Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
Iranian fans take to the streets of the capital Tehran to celebrate their football team's win against Wales during the Qatar 2022 World Cup. (File/AFP)
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Updated 28 November 2022

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales

Iran frees hundreds after World Cup win over Wales
  • 709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country
  • Prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had also been released on bail

TEHRAN: Iran has released more than 700 prisoners after the national team’s World Cup football victory over Wales, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website said Monday.
It announced that “709 detainees were freed from different prisons in the country” following the 2-0 victory on Friday.
Among those are “some arrested during the recent events,” Mizan Online said, making indirect reference to demonstrations which have shaken Iran for more than two months.
It gave no further detail.
The ongoing protests were triggered by the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest by morality police for an alleged breach of Iran’s strict dress rules for women.
Other Iranian media separately reported that prominent Iranian actor Hengameh Ghaziani had been released on bail after her arrest for having supported the protests.
Two of the most prominent figures detained over the demonstrations — former international footballer Voria Ghafouri and dissident Hossein Ronaghi — were also let out on bail, reports said.
State news agency IRNA reported on Monday that former state television host Mahmoud Shahriari, 63, had been released after two months in prison for “encouraging riots.”
Iran on Friday scored twice deep into stoppage time to stun Wales and breathe new life into its World Cup campaign ahead of a politically charged showdown Tuesday against the United States.
Iran lost its first World Cup match to England, 6-2.
Iran’s judiciary says more than 2,000 people have been charged since the start of the protests.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk last week said around 14,000 people have been arrested.


UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine

UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine
Updated 04 February 2023

UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine

UN urges end to ‘illogical escalation’ between Israel, Palestine
  • Saturday’s violent storming of West Bank camp reflects ‘extremist mentality’ of Israeli govt, sources say

RAMALLAH: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged an end to the “illogical escalation” between Israel and Palestine.

Volker Turk warned that recent measures taken by Israel would “lead to more violence and bloodshed.”

In a statement distributed in Geneva, Turk said: “I am afraid that the recent measures taken by the government of Israel only serve to fuel more violations and abuses, especially the decision to facilitate obtaining permits to carry weapons.”

He warned that the matter “accompanied by hateful rhetoric, will only lead to more violence and bloodshed.”

Israel denounced Turk’s statement, accusing him, in a statement issued by its ambassador to the UN in Geneva, of bias and of “only condemning the state of Israel.”

The high commissioner added: “Instead of doubling down on the failed methods of violence and coercion that have single-handedly failed in the past, I urge all concerned to break out of the illogical logic of escalation that only ended with dead bodies, loss of life and sheer despair.

“Collective punishment measures, including forced evictions and house demolitions, are expressly prohibited under international humanitarian law and are incompatible with provisions of international human rights law.”

The high commissioner called for urgent measures to de-escalate tensions, including ensuring that international standards were maintained in investigating deaths and serious injuries.

Turk said: “Impunity has spread, which signals that abuses are permissible.”

His warning came as Mustafa Al-Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, criticized the bias of the US in failing to pressure the Israeli government into ending attacks on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

He made the remarks to Arab News after Palestinian medical sources said that at least 13 Palestinians were injured during clashes with the Israeli military in the West Bank on Saturday.

Israeli troops stormed the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp south of Jericho on Saturday morning.

The action led to clashes, resulting in the injury of three citizens by live rounds and other rubber-coated metal bullets.

Israeli forces had demolished part of the walls of a besieged house in the camp and used loudspeakers to request the surrender of those inside.

Palestinian medical sources said that three of the injured in the camp clashes were transferred to Ramallah hospitals in critical condition.

According to media sources and residents in the camp, three family members were arrested, including a father and son. The Israeli army also demolished a house in the camp.

Israeli sources said that troops ended the military activity in Aqabat Jabr camp and left four hours after the raid began. A search for two people who allegedly carried out an armed attack at Almog junction a week earlier did not result in arrests.

Israeli armed forces claimed that troops had raided Aqabat Jabr refugee camp and questioned several people suspected of involvement in the attack.

An army statement said that clashes took place with Palestinian gunmen during the military operation, and that there were no casualties on the Israeli side.

It added that 18 people were interrogated in the field, and six were transferred to Shin Bet for investigation.

Al-Barghouti told Arab News that the violent storming of the camp reflected the “extremist mentality” of the Israeli government, which has imposed a policy of collective punishment on Palestinians.

He described the military action — which resulted in the wounding of 13 Palestinians — as unjustified.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that the Israeli military impeded the entry of medical and health personnel into Jericho.

Israeli armed forces have limited the exit of Palestinians in Jericho city’s eastern side during the last seven days.

It deployed tightened checkpoints at all main road entrances into the area.

Israeli authorities closed all secondary entries with earthen mounds, searching for two gunmen who opened fire toward on a restaurant at Almog on Jan. 28. No injuries were reported from the incident. Several Palestinians were arrested and later released after questioning.

Authorities adopted a “collective punishment policy” on the city by obstructing movement, searching cars and checking identities, sources said.

Citizens waited in vehicles for several hours in front of checkpoints at all entrances to the city.

The army’s actions disrupted daily life for the city’s 30,000 residents.

Dozens of citizens and workers endured waits of up to four hours at Israeli military checkpoints, while others were prevented from leaving the city entirely.

Jericho houses a terminal that serves as the only exit point for 3 million Palestinians to travel from the West Bank to countries around the world.

The closure of the city over the past week has significantly impeded the movement of citizens traveling and returning from abroad.

A doctor in the emergency department of a major Palestinian hospital in Ramallah told Arab News that the Israeli army was “deliberately shooting at the upper limbs” of targets, increasing the chances of fatal injury and death.

An ambulance officer from Jericho told Arab News that the three people left in critical condition from the camp raid were moved to Ramallah hospitals due to a lack of medical equipment in nearby hospitals.

They were transported more than 40 km, passing through several Israeli military checkpoints.

Palestinian factions have condemned the storming of Aqabat Jabr as a crime, calling for a confrontation with Israel.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said: “The occupation’s aggression against the Palestinian camps in the occupied West Bank, in addition to the escalation of daily arrest campaigns, will not weaken the continuous resistance until the occupation is defeated and our national goals are achieved.

“The escalation of resistance operations in all forms and various means categorically confirms that a new phase is taking shape in the West Bank and will pursue settlers and turn their colonies into prisons for settlers.”

Tariq Ezz El-Din, media spokesman for the Islamic Jihad Movement, said that the “ very dangerous” Israeli escalation needed to be met by “resistance activities.”

The Palestine Center for Prisoners Studies warned that Israeli authorities had stepped up arrest campaigns against Palestinians since the beginning of the year.

The center recorded 540 arrest cases, including 92 children and 10 women, in January.

It also referred to the Israeli army’s escalation of raids on towns and cities in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The center said that Jerusalem saw the largest share of arrests, with 270.

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid
Updated 04 February 2023

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid

US senators link Turkiye F-16 sale with NATO bid
  • ‘No guarantee’ of $20bn deal even if Ankara approves Swedish, Finnish request, analyst says 

ANKARA: A bipartisan group of 29 US senators has told President Joe Biden that Congress cannot “green light” the $20 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye until Ankara ratifies a request by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

The move comes amid a diplomatic standoff between Turkiye and Sweden over what the former claims is Swedish support for terror groups and sympathizers.

Both Sweden and Finland announced their NATO bid last year following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, Ankara has set preconditions in exchange for Turkish ratification of the membership applications, asking both Nordic countries to toughen their stance against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), deport certain individuals, and review their regulatory framework for arms exports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused both countries of being “guesthouses for terror organizations.” 

After a far-right Danish politician recently burned a copy of the Qur’an near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, Turkiye suspended trilateral talks with Sweden and Finland, and postponed a meeting between Turkish and Swedish defense ministers in Ankara.

Although Ankara hinted at the possibility it would approve Finnish NATO accession before Sweden’s, Helsinki rejected the offer, saying that the security of both countries is dependent on each other.

In their letter to Biden, the US senators said that the two Nordic countries were “making full and good faith efforts to meet the conditions for NATO membership that Turkiye asked.”

The senators said that they could not promise any automatic sale of F-16s if Ankara agreed to the Finnish and Swedish request, but warned  they “won’t even ponder this sale” in the absence of ratification.

“Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the letter said.

For the first time, members of Congress are insisting on linking the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkiye with the ratification of the NATO accession bids by the two Nordic countries.

In January, CNN quoted Congressional sources saying that the Biden administration is preparing to ask lawmakers to approve the F-16s sale.

If approved, it will be one of the largest US arms sales in recent years.

Turkiye has been waiting for the sale of 40 F-16 fighters and almost 80 modernization kits for its existing fleet since October 2021.

Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Washington and said that the Nordic NATO accession should not be tied with the F-16 sale.

Rich Outzen, senior fellow at Atlantic Council, sees little chance of some US senators, such as Robert Menendez, the Democrat chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Van Hollen, changing their position on the F-16s even if Ankara green lights the Swedish request while Erdogan remains in office.

“They have a winning domestic political issue with a range of constituencies that dislike Turkiye, including the Greek lobby, Armenian lobby, and Syrian Kurdish YPG-sympathetic activists. With such rewards, there is little incentive to cede ground,” he told Arab News.

New Jersey, Menendez’s home state, has a large Greek-American and Armenian-American community. 

In a message posted on Twitter in December, Menendez said he that would not “approve F-16s for Turkiye until Erdogan halts his abuses across the region,” referring to longstanding tensions between Turkiye and Greece over airspace, and the militarization of islands in the Aegean.

Arms sales to foreign countries are subject to congressional approval. But Congress alone cannot block foreign arms sales.

However, experts say that Ankara’s ratification of the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland would facilitate the sale process in Congress.

According to Outzen, “transactional politics” on defense deals can work when done privately and reciprocally, but the F-16 deal has become a public issue with conflicting demands.

“It makes near-term resolution almost impossible,” he said.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of the Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, said that the senators’ letter is not surprising since NATO enlargement is a priority for the alliance and the US.

He added that “it is not at all guaranteed” that the F-16 sale will be approved, even if Ankara ratifies the Finnish and Swedish request.

Ulgen believes the White House may have to rely on the presidential prerogative to override Congressional opposition.

“But (Biden) will be much less willing to use this political prerogative, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, who did not have a long political experience with the Congress,” he said.

Turkiye was expelled by the US from its fifth-generation F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019 after its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.

Ankara has requested the F-16 jets instead of reimbursement for the undelivered F-35 fighters, and has said that it will consider alternatives, including from Russia, if the F-16s are not delivered. 

Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day

Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day
Updated 04 February 2023

Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day

Egypt targeting 2m rail passengers per day
  • On Sunday, the Egyptian Railways Authority will roll out a new fleet of Spanish Talgo trains on the Upper Egypt line
  • Among other features, there are display screens for each chair in first-class carriages and central screens in second-class carriages

CAIRO: Egypt’s rail system aims to accommodate up to 2 million passengers per day under new government plans.
On Sunday, the Egyptian Railways Authority will roll out a new fleet of Spanish Talgo trains on the Upper Egypt line.
Authority head Mohamed Amer told Arab News: “The Spanish Talgo trains constitute a huge quantum leap in the history of trains because they are similar to the trains operating in European countries.”
He added that the Talgo train features advanced technology, comfort for passengers and is designed to maintain stability through its aluminum carriages.
In addition, the train’s fuel efficiency will aid in Egypt’s environmental ambitions, Amer said.
Among other features, there are display screens for each chair in first-class carriages and central screens in second-class carriages.
The Talgo trains are equipped with surveillance cameras and a monitoring room.
The authority’s efforts to develop Egypt’s railways extend beyond new deploying new trains, Amer said, with ambitious daily and annual passenger targets being set.
In 2014, the rail system transported 900,000 passengers per day.
A report by the National Railways of Egypt said a development system is working to increase daily passenger transport to 1.5 million people per day by 2024 and 2 million by 2030.
There are also plans to raise the cargo transport capacity to 13 million tons in 2030, compared to 4.5 million tons in 2014.

Cancer patients in Lebanon fear death due to lack of vital medicine

Cancer patients in Lebanon fear death due to lack of vital medicine
Updated 04 February 2023

Cancer patients in Lebanon fear death due to lack of vital medicine

Cancer patients in Lebanon fear death due to lack of vital medicine
  • The patients’ protest on Saturday coincided with World Cancer Day
  • Joe Salloum, president of the Lebanese Order of Pharmacists, condemned “the genocide committed against the patients by depriving them of cancer medication”

BEIRUT: Dozens of cancer patients in Lebanon staged a demonstration on Saturday in Riad Al-Solh Square near the headquarters of the prime minister to highlight the unavailability of drugs in pharmacies and hospitals.
Protesters held banners saying, “We will tell God everything” and “Medicine will be available when you stop your corruption.”
The patients’ protest on Saturday coincided with World Cancer Day.
Joe Salloum, president of the Lebanese Order of Pharmacists, condemned, along with the Barbara Nassar Association for Cancer Patient Support, “the genocide committed against the patients by depriving them of cancer medication.”
Salloum is one of the organizers of the protest taking place in Beirut.
Joyce, a protester in her 40s, said: “Medicine is unavailable. I cannot buy it myself because I cannot cover its costs, but I get it from an association that supports cancer patients in Lebanon.”
Joyce, who suffers from breast cancer and needs an eight-year-long treatment, added: “If the government decides to lift subsidies on cancer medication as it has been reported lately, what am I going to do? The ruling class is no longer subsidizing anything, but it can at least keep the subsidies on the medication so we can stay alive.”
Karim Gebara, head of the Lebanese Pharmaceutical Importers, believes there is a drug shortage because the funds available for their purchase are not enough to cover the needs of all Lebanese patients.
Gebara said that importers no longer play a key role when it comes to the amount of imported drugs. Instead, it is the Health Ministry that decides the quantity and type of drugs and who will receive them, Gebara added.
Patients and activists supporting them wore black during their protest on Saturday, mourning cancer victims who died last year because they could not receive their treatment on time.
They charged that the state is “trying to kill and exterminate them.”
Last year, cancer patients carried and smashed a wooden coffin symbolizing their death caused by the lack of medicine and inability to receive treatment.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, caretaker Health Minister Firass Abiad said that cancer patients have a right to be worried, but the ministry has not lifted subsidies on medications for cancer and incurable diseases.
“What happened is that we substituted eight expensive medications with generic ones from international companies,” he said.
“Moreover, the price of one branded medication pack equals the price of two generic medication packs, meaning that for the price of one branded medication pack, I can give two patients two generic medication packs. This does not mean that subsidies were lifted as interpreted by some people.”
Abiad stressed that one of the ministry’s priorities is to secure medication and treatment for patients suffering from cancer and incurable diseases, adding that their numbers range between 20,000 and 30,000.
He said the computerized system the ministry has set up to track subsidized medications, such as those for cancer and incurable diseases, has the aim of providing fair treatment.
It has, to date, detected many loopholes, including how some people would acquire expensive cancer medications under the names of deceased patients or in a quantity that exceeds their needs, said Abiad.
Now, the minister said 90 percent of the subsidized medications are going to the right place and the ministry is in the process of adding more medications to the tracking system.
The Ministry of Health has previously warned against smuggling subsidized cancer drugs outside Lebanon and using counterfeit or expired drugs smuggled inside Lebanon. Several hospitals have documented dozens of samples that, upon inspection, were found to be mixed with water and salt.
According to patients, subsidized medications do not arrive on time, which messes up the schedule of treatment sessions, leading to the deterioration of patients’ health conditions.
Abiad said complaints stem from the fact that drug companies no longer keep extra stock in their warehouses because of Lebanon’s current financial straits, causing a delay.
“Previously, we were suffering from the lack of drugs. Now we suffer from their late arrival. We are continuously working under tough circumstances. Public sector employees are still on strike, and we are doing everything we can,” he said.
Patients who can no longer find their medications are either importing them or opting for alternatives from Turkiye, Armenia, India, Iran and Syria.
The funds the Ministry of Health has allocated for medications for cancer and incurable diseases decreased from $45 million to $35 million per month, due to Lebanon’s current economic crisis.
Abiad said: “Of those funds, $12 million was allocated to cancer and incurable diseases. Now that we have lifted the subsidies on medicines for other diseases, we have directed financial savings to medicines for cancer and incurable diseases and raised the allocated amount to $25 million.”
The Cabinet is set to meet next week to discuss an agenda of “necessary, urgent and emergency topics.”
The agenda includes three points related to securing the needs of the Ministry of Health for the purchase of drugs for cancer and incurable diseases, dialysis supplies and primary materials for the pharmaceutical industry, in addition to the payment of social assistance to workers in government hospitals.
Ismail Sukkarieh, head of the “Health is a Right and Dignity” campaign, told Arab News: “There are dozens of files related to price manipulation, counterfeit drugs, the smuggling of drugs from the Ministry of Health that are then sold on the black market and outside Lebanon.
“These files weren’t appropriately addressed by the Parliament, the parties or the educated elites. This gave the drug mafia the green light and allowed it to exploit the health of cancer patients by withholding medications and reselling them for obscene prices on the black market.”

Houthi land mines killed 32 Yemenis this year

Houthi land mines killed 32 Yemenis this year
Updated 04 February 2023

Houthi land mines killed 32 Yemenis this year

Houthi land mines killed 32 Yemenis this year
  • Civilian casualties due to land mines have increased despite the cessation of hostilities during the truce brokered by the United Nations in April
  • Hodeidah was the province with the highest number of civilians killed by land mines, with 18 deaths including eight children

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: At least 32 Yemeni civilians have been killed and 42 others injured by land mines planted by Houthis since the start of the year, according to Yemeni Landmine Records — a group that tracks civilian land mine fatalities in the country.
The group said it had recorded 41 explosions caused by land mines, ordnance, or other explosive devices that had killed 32 civilians — including 14 children and a woman — and wounded 42 others including 15 children and a woman in January.
Civilian casualties due to land mines have increased despite the cessation of hostilities during the truce brokered by the United Nations in April, it added.
Hodeidah was the province with the highest number of civilians killed by land mines, with 18 deaths including eight children and a woman, and 20 injuries, including 11 children.
Next on the list were Jouf, Marib, Saada, and Hajjah.
“The intensity of military activities has diminished over the last several months, but mines and other war leftovers continue to kill and harm people. They have aggravated misery and hindered the return of some displaced families to their homes and farmers to their jobs,” Fares Al-Hemyari, Yemeni Landmine Records’ executive manager, said in a statement.
Al-Hemyari’s organization is one of many local and international rights groups to say that thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed or injured since the beginning of the Iran-backed Houthis’ expansion across the country following their military seizure in late 2014.
They accuse the Houthis of randomly planting land mines in former battlefields and refusing to hand over maps indicating where those land mines are located.
The most recent verified victims of Houthi land mines were two children: Khalil Yahiya, 12, and Saber Mohammed, 15, from the city of Hodeidah, according to Yemeni Landmine Records. The group also reported that 14 Yemeni civilians had been killed or wounded in Jouf, Hodeidah, Saada, Hajjah, and Lahj in the 48 hours before its announcement.
The Saudi-funded Project Masam — a demining program in Yemen — has reported that the Houthis have transformed Yemen into the largest land mine field in the world by planting tens of thousands of the devices.
Masam said its field deminers removed 4,615 land mines, unexploded ordnance, and other devices from approximately 968,000 square meters of ground in January, bringing the total number of defused land mines and other explosive devices to 384,220 from 43,612,000 square meters of Yemeni soil since the project was launched in 2018.
Yemeni deminers say that the majority of recent civilian deaths in the province of Hodeidah happened in regions held by the Houthis.
Salem Hemaid, head of Masam’s demining team, told Arab News on Saturday that they are racing against time to avoid human casualties and enable displaced residents to return home.
“The absence of maps, vast swaths of contaminated ground, and the indiscriminate placement of land mines are our greatest obstacles,” Hemaid said, adding that the Houthis had laid land mines in numerous Hodeidah districts abandoned by the Yemeni government’s Joint Forces in late 2021.
Hemaid’s crew removed over 25,000 land mines in 2022 in 16 communities in Hodeidah, he said.
“The Houthis thoroughly mined the shoreline, as well as the locations and barricades from which the Joint Forces withdrew so that if they returned they would be blown up by the mines,” Hemaid said.