GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Council announced on Monday it would hold an urgent session this month on Iran, where a brutal crackdown on mass protests has left hundreds dead. The United Nations’ highest rights body said a special session on “the deteriorating human rights situation” in Iran would be held on November 24. The decision comes after the German and Icelandic ambassadors to the UN in Geneva submitted a request for such a meeting late on Friday. The support of 16 of the Human Rights Council’s 47 members — more than a third — is required to convene a special session outside the three regular ones held each year. So far, 44 countries, including 17 Council members, have backed the call, the body said. The request follows eight weeks of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, after she was arrested for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress rules for women based on Islamic sharia law. At least 326 people have been killed in the crackdown on the protests, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), as the demonstrations have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 fall of the shah. Thousands of peaceful protesters have also been arrested, according to UN rights experts, including many women, children, lawyers, activists and journalists.
Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief raises millions with earthquake appeal for Turkiye and Syria
A magnitude 7.8 quake struck in the early hours of Monday, sparking an international humanitarian response
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed KSrelief to establish aid delivery flights
Updated 3 min 27 sec ago
Nada Alturki & Lucas Chapman
RIYADH/QAMISHLI: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, also known as KSrelief, has launched a fundraising campaign through the “Sahem” platform to help those affected by the massive earthquake in Syria and Turkiye, the center announced on Wednesday.
Even before KSrelief announced its official fundraiser, Saudi donations to the aid effort had already exceeded SR13 million ($3.5 million), Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, told Arab News.
As of Wednesday night, hundreds of thousands of donors had contributed approximately SR65.9 million.
The magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of southeastern Turkiye, northwestern Syria and neighboring areas in the early hours of Monday, followed by a magnitude 7.5 quake hours later. More than 11,000 people are known to have died and tens of thousands have been injured.
In the two days since the catastrophe, aid workers have struggled to reach remote parts of both countries. In many areas, rescuers have been digging through rubble with their bare hands in the fading hope of finding more survivors.
“Until now, not one gram of aid has arrived here,” Roj Mousa, a journalist from northern Syrian city of Afrin, told Arab News.
According to the International Rescue Committee, Turkiye’s Bab Al-Hawa, the only border crossing through which UN humanitarian aid is allowed into northern Syria, has been closed as a result of damage sustained in the earthquake. As the bulk of the aid entering Syria must pass through Damascus, which strictly controls its distribution to governorates, the closure of Bab Al-Hawa has made it even harder to deliver adequate and timely aid to the hardest-hit areas.
“We are trying to buy some food, water, blankets, tents and other aid and send it to (the people in Afrin),” said Mousa. “They are all sleeping outside, not inside buildings. The main problem now is that after a week, when the rubble is cleared, they must rebuild. In Jinderis, the second-largest city in the Afrin region, 90 percent of people are sleeping in the bush.”
Mousa estimates that between 800 and 900 people lost their lives in Jinderis alone. To the south, in rebel-held Idlib, the situation is not much better.
“There are many people still trapped under buildings. We are in need of all types of aid,” Mohammed Yazji, a journalist from Idlib, told Arab News.
According to Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, more than 1,500 people were killed and at least 4,200 injured in Idlib, and the toll is expected to rise.
“We have been displaced to Iwaa Camp,” said Yazji. “Only local NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) have provided aid so far. No international aid organizations have helped us.
“We wish international rescue teams would come because the situation here is very difficult and we are working properly but the load is more than we can handle.”
The World Health Organization said rescuers face a race against time not only to save lives but to ensure the injured survive in dire circumstances.
Robert Holden, the WHO’s earthquake-response incident manager, said the immediate focus was on saving lives but it is also “imperative to make sure that those who survived the initial disaster … continue to survive.”
Speaking during a press conference in Geneva, he said: “We’ve got a lot of people who have survived now out in the open, in worsening and horrific conditions,” adding that access to clean water, fuel, electricity and communications has been disrupted.
“We are in real danger of seeing a secondary disaster which may cause harm to more people than the initial disaster if we don’t move with the same pace and intensity as we are doing on the search and rescue,” he warned. “This is no easy task … The scale of the operation is massive.”
Several countries have pledged aid to Turkiye and Syria. Croatia, Poland, Switzerland, India, the UK and Greece have sent rescue teams, search dogs, and firefighters to Turkiye to aid the rescue efforts.
The US is sending assistance to Turkiye and working with humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to Syria. Even Lebanon, which is grappling with its own protracted economic crisis, has sent soldiers and first responders to Turkiye. Jordan is sending aid to both Turkiye and Syria, while New Zealand and China’s Red Cross are providing the Syrian Arab Red Crescent with humanitarian and financial assistance.
Saudi Arabia has also stepped up to fill aid gaps and deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to both countries.
Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s general supervisor, told Arab News: “We launched the national donation campaign and we appeal to donors, male and female, businessmen and individuals, to contribute effectively to alleviating the suffering of those affected by the earthquake in Syria and Turkiye.
“I say to every donor, every riyal that is donated will have an impact on alleviating (the suffering of) an injured person, either a wounded or a broken person, or a person (in need of) rescue.
“We are counting on this aid and this support and donations to implement very important programs that will save the lives of hundreds or thousands of people and, God willing, it will return with goodness, blessing and reward for everyone who contributes and donates.”
Donations can be made through the Sahem platform or through the various channels offered on the KSrelief website. Donations through Sahem are exclusively accepted as monetary funds, and KSrelief deducts no administrative fees, so 100 percent of donations go to beneficiaries.
KSrelief has already started to secure food parcels to send to those in need. On Tuesday, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the organization to establish an aid corridor to deliver health, shelter, food and logistical supplies to Syria and Turkiye.
King Salman also ordered the deployment of rapid intervention teams and emergency medical aid, as well as a Saudi volunteer delegation.
“We cannot help but thank the teams that contributed to this noble work, especially the field teams, whether from the General Directorate of Civil Defense in the Ministry of Interior, or from the Saudi Red Crescent Authority, or the experienced cadres of KSrelief, or the volunteers who took the initiative to register with the center to provide urgent medical and health services,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.
Saad bin Nasser Al-Shathri, an advisor to the Royal Court and a member of the Council of Senior Scholars and the permanent committee of Ifta, praised the Sahem campaign for its efforts to help meet the massive humanitarian needs in Syria and Turkiye, and reiterated that previous Saudi fundraisers helped many peoples and countries in crisis.
Since it was founded in 2015, KSrelief has aided struggling communities and nations around the globe, including Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The latest fundraising campaign is an extension of its earlier work in support of the Syrian people.
In December last year, KSrelief provided $6 million to Syrian refugees living in camps in Jordan, through the UN’s World Food Program, which helped meet the food needs of more than 50,000 Syrians.
“The Saudi humanitarian efforts are not associated with any political affairs or any political, religious or military agendas, as was made clear by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the center’s opening speech,” said Al-Rabeeah.
“The center has continued to support the people of Syria in alleviating the suffering of Syrian communities, without ties to any specific agendas. Our concern is with the injured, regardless of any political ties.”
Saudi humanitarian aid has long transcended political barriers. In October last year, the Kingdom announced a $400 million humanitarian aid package for Ukraine, while calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict there, which has been raging since the Russian invasion a year ago.
KSrelief has played a leading role in international aid initiatives during past disasters, most significantly for the people of Lebanon in the wake of the Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion that killed more than 215 people, injured more than 6,500 and displaced about 300,000. The Kingdom sent two aircraft carrying 120 tons of medical and emergency supplies.
KSrelief also recently sent two flights to Sudan carrying food and shelter aid for those affected by last year’s floods. It also aided India’s COVID-19 response by sending an additional 60 tons of oxygen, adding to an initial 80-ton delivery to the South Asian nation.
In a telephone call on Wednesday with Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, Hussein Ibrahim Taha, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, offered his condolences on behalf of the organization and its member states, and expressed his sympathy for the victims.
Donations for the Turkiye and Syria earthquake relief effort can be made through the Sahem platform using the following link: sahem.ksrelief.org/SYTR, or by direct transfer to the campaign’s bank account.
US Congress introduces resolution in support of push for democracy and freedom in Iran
It backs “the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Republic of Iran”
The bipartisan resolution is expected to easily pass when it comes up for a final vote
Updated 08 February 2023
CHICAGO: The US House of Representatives on Wednesday introduced a resolution expressing support for the people of Iran and denouncing the “monarchic dictatorship and religious tyranny” of the governing regime in Tehran.
Although the resolution has no legal authority, it reinforces American support for the Iranian people and condemnation of the ongoing violations of human rights by the country’s government. More than 165 members of Congress, from both main parties, co-sponsored the resolution, which is expected to easily pass when it comes up for a final vote.
“The timing of, and the unprecedented number of cosponsors for, this bipartisan resolution, on the eve of the anniversary of the 1979 anti-monarchic revolution that overthrew a corrupt and ruthless dictator, reflect the forward-looking policy by Congress and its support for a secular, non-nuclear Iranian republic,” said Ramesh Sepehrrad, chairperson of the advisory board for the Organization of Iranian American Communities.
The resolution was introduced by Tom McClintock, a Republican Congressman from California, who said more must to be done to align European and Baltic nations in opposition to the Iranian regime.
“I am pleased to introduce this resolution supporting the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular and non-nuclear Republic of Iran, and condemning violations of human rights and state-sponsored terrorism by the Iranian government,” he said.
It comes as protests against the ruling regime continue in Iran. They began in September last year following the death in custody of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by the country’s “morality police” for not covering her hair to their satisfaction, based on strict rules governing how women can dress in public.
More than 600 civilians, including 70 children, have been killed since the protests began and 19,600 people arrested, including 687 students.
Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an Iranian opposition group that advocates the overthrow of the ruling regime and the installation of a democratic government, addressed Wednesday’s briefing through a video link. She thanked Congress for its continuing support but said more must be done to end the regime’s ongoing use of violence to crack down on protesters.
“We are at the anniversary of the anti-dictatorial revolution in 1979, when a unified nation swept a dictator, the Shah, out of power but (former Supreme Leader Ayatollah) Khomeini hijacked their revolution and established a religious dictatorship,” Rajavi said.
“However, today, after more than 40 years of repression and resistance, the Iranian nation is ready again to overthrow another form of dictatorship. They want to put an end to one century of dictatorship and establish a democratic, pluralistic and secular republic.
“What you see in Iran today is another revolution in the making. This is the result of 40 years of organized resistance and struggle against the regime, (during which there have been) 120,000 political executions.”
Congress has introduced and adopted dozens of resolutions condemning the regime in Tehran.
Rajavi has developed a 10-point plan for the future of Iran, which calls for: The universal right of citizens to vote in free and fair elections; a market economy; gender, religious and ethnic equality; a foreign policy based on peaceful coexistence; and a non-nuclear Iran.
Panama says Iran warships might be allowed through canal
An Iranian military presence in the Canal would anger the US, which built the channel linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the beginning of the 20th century
Updated 08 February 2023
PANAMA CITY: Iranian naval ships will be allowed to sail through the Panama Canal as long as they abide by international norms, Panamanian authorities said Tuesday following reports that Tehran was sending vessels to the strategic waterway.
An Iranian military presence in the Canal would anger the US, which built the channel linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the beginning of the 20th century, and Washington has warned that it is closely monitoring Tehran’s activity in the Western Hemisphere.
Citing an 1977 international treaty, which handed control of the canal to Panama and established its neutral status, the Panama Canal said the waterway must “remain safe and open for the peaceful transit,” provided that ships abide by global safety norms, pay tolls and not commit any hostile acts.
“Based on the aforementioned regulations, the Panama Canal Authority has the obligation to allow the passage of any vessel that meets all these requirements,” the agency said in a statement.
Local media have been reporting on the imminent arrival of Iranian Navy ships.
The newspaper La Estrella de Panama wrote on January 13 that Teheran plans to position its warships in the Panama Canal as it seeks to boost its presence in Latin America.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush added fuel to the fire when, in a Washington Post column on January 16, he accused Panama of helping Iran evade Western oil sanctions.
“Without Panama’s support, the Iranian regime would face significant hurdles in smuggling its oil and gas around the world,” wrote Bush, who is the brother and son of two American presidents.
Last week, US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Washington is keeping a close eye on Teheran’s naval activities in the Western Hemisphere.
“We continue to have a number of tools in our tool belt available to hold the Iranian regime accountable,” Patel told reporters.
The United States completed the canal in 1914 and opened military bases to protect it.
The 1977 treaty paved the way for the handover of the canal to Panama on December 31, 1999.
More than 14,000 vessels went through the 80-kilometer (50 mile) waterway in 2022, according to the Panama Canal Authority. The canal accounts for five percent of world maritime trade.
UAE launches first dedicated marine research, rescue center in the region
Establishment to be key contributor to conservation in Gulf
Research team to conduct fundamental and applied studies
Updated 08 February 2023
ABU DHABI: The UAE announced on Wednesday the opening of the region’s first dedicated marine research, rescue and rehabilitation center, Yas SeaWorld Research and Rescue, in Abu Dhabi.
Emirates News Agency reported that the announcement was made by Miral, and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
Located on Yas Island, the 8,602 sq. meters center will be a key contributor to marine-life conservation in both the UAE and the wider region, conducting integrated research, rescue, rehabilitation, and education programs.
The center’s efforts will aim to improve the public’s knowledge and commitment to the conservation of the region’s marine wildlife, habitats, and ecosystems.
The Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, attended the opening, along with Mohamed Khalifa Al-Mubarak, Miral’s chairman.
He said: “We are very proud to begin 2023, the UAE’s Year of Sustainability, by opening the first dedicated marine research and rescue center in the region, Yas SeaWorld Research and Rescue.
“This is a cornerstone in the emirate’s journey of education and conservation, inspiring the next generation of marine scientists to learn more about Abu Dhabi’s impactful long-term vision of protecting our marine wildlife and their habitats.
“Together with SeaWorld, we will be pushing the limits of science and conservation to become the foremost knowledge hub for marine scientists, not only in the UAE but also in the wider region.”
Led by a team of dedicated marine scientists, zoologists and experts in research, rescue and animal care, the center will play an important role in research and conservation efforts.
The research team will conduct fundamental and applied studies which focus on the marine ecology of the Arabian Gulf, covering topics such as marine biodiversity, ecosystem resilience, sensitive wildlife conservation, critical habitats restoration, fisheries, pollution and wildlife health.
Scott Ross, chairman of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said that the company had committed itself to protecting marine wildlife and ecosystems for nearly 60 years.
He added: “Extending this legacy here in the UAE is important for global conservation and is consistent with the UAE and wider region’s tradition of honoring the importance of the sea.”
The center will boast more than 25 rescue pools, from large areas for marine mammals to smaller ones for fish, invertebrates and marine reptiles.