TEHRAN: Tehran and Baghdad Tuesday identified fighting “terrorism,” maintaining mutual security and extending economic cooperation as key priorities during the new Iraqi prime minister’s first official visit to Iran.
Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani was received by President Ebrahim Raisi, who expressed hopes of bolstering ties that have lately been hit by tensions over Iran carrying out cross-border strikes against exiled opposition groups.
Al-Sudani came to power last month, after a year-long tussle between political factions over forming a government following an October 2021 general election.
“From our perspective and that of the Iraqi government, security, peace, cooperation and regional stability are very important,” Raisi told a joint press conference.
“As a result, the fight against terrorist groups, organized crime, drugs and other insecurity that threaten the region depends on the common will of our two nations,” he said.
Al-Sudani said that “our government is determined not to allow any group or party to use Iraqi territory to undermine and disrupt Iran’s security.”
Since nationwide protests erupted in Iran more than two months ago, Iranian officials have accused Kurdish opposition groups exiled in northern Iraq of stoking the unrest and the Islamic republic has repeatedly launched deadly cross-border strikes.
Such strikes — targeting Iranian-Kurdish groups in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region — resumed this month, even after Iraq’s federal government summoned Iran’s ambassador in late September to complain about cross-border missile and drone hits that killed at least seven people.
Iraq has announced in the past week that it will redeploy federal guards on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, rather than leaving the responsibility to Kurdish peshmerga forces — a move welcomed by Tehran.
Al-Sudani added that the two countries’ national security advisers would hold consultations to “establish a working mechanism for on-the-ground coordination to avoid any escalation.”
Al-Sudani also thanked Iran for its continued deliveries of gas and electricity, which have been in short supply in Iraq, while he also pointed to discussions on a “mechanism” to enable Iraq to pay Iran for these services.
Iran cleric ‘opposes use of violence to impose hijab’
Iran has accused its foreign foes, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the protests that erupted over Amini’s death in the custody of the country’s morality police
Updated 28 January 2023
TEHRAN: One of Iran’s top clerics, Nasser Makarem, has spoken out against the use of violence to force women into wearing the veil.
Iran has witnessed a wave of nationwide protests since the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old ethnic Kurd, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the regime’s dress code for women.
Hundreds of people have been killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands have been arrested in the protests, which authorities generally refer to a “riots.”
Makarem, a prominent cleric, said that he “does not consider violence and pressure to be effective in the hijab issue.”
“The president and ministers should know that they are in a difficult situation; it is true the enemy is very active, but not all avenues are closed,” he said, quoted by the IRNA news agency.
Iran’s Tourism and Heritage Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami earlier called for greater tolerance toward women not wearing mandatory headscarves.
“The hijab issue is currently linked to political issues, and some people say that if they can remove the veil, the regime’s system will be weakened,” the cleric added.
Iran’s Tourism and Heritage Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami earlier called for greater tolerance toward women not wearing mandatory headscarves.
Earlier this month, however, Iran’s prosecutor general had called for police to “firmly punish any hijab violators.”
Iran has accused its foreign foes, including the US and Israel, of fomenting the protests that erupted over Amini’s death in the custody of the country’s morality police.
The cleric’s remarks came as Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged the NATO military alliance to toughen its approach to Iran, as Tehran supplies drones to Russia for its war on Ukraine.
“The crisis there goes beyond the boundaries of Ukraine, with the Iranian threat now at Europe’s doorstep,” Herzog said on a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“The illusion of distance can no longer hold. NATO must take the strongest possible stance against the Iranian regime including through economic, legal and political sanctions and credible military deterrence.”
The figurehead leader became on Thursday the first Israeli president to brief NATO’s main decision-making body.
“A terrible war continues to cause needless human suffering and compromise the well-being and welfare of millions,” Herzog said.
“Our hearts continue to go out to the people of Ukraine as they defend their homes and their country,” he said.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he had discussed “our support for Ukraine” with Herzog.
“The Ukrainian people are bravely defending their homeland and NATO allies and partners are helping to support their right to self defence,” he said.
The NATO secretary general said Herzog’s visit was a sign of the US-led alliance’s “deepening partnership” with Israel.
Herzog pointed to bolstering cooperation on cyber-security, threats from space, drones, and energy resilience.
He said the two sides were slated to sign a new cooperation agreement “in just a couple of months, which lengthens the period of cooperation and expands it reach.”
All eyes on turnout as Tunisia votes again after boycott
Lawyer and political expert Hamadi Redissi said the new assembly would 'not have to approve the government, nor can it censor it without a two-thirds majority' of both parliament & a council of regional representatives, whose make-up has yet to be defined
Updated 28 January 2023
TUNIS: Tunisians are to vote again on Sunday in elections for a parliament stripped of its powers, the final pillar of President Kais Saied’s remake of politics in the country.
The second-round vote comes as Tunisia grapples with a grave economic crisis and deep political divisions over Saied’s actions in July 2021.
Some 262 candidates, including just 34 women, are running for 131 seats in an election whose first round last month saw just 11.2 percent of registered voters take part.
That was the lowest turnout of any national vote since the 2011 revolt that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The final round comes 18 months after Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, later moving to dominate the judiciary and bringing in a constitution last July that gave his office almost unlimited executive power.
Youssef Cherif, the director of Columbia Global Centers in Tunis, said Tunisians had a “lack of interest” in politics.
“This parliament will have very little legitimacy, and the president, who is all-powerful thanks to the 2022 constitution, will be able to control it as he sees fit,” he said.
Lawyer and political expert Hamadi Redissi said the new assembly would “not have to approve the government, nor can it censor it without a two-thirds majority” of both parliament and a council of regional representatives, whose make-up has yet to be defined.
The legislature will have almost zero power to hold the president to account.
As during the first round, most political parties — which have been sidelined by a system that bans candidates from declaring allegiance to a political grouping — called for a boycott.
On the streets of Tunis, campaigning has been muted, with few posters on the walls and few well-known candidates.
And despite Saied’s break with the traditional political class, many Tunisians are sceptical of all politicians.
“I don’t feel I can trust anyone, so I’m not going to vote,” said carpenter Ridha.
The electoral board has organised televised debates to try to spark interest among those voters who supported Saied’s bid for the presidency in 2019.
But Tunisians, struggling with inflation of over 10 percent and repeated shortages of basic goods from milk to petrol as well as transport workers’ and teachers’ strikes, have more urgent priorities than politics.
Last week’s delivery of 170 trucks of food, a gift from the Tripoli-based government of war-torn Libya, was seen by many as a humiliation.
Redissi said the country was on “the edge of collapse.”
“Along with soaring prices, we’re seeing shortages and the president is pathetically blaming ‘speculators, traitors and saboteurs’,” he said.
But Cherif said that, despite widespread discontent, it was “possible that the status quo will continue as long as the average Tunisian doesn’t see a credible alternative to President Saied.”
Saied faced calls to quit after the first round of the election, but the opposition remains divided into three blocs: the National Salvation Front including the Ennahda party, a grouping of leftist parties, and the Free Destourian Party, seen as nostalgic for Ben Ali’s tough rule.
The election takes place in the shadow of Tunisia’s drawn-out negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout worth some $2 billion.
Cherif said the talks were stumbling over the United States’ concerns for the future of Tunisian democracy and Saied’s apparent reluctance to “accept the IMF’s diktats” on politically sensitive issues including subsidy reform.
Redissi said there was a “blatant discrepancy” between Saied’s rhetoric against the IMF and the program his government proposed to the lender “on the sly.”
“We have a president who opposes his own government,” he said.
He said the country’s only hope lay in a “rescue plan” proposed by the powerful UGTT trade union federation, the League for Human Rights, Tunisia’s Bar Association and the socio-economic rights group FTDES.
Syrian regime guilty of chemical attack on Douma, weapons watchdog concludes
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it is up to the international community to take action over the 2018 attack in which 50 people died
Stephane Dujarric once again called on the Syrian government to fully comply with Security Council Resolution 2118 and destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles
Updated 28 January 2023
NEW YORK: There are “reasonable grounds” to believe the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Douma almost five years ago, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Friday.
Its Investigation and Identification Team, which is responsible for identifying the perpetrators of such attacks in Syria, concluded that on the evening of April 7, 2018, at least one helicopter belonging to the elite Syrian “Tiger Forces” unit dropped two yellow cylinders filled with toxic chlorine gas onto two residential buildings in the city.
Fernando Arias, the OPCW’s director-general, said: “The world now knows the facts — it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond.”
The Douma attack resulted in the confirmed deaths of 43 identified civilians. Some estimates put the true death toll at 50. At least 100 people were injured.
The IIT said that it reached its conclusion on the basis of “reasonable grounds,” which is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.
The IIT report, the team’s third, said that investigators, analysts and several external independent experts scrutinized the physical evidence of the attack, which included environmental and biomedical samples, witness statements and other verified data, such as forensic analyzes and satellite images.
The OPCW said: “The IIT considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: That the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told Arab News: “It’s sad that in the 21st century we need to repeat this, but the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances is intolerable.
“Impunity for the use of chemical weapons is also unacceptable and it’s imperative that those who have used chemical weapons are identified and held accountable.”
He reiterated calls for the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118, which was unanimously adopted in September 2013 after a UN investigation confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of the victims, including children, suffocating after breathing in a nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.
The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014 and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It also banned Syrian authorities from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining any chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.
In October 2013, the Syria regime submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration of its chemical weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of stockpiles.
Almost 10 years later, the UN’s disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, continues to assert that the regime’s declaration cannot be considered accurate or complete. She said “gaps, inconsistencies
and discrepancies” were identified that continue to cast doubt on the true extent of the destruction of chemical weapons by the regime.
Dujarric called on the Syrian government to cooperate fully with the OPCW. The organization has for months complained that its attempts to schedule talks in Damascus about the issue have been blocked by the “continued refusal” of Syrian authorities to issue an entry visa for one member of its Declaration Assessment Team. The Syrian government accuses the team of being biased and unprofessional.
Dujarric reiterated the full support of the UN for “the integrity, the professionalism, the impartiality, the objectivity and the independence of the work of the OPCW.”
The IIT is a fact-finding entity, not a prosecutorial or judicial body, and does not make recommendations for future action, which is an issue for the policy-making bodies of the OPCW.
Irish family in limbo as six-year Qatari court battle drags on over daughter’s burns
Elizabeth Soffe suffered terrible injuries aged two in fire blamed on rental company’s poor maintenance
Parents say they can’t afford her treatment after appeal ruling cuts original compensation from $4m to less than $2m
Updated 27 January 2023
DUBAI: An Irish couple whose daughter suffered severe injuries in a Qatari villa fire face another grueling chapter in a six-year court battle after their compensation was cut in half after an appeal by the firm blamed for the blaze.
Elizabeth Soffe was two years old when her family’s villa in Al-Waab caught fire. She suffered third-degree burns to 60 percent of her body, lost fingers, her hair, part of her nose and an ear and needs lifelong expensive treatment.
However, her parents Liam and Sinead, who now live in the UK, have been told that an initial $4.11 million compensation ruling by a Qatari court has been cut to about $1.98 million in a second ruling, which they say leaves them without enough to pay for Elizabeth’s care.
“They rejected [costs for] all future treatment – operations and prosthetics,” her father told The Guardian. “She has had 70-80 operations on the NHS, and she will probably need at least another two every year until she’s an adult.
“We’ve spent about £25,000 on court fees so far. UK solicitors (say) that if the case was heard here, the compensation would be between £8 million and £10 million. (In Qatar) there’s almost no consideration of what we would consider … mental health and trauma.”
Elizabeth’s parents lodged a lawsuit in 2017 against Al-Asmakh Real Estate Development, which managed their villa, after two years of attempts to reach an informal settlement failed.
Al-Asmakh was last year ordered to pay QR15 million ($4.11 million) in compensation after a court-appointed fire expert said that the blaze was caused by either a faulty electrical supply or poor maintenance of an air conditioning unit.
However, the company appealed and had the case moved to the rental disputes settlement committee, a lower court, which overturned the original ruling and lowered compensation to around $1.98 million.
Both the Soffes and the Al-Asmakh have appealed against the latest ruling. The case is due to be heard in February.
“All we want is for Elizabeth to be taken care of, so that she has a life and opportunities,” said Soffe.
Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals
Gunman identified as a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who appeared to have acted alone
Attack comes amid escalating violence in occupied West Bank, including the shooting of 3 Palestinians by an Israeli land-grabber in Nablus
Updated 28 January 2023
JERUSALEM: A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside an east Jerusalem synagogue Friday night, killing seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others before he was shot and killed by police, officials said. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in years and raised the likelihood of more bloodshed.
The attack, which occurred as residents were observing the Jewish sabbath, came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine people in the West Bank. The shooting set off celebrations in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where people fired guns into the air, honked horns and distributed sweets.
The burst of violence, which also included a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, has posed an early challenge for Israel’s new government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have pushed for a hard line against Palestinian violence. It also cast a cloud over a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region Sunday.
Addressing reporters at Israel’s national police headquarters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had held a security assessment and decided on “immediate actions.” He said he would convene his Security Cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of the sabbath, to discuss a further response.
Netanyahu declined to elaborate but said Israel would act with “determination and composure.” He called on the public not to take the law into their own hands.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US strongly condemned the attack and was “shocked and saddened by the loss of life,” noting it came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
US officials said later Friday that President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu to offer US support to the government and people of Israel, calling the shootings “an attack against the civilized world.” “The President stressed the iron-clad US commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House said of the call.
Israeli police said the shootings occurred in Neve Yaakov, a neighborhood with a large ultra-Orthodox population, and that the gunman fled in a car. Police said they chased after him and after an exchange of fire, killed him.
Jerusalem police chief Doron Turjeman confirmed seven deaths, in addition to the shooter, and said three people were wounded.
Police identified the attacker as a 21-year-old east Jerusalem resident who apparently acted alone. Turjeman promised an “aggressive and significant” effort to track down anyone who helped him.
Police also released a photo of the pistol it said was used by the attacker.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant huddled with Israel’s military chief and other top security officials and instructed them to assist police and strengthen defenses near Jerusalem and for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Israel’s defense establishment will operate decisively and forcefully against terror and will reach anyone involved in the attack,” Gallant said.
Israel’s MADA rescue service said the dead victims were five men and two women, including several who were 60 or older. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital said a 15-year-old boy was recovering from surgery.
The attack was the deadliest on Israelis since a 2008 shooting killed eight people in a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Ministry. Given the location and timing, it threatened to trigger a tough response from Israel.
Overnight Thursday, Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, with all of them either intercepted or landing in open areas. Israel responded with airstrikes on targets in Gaza. No casualties were reported, and calm had appeared to be taking hold before Friday night’s shooting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group, said the attack was “a revenge and natural response” to the deadly military raid Thursday.
At several locations across the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinians gathered in spontaneous demonstrations to celebrate the Jerusalem attack, with some coming out of dessert shops with large trays of sweets to distribute.
In downtown Gaza City, celebratory gunfire could be heard, as cars honked and calls of “God is great!” wafted from mosque loudspeakers. In various West Bank towns, Palestinians launched fireworks.
The attack escalated tensions that were already heightened following Thursday’s raid in the town of Jenin, where nine people, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman, were killed. It was the deadliest single raid in the West Bank in two decades. A 10th Palestinian was killed in separate fighting near Jerusalem.
Angry Palestinians marched Friday as they buried the last of those killed a day earlier.
Scuffles between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters erupted after the funeral for a 22-year-old Palestinian north of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, but calm prevailed in the contested capital and in the blockaded Gaza Strip for most of the day.
That suddenly dissolved with the east Jerusalem shooting, described as “horrific and heartbreaking” by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and former prime minister.
Neve Yaakov is a religious Jewish settlement that Israel considers to be a neighborhood of its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a capital of their future state.
Blinken’s trip will probably now focus heavily on lowering tensions. He is likely to discuss the underlying causes of the conflict, the agenda of Israel’s new far-right government and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt security coordination with Israel in retaliation for the raid.
The Biden administration has been deeply engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, underscoring the “urgent need here for all parties to deescalate to prevent the further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival forces in 2007.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 2022, making it the deadliest year in those territories since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.