Iran launches new strikes on Kurdish groups in Iraq

Iran launches new strikes on Kurdish groups in Iraq
Damage from a previous Iranian cross-border missile attack in Zargwez, 15 kilometers away from Iraq’s Sulaimaniyah area on Sept. 28, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 22 November 2022

Iran launches new strikes on Kurdish groups in Iraq

Iran launches new strikes on Kurdish groups in Iraq
  • The headquarters of the Kurdistan Freedom Party "was targeted by missiles and suicide drones" near Kirkuk
  • An Iraqi Kurdish military official, a local police officer and a party spokesman confirmed renewed strikes on the region

KIRKUK, Iraq: Iran launched new cross-border missile and drone strikes Tuesday against Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups based in northern Iraq whom it accuses of stoking a wave of protests in the Islamic republic.
Iran has been shaken by more than two months of civil unrest sparked by the death of Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest for allegedly breaching the strict dress code for women.
Iran’s Tasnim news agency said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had “launched a new round of attacks against terrorist groups based in the Iraqi Kurdistan region,” the second such strikes in two days.
The report said the headquarters of the Kurdistan Freedom Party “was targeted by missiles and suicide drones” near Kirkuk.
An Iraqi Kurdish military official, a local police officer and a party spokesman confirmed renewed strikes on the region to AFP.
“We had taken our precautions and emptied the premises, there were no casualties,” Kurdistan Freedom Party spokesman Khalil Nadri told AFP.
Kurdistan regional government spokesman Lawk Ghafuri said on Twitter: “Today the Islamic Republic of Iran targeted Iranian opposition groups in two areas in the Kurdistan region with rockets.”
He said the sites hit were in the city of Perdi, the Kurdish name of Altun Kupri, north of Kirkuk, and the Degala region east of Irbil, the regional capital.
Iraqi Kurdistan has since the 1980s hosted several Iranian-Kurdish opposition groups which have in the past waged an armed insurrection against Tehran.
In recent years their activities have declined, but the new wave of protests in Iran has again stoked tensions.
Rights groups on Monday also accused Iranian security forces of using live fire and heavy weapons to suppress protests in Kurdish-populated regions in Iran’s west, intensifying a deadly crackdown there.
Late Sunday night, IRGC missile fire and suicide drone strikes targeted the bases of several Iranian opposition factions in north Iraq, killing one person.
These cross-border strikes come less than a week after similar attacks killed at least one person, and following attacks in late September that killed more than a dozen people.


Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita

Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita
Updated 42 sec ago

Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita

Kuwait ranks first in Arab region for organ donors per capita
  • Doctors carry out about 100 kidney transplants a year, official says
  • Nation seeking to boost number of donors to 30,000

KUWAIT: Kuwait has more organ donors per capita than any other country in the Arab region and the second most across the Middle East, a government official said.
Dr. Mustafa Al-Musawi, director of the organ provision unit at the Ministry of Health and head of the Kuwait Transplant Society, said that about 100 kidney transplants were carried out each year in the country.
“In 2022, the country witnessed around 50 kidney transplants sourced from 50 deceased individuals and 49 sourced from live patients,” he was quoted as saying by the Kuwait News Agency.
His comments were made during an event organized by the Kuwait Transplant Society to honor previous donors and encourage others to join the scheme.
The campaign hopes to boost the number of organ donors in the country to 30,000, from 17,000 at present.
While kidneys are the most commonly transplanted organs, Kuwait is making some inroads in the area of heart transplants.


Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians
Updated 21 min 41 sec ago

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians

Israel probes legality of US giving artifact to Palestinians
  • The clash brings into focus the political sensitivities surrounding archaeology in the Middle East
  • Israelis and Palestinians each use ancient artifacts to support their claims over the land

BETHLEHEM, West Bank: An ivory spoon dating back 2,700 years that was recently repatriated to the Palestinian Authority from the United States has sparked a dispute with Israel’s new far-right government over the cultural heritage in the occupied West Bank.
The clash brings into focus the political sensitivities surrounding archaeology in the Middle East, where Israelis and Palestinians each use ancient artifacts to support their claims over the land.
Israel’s ultranationalist heritage minister has ordered officials to examine the legality of the US government’s historic repatriation of the artifact to the Palestinians earlier this month, and is calling for annexing archaeology in the occupied West Bank.
The artifact — a cosmetic spoon made of ivory and believed to have been plundered from a site in the West Bank — was seized in late 2021 by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as part of a deal with the New York billionaire hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt.
It was one of 180 artifacts illegally looted and purchased by Steinhardt that he surrendered as part of an agreement to avoid prosecution.
American officials handed an artifact over to the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Jan. 5 in what the US State Department’s Office of Palestinian Affairs said was “the first event of such repatriation” by the US to the Palestinians.
Dozens of Steinhardt’s surrendered artifacts have already been repatriated to Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkiye, Jordan, Libya and Israel. This spoon was the first and only item ever to be repatriated to the Palestinians.
The repatriation coincided with the first weeks of Israel’s new government, which is composed of ultranationalists who see the West Bank as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people and inextricably linked to the state of Israel.
Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu’s office said last week that the legality of the repatriation “is being examined by the archaeology staff officer with the legal counsel, which will examine all aspects of the matter, including the Oslo Accords that the US has signed.”
The case underscores how archaeology and cultural heritage are intertwined with the competing claims of the Israelis and Palestinians in the decades-long conflict.
“Any artifact that we know that it comes out illegally from Palestine, we have the right to have it back,” said Jihad Yassin, director general of excavations and museums in the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry. “Each artifact says a story from the history of this land.”
The ministry is part of the Palestinian Authority, the government established as part of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that exercises limited autonomy in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Those agreements between Israel and the Palestinians were supposed to include coordination on a raft of issues, including archaeology and cultural heritage.
But the agreements have largely unraveled. Yassin said that the archaeology committee has not met in around two decades, and that there is virtually zero coordination between Israel and the Palestinians concerning antiquities theft prevention in the West Bank.
“We try to do our best to protect these archaeological sites, but we face difficulties,” he said.
Yassin said that around 60 percent of the West Bank’s archaeological sites are in territory under complete Israeli military control, and that his ministry’s theft prevention workers “manage to control in a high percentage the looting” in areas under Palestinian Authority control.
Nonetheless, many of the illicit artifacts that have made their way to Israel’s legal antiquities market were looted from the West Bank, he said.
According to court documents, Steinhardt bought the ivory cosmetic spoon in 2003 from Israeli antiquities dealer Gil Chaya for $6,000. The artifact had no provenance — paperwork detailing where it came from and how it had entered the dealer’s inventory — but Chaya said the object was from the West Bank town of El-Koum, which is under Palestinian Authority control.
Another artifact believed to have been looted from the same town, a “Red Carnelian Sun Fish amulet (that) dates to circa 600 B.C.E.,” remains missing, according to the DA’s office. Steinhardt has yet to locate the item, but if it is found, it will be repatriated to the Palestinians, the office said.
American authorities returned 28 objects to Israel last year, not including three that were seized in place at the Israel Museum of Jerusalem. Seven others meant to be returned to Israel have yet to be found. Several of the items returned to Israel are believed to have been looted from the West Bank.
The Israel Antiquities Authority declined comment on the artifact’s repatriation to the Palestinians.
Heritage Minister Eliyahu, a religious ultranationalist in Netanyahu’s government now in charge of the country’s Antiquities Authority, denies the existence of a Palestinian people.
Since taking office, he has accused the Palestinian Authority of committing “national terrorism” and “erasing heritage” at an archaeological site in a Palestinian-controlled area near the West Bank city of Nablus.
It remains unclear what impact, if any, a review by the ministry’s legal counsel could have. It appears unlikely Israel could confiscate the artifact from the Palestinians, but a legal opinion against the move could potentially complicate future repatriations.
Earlier this week, Eliyahu said he would be giving the Israel Antiquities Authority full control over archaeological sites, cultural heritage and theft prevention throughout the West Bank — a move that critics say would in effect apply Israeli law over occupied territory in breach of international law.
Currently, archaeological excavations and antiquities in the West Bank are managed by the Civil Administration’s archaeology staff officer, which is part of the Defense Ministry. Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank, and the territory is treated as occupied and is governed under military law.
“All heritage on both sides of the green line will earn full protection, at an international and scientific standard,” Eliyahu wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. He said the state of Israel would “act in a uniform and professional manner from the (Mediterranean) sea to the Jordan.”
Alon Arad, director of Israeli cultural heritage non-governmental organization Emek Shaveh, said that putting the Israel Antiquities Authority in charge of archaeology in the occupied territory was “activating Israeli law in the West Bank, which means annexation.”
Eliyahu’s office declined repeated interview requests.
Yassin said that for the time being, the artifact will remain at the ministry, where it will be studied by one of its archaeologists. Then, he said, it will be displayed at one of the West Bank’s museums.
“It’s not the only one,” Yassin said. “It is the beginning.”


Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year

Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year
Updated 03 February 2023

Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year

Israel FM: Fully normalized ties with Sudan later this year
  • Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen spoke after returning from a lightning diplomatic mission to the Sudanese capital
  • Cohen presented a draft peace treaty to the Sudanese

JERUSALEM: Israel expects to fully normalize ties with Sudan sometime later this year, Israel’s foreign minister said Thursday, after returning from a lightning diplomatic mission to the Sudanese capital.
Eli Cohen spoke to reporters after a one-day trip to Khartoum that included high-level meetings with military leaders, including Sudan’s ruling general, Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who led a coup that overturned the country’s transitional government in 2021.
“The agreement is expected to be signed this year and it will be the fourth” such accord, Cohen said, referring to the US-brokered normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020.
The announcement could help Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deflect attention from a recent burst of violence with Palestinians and widespread public anger over his plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system — which critics say will badly damage Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances.
For Sudan’s ruling generals, a breakthrough with Israel could help convince foreign countries, including the United States and the UAE, to inject financial aid into the struggling economy. Sudan remains mired in a political stalemate between a popular pro-democracy movement and the country’s powerful armed forces.
Earlier in the day, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said it would move forward to normalize full diplomatic ties with Israel. Sudan first signed a normalization agreement with Israel, joining Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE in 2020 as part of the US-brokered “Abraham Accords” to establish full diplomatic ties.
However, the process stalled amid widespread popular opposition in Sudan. The military coup in October 2021 then deposed Sudan’s government, upending the African country’s fragile democratic transition.
Cohen said that he presented a draft peace treaty to the Sudanese “that is expected to be signed after the transfer of authority to the civilian government that will be formed as part of the transition underway in the country.”
In its statement, the Sudanese ministry added that the talks aimed to strengthen cooperation in various sectors, including security and military. It also spoke of a need to achieve ″stability between Israel and the Palestinian people″ in light of a recent surge in violence.
A Sudanese military official close to the discussions said Thursday’s talks also aimed to ease Israel’s concerns that a future civilian government in Khartoum could reverse the course of normalization. He said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, that Israel and the US “want to ensure that the deal would proceed” even after the military steps aside from politics.
In December, Sudan’s top generals and some political forces signed a broad pledge to remove the military from power and install a civilian government. But talks to reach a final and more inclusive peace agreement on the transition are still underway and the generals have yet to accede their power
Three Sudanese military officials told The Associated Press earlier in the day that full normalization of ties would not be achieved anytime soon. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks with reporters.
The country’s second-in-command, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads a powerful paramilitary known as the Rapid Support Forces, claimed that he had no knowledge of the visit and did not meet with the Israeli delegation in a bulletin carried by the state news agency.
Also earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu indicated a breakthrough was in the works. “We are continuing to expand the circle of peace,” he said before flying to France, noting that Chad, which borders Sudan, opened a new embassy in Israel earlier in the day.
“We will continue to expand and deepen the circle of peace with additional countries, both near and far,” added Netanyahu, who returned to office in December. During his previous 12-year term as premier, his government made it a priority to forge ties with formerly hostile countries in Africa and the Arab world.
Although Sudan does not have the influence or wealth of Gulf Arab countries, a deal with the African country — even as it is mired in a deep political and economic crisis — would be deeply significant for Israel.
Sudan was once one of Israel’s fiercest critics in the Arab world and in 1993, the US designated it a state sponsor of terrorism. The Trump administration removed Sudan from that list in 2020, a move meant to help the country revive its battered economy and end its pariah status, and an incentive to normalize relations with Israel.
Cohen spoke about the upcoming agreement as a “peace treaty” because of the two nations’ long-standing animosity. Sudan hosted a landmark Arab League conference after the 1967 Mideast war where eight Arab countries approved the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations.
Under its autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir, Sudan was also a pipeline for Israel’s archenemy Iran to supply weapons to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel was believed to have been behind airstrikes in Sudan that destroyed a weapons convoy in 2009 and a weapons factory in 2012.


Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 
Updated 03 February 2023

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

Iraq’s new leaders must keep fighting corruption: UN envoy 

UNITED NATIONS: The UN special envoy for Iraq urged the country’s new government Thursday to keep fighting corruption and move quickly on much-needed economic, fiscal and financial reforms.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the UN Security Council many other areas also need immediate government attention, among them ensuring human rights, resolving issues with the Kurdistan Regional Government, improving public services, addressing environmental challenges, and continuing to return Iraqis from camps and prisons in northeast Syria.
“The hope is that the confirmation of Iraq’s new government will provide an opportunity to structurally address the many pressing issues facing the country and its people,” she said. “The urgency is for Iraq’s political class to seize the brief window of opportunity it is awarded, and to finally lift the country out of recurring cycles of instability and fragility.”
A more than year-long political stalemate punctuated by outbreaks of street violence ended in late October with the confirmation by Iraq’s Council of Representatives of a new government and Cabinet led by Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani.
Hennis-Plasschaert said that during its first three months, Al-Sudani’s government has shown a commitment to tackle endemic corruption, poor public services and high unemployment.
Turning to the fight against corruption, she pointed to a number of important steps taken by the government, including trying to recover stolen funds and investigating allegations of graft.
“That said, I can only encourage the Iraqi government to persevere, as those who stand to lose will undoubtedly seek to hinder these efforts,” she said. “But if Iraq is to build a system that serves the need of society instead of serving a closed community of collusion, then ensuring accountability across the spectrum is absolutely essential.”
The UN special representative said “systemic change” is vital to address corruption and improve services that directly affect people’s lives.
As for economic, fiscal and financial reforms, Hennis-Plasschaert expressed concern at the increase in the exchange rate on the parallel market “adding to the pressure on everyday Iraqi women and men.”
“On the short term, it is obviously essential that the federal budget is passed expeditiously,” she said. “A further delay will only result in worsening the situation due to the well-known spending constraints.”
Despite high unemployment, Hennis-Plasschaert cautioned against any “further bloating” of Iraq’s “already extremely inflated public sector.”
She cautioned the government against relying totally on the country’s oil, which is vulnerable to price shocks, and urged it to focus on diversifying the economy, including by developing an employment-generating private sector.
Hennis-Plasschaert said the government also needs to swiftly implement the Sinjar Agreement brokered by the UN in October 2020 between Baghdad and the Kurdish-run regional government to jointly manage the Sinjar region. It is home to Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, and the agreement aims to restore the state’s hold over the patchwork of militia groups and competing authorities in the area after the defeat of Islamic State extremists.
When IS fighters swept into northern Iraq in 2014 the militants massacred thousands of Yazidi men and enslaved an estimated 7,000 women, including Nadia Murad, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to end sexual violence as a weapon of war. She returned to her home village in Sinjar this week with actress and activist Angelina Jolie to meet survivors of IS brutality and see progress in redeveloping the region.
US deputy ambassador Richard Mill called on the government to improve its respect for human rights and commit to implementing the Sinjar Agreement in close consultation with the Yazidi community.
He said the United States supports the prime minister’s efforts to root out corruption and improve public services, particularly providing electricity, and encourages development of the private sector and job growth, “with a focus on increasing women’s participation in the workforce.”
Mills added that the Biden administration is eager to work with the government on addressing the negative impacts of climate, including through the use of renewable energy and reducing gas flaring.


UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
Updated 03 February 2023

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe

UN experts slam slow progress in Lebanese activist murder probe
  • Slim was found dead in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.

GENEVA: UN rights experts voiced deep concern Thursday at the slow pace of an investigation into the killing of Lebanese intellectual Lokman Slim two years ago, demanding that Beirut ensure accountability.
“It is incumbent on the Lebanese authorities to fully investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” the four independent experts said.
“Failing to carry out a prompt and effective investigation may in itself constitute a violation of the right to life.”
A secular activist from a Shiite family, 58-year-old Slim was found dead in his car on February 4, 2021, a day after his family reported him missing.
His bullet-riddled body was found in southern Lebanon — a stronghold of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement of which he was heavily critical.
In their statement, the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, the independence of judges and lawyers, the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the situation of human rights defenders voiced outrage that no one responsible for his assassination had been identified.
“Shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Lokman Slim and bringing those responsible to justice is also part of the State’s obligation to protect freedom of opinion and expression,” said the experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but who do not speak on behalf of the world body.
“A culture of impunity not only emboldens the killers of Mr. Slim, it will also have a chilling effect on civil society as it sends a chilling message to other activists to self-censor,” they said.
The experts stressed that investigations into unlawful killings must be “independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent.”
“Thus far, national authorities have shown no indication that the ongoing investigations are in line with relevant international standards,” they warned, demanding that the authorities speed up the probe and “ensure that those responsible are held accountable without delay.”
“Mr. Slim’s family must have access to justice, truth and adequate reparation expeditiously.”