases while social security measures are negligible in the face of worsening economic pressures.

Observers are worried that this might encourage smugglers crossing Lebanese-Syrian border.

Hani Bohsali, head of the Food Importers’ Syndicate, told Arab News: “There are no luxury goods anymore. If we want to speak logically and put things in perspective, the interests of Lebanese come before the traders’ interests.”

Bohsali said the customs dollar “will affect oils and canned vegetables, and we are afraid that those demanding a wage increase might request another one after a while.”

He added: “We will all pay the price of and be affected by ill-considered decisions.

“Do we know what the repercussions of increasing the customs dollar are? Is it really going to profit the state? They calculated it based on how things stand currently, but what if the value of importation dropped by half as a result of the Lebanese low purchasing power.”

MP Ziad Hawat said that increasing the rate without a complete economic plan would not achieve the desired objectives.

He called for a consolidation of the exchange rate instead of “stealing people’s deposits.”


A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange
Updated 39 min 15 sec ago

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange

A new honeymoon for Turkey-Israel ties may begin with envoy exchange
  • Timing coincides with efforts by both countries to build relationships in region, analyst tells Arab News

ANKARA: Israel and Turkey have announced the upgrading of diplomatic relations and the return of their ambassadors and consuls general after years of strained ties between the two nations. 

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid greeted such a diplomatic breakthrough as an “important asset for regional stability and very important economic news for the citizens of Israel.

According to Dr. Nimrod Goren, president of the Mitvim Institute and co-founder of Diplomeds — The Council for Mediterranean Diplomacy — the announcement on the upgrading of ties marks a diplomatic success.

"It is the culmination of a gradual process that has taken place over more than a year, during which Israel and Turkey have worked to rebuild trust, launch new dialogue channels, adopt a positive agenda, re-energize cooperation, confront security challenges, and find ways to contain differences," Goren told Arab News.

“Based on these positive developments, restoring relations at the ambassadorial level is now seen as a natural step, perhaps even a long overdue one,” he said. 

“It was important to seal this move before internal politics gets in the way, as elections in both countries are drawing near,” Goren added.

Goren said that the timing also “coincides with efforts by both Israel and Turkey to improve and deepen their various relationships in the region.”

Turkey and Israel, once regional allies, expelled their ambassadors in 2018 over the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests along the Gaza border.

Relations were completely frozen after the death of nine Turkish activists over an Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish Mavi Marmara ship in 2010. 

Since then, many attempts have been made to mend ties, especially in the energy sector, and in trade and tourism, which emerged as strategic avenues for cooperation. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Isaac Herzog have spoken on the phone several times and Herzog visited Ankara last March. 

As part of mutual trust-building efforts, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also visited Jerusalem in May, marking the first visit to Israel by a Turkish foreign minister in 15 years. His visit was reciprocated by Lapid, then Israeli foreign minister, in June. 

The two countries also cooperated in counter-terrorism efforts following Iranian assassination plots against a Turkish-Israeli businessperson as well as Israeli tourists in Istanbul. Turkey took steps to curtail the movements of Hamas within the country. 

They also signed a civil aviation agreement last month. 

Dr. Gokhan Cinkara, an expert from Necmettin Erbakan University, thinks that shifts in regional geopolitics are the main determinants for Turkey’s new efforts for normalization. 

“The competition between status quo and revisionism in the region is over. Consequently, every country has alternatives and can be replaced, which is also the case for Turkey. Due to the economic crisis and geopolitical deadlock that the country is passing through, it was inevitable for Turkey to search for new options,” he told Arab News.  

“The appointment of diplomats will ensure that bilateral relations will continue to operate under an institutional routine.”  

The ambassador to Israel is expected to be appointed soon. Both countries are also set to hold a joint economic commission meeting in September. 

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said that Ankara would continue to support the Palestinian cause. 

“Despite the new chapter in relations, Israel and Turkey still have differences of opinion on key policy issues, including Israeli-Palestinian relations and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Goren said. 

“These differences will not go away, but Israel and Turkey are aware of the need to be sensitive in how they deal with them and to put in place bilateral mechanisms to regularly engage on these issues,” Goren said.

“If Israel and Turkey can somehow support each other on the road to conflict resolution with third countries (e.g., Turkey with Egypt, Israel with the Palestinians) — that will be a major benefit of the new chapter in ties.”

As bilateral relations have been moving on a positive trajectory since Israeli President Herzog’s visit to Ankara, Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, pointed to the timing of the envoy exchange. 

“The Israeli side has been taking the process a bit slowly in order to understand whether Ankara was sincere in its efforts to mend fences,” she told Arab News. 

Ankara’s “calm and measured response in the face of tensions in Jerusalem and in Gaza in the last couple of months and its full cooperation with Israeli intelligence against Iranian plots which targeted Israeli citizens in Turkey have seemingly reassured Israel’s concerns,” she said.

Nasi thinks that the ambassadorial exchange shows Turkey and Israel’s willingness to give the normalization process a formal framework, as well as their readiness to move to the next phase. 

“Considering the upcoming elections in Israel in November, normalization of diplomatic ties is likely to provide a shield against the interference of domestic politics,” she said. 

Although Turkey and Israel have managed to turn a new page in bilateral relations, Nasi thinks that it is equally important to see what they are going to write in this new chapter.  

“Both countries have a lot to gain from developing cooperation at a time when the US is shifting its focus and energy to the Pacific region and Iran is about to become a nuclear power,” she said.

“On the other hand, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has put energy security front and center once again. It revived hopes that the pipeline project that would carry Israeli natural gas via Turkey could be eventually realized,” she said. “While the unsettled Cyprus question remains the elephant in the room, it all comes down to the sides’ mending political trust. We may therefore see some openings in the future.”

Goren thinks that a relaunching of the Israel-Turkey strategic dialogue and the resumption of regular high-level contacts will also assist the countries lessen mutual misperceptions — related, for example, to Israel’s ties with the Kurds and Turkey’s ties with Iran — and avoid gaps in expectations.  

“Israel and Turkey should make sure that this time — unlike what happened in the previous decade — their upgrade of ties will be sustainable and long-term,” Goren said. 

The exchange of ambassadors has been also welcomed by the US.

“Today’s announcement that Israel and Turkey are fully restoring their diplomatic relations. This move will bring increased security, stability, and prosperity to their peoples as well as the region,” tweeted Jake Sullivan, national security adviser at White House. 

Nasi also said that Turkey’s relations with Israel “have always been a factor of its relations with the West and with the US in particular. In the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Ankara has been threading a fine path with Russia.”

Nasi said “normalization of ties with Israel may aim to send a message to the US Congress, whose favorable view and support on the modernization of F16s is very much sought for.”

Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots

Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots
Updated 18 August 2022

Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots

Bella Hadid expresses ‘sadness’ at growing up away from Palestinian roots
  • Model opens up on her relationship with Muslim, Arab heritage ahead of acting debut in Hulu’s ‘Ramy’
  • Hadid has become a vocal campaigner at demos and on social media about the plight of Palestinian people

LONDON: The model Bella Hadid has spoken of her “sadness” that her “Muslim culture” was taken from her as a child following the divorce of her parents.

In an interview with GQ, ahead of her acting debut in the Hulu TV series “Ramy,” she said she had been “extracted” from her Palestinian father, real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, and his side of the family when her mother, Dutch model Yolanda Hadid, moved her and her siblings, Gigi and Anwar, from Washington, D.C. to Santa Barbara, California.

“I was with my Palestinian side (of the family) and I got extracted when we moved to California,” she said.

“I would have loved to grow up and be with my dad every day and studying and really being able to practice, just in general being able to live in a Muslim culture, but I wasn’t given that.”

Hadid, who was just four years old when she was forced to move, added she was the only Arab girl in her class at school in Santa Barbara and suffered racist discrimination.

“For so long I was missing that (Palestinian) part of me, and it made me really, really sad and lonely,” she said.

“Ramy” is a comedy-drama about a first-generation American Muslim, starring Hadid’s friend Ramy Youssef. She said the show had ignited her interest in discovering more about her Palestinian heritage and her faith.

She added that she “couldn’t handle” her emotions when crew members working on the show gave her a “Free Palestine” T-shirt as a gift.

“Growing up and being Arab, it was the first time that I’d ever been with like-minded people,” she said. “I was able to see myself.”

The 25-year-old star has become vociferous in her support for Palestine in recent years, attending protests and spreading awareness on social media.

In a post following a protest four years ago, she wrote: “It has always been #freepalestine. ALWAYS. I have a lot to say about this but for now, please read and educate yourself.

“This is not about religion. This is not about spewing hate on one or the other. This is about Israeli colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation and apartheid over the Palestinian people that has been going on for YEARS!”

Writing on Instagram after attending a protest in New York in 2021, she said: “The way my heart feels ... To be around this many beautiful, smart, respectful, loving, kind, and generous Palestinians all in one place ... It feels whole. We are a rare breed!”

In another post, following violence in Gaza later that year, she wrote: “You cannot allow yourself to be desensitized to watching human life being taken. Palestinian lives are the lives that will help change the world. And they are being taken from us by the second.”

In an Instagram post about her grandparents’ wedding in Palestine in 1941, she wrote: “I love my family, I love my heritage, I love Palestine.”

In the GQ interview, the model also opened up on issues surrounding body image and self-esteem. She said she had compared herself unfavorably to her older sister, and fellow model, Gigi, developed an eating disorder, and even been driven to plastic surgery at the age of only 14 years old when she had a nose job.

“I wish I had kept the nose of my ancestors,” she said as she reflected on the procedure. “I think I would have grown into it.”

She added: “I’ve had this impostor syndrome where people made me feel like I didn’t deserve any of this.

“People can say anything about how I look, about how I talk, about how I act. But in seven years I never missed a job, canceled a job, was late to a job. No one can ever say that I don’t work my a— off.”

Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe

Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe
Updated 18 August 2022

Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe

Egypt church fire not deliberate: Probe
  • The public prosecution questioned 33 witnesses, including the 16 people injured

CAIRO: The fire that broke out in the Abu Sefein Church in Egypt on Sunday was not deliberate, according to an investigation by the public prosecution.
The cause of the fire, which killed 41 people, was a defect with an electric generator in the church after it was turned on due to a power outage.
The public prosecution questioned 33 witnesses, including the 16 people injured, who said they heard the sound of electric charges emanating from inside the church, and the fire broke out after that. Prosecutor General Hamada El-Sawy said the victims had died of smoke inhalation.