GCC ministerial council rebukes Iran over ‘incorrect’ statement on Bahrain prisoners

GCC ministerial council rebukes Iran over ‘incorrect’ statement on Bahrain prisoners
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Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani participates the Gulf Cooperation Council Ministerial Meeting in Riyadh on September 7, 2023. (REUTERS)
GCC ministerial council rebukes Iran over ‘incorrect’ statement on Bahrain prisoners
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GCC Secretary-General Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi speaks with Omani Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi during the GCC Ministerial Meeting in Riyadh on September 7, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 September 2023
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GCC ministerial council rebukes Iran over ‘incorrect’ statement on Bahrain prisoners

GCC ministerial council rebukes Iran over ‘incorrect’ statement on Bahrain prisoners
  • Tehran makes ‘false’ claim of ‘unfavorable’ conditions for hunger strikers in Bahrain
  • GCC ministers remind Iran of ‘good neighborliness’ and resolving disputes peacefully

RIYADH: The GCC’s foreign ministers on Thursday condemned Iran for what they termed were “false” claims that prisoners were being treated badly in a Bahrain prison.

The ministers were responding to comments made by the spokesman of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about jail conditions in Bahrain.

Citing the principles of the UN Charter on “good neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of states,” the GCC Ministerial Council called on officials in Iran “to investigate accuracy and not rely on incorrect information.”

The rebuke was part of a comprehensive statement issued by the GCC Ministerial Council at the close of its 57th session in the Saudi capital.

Manama had earlier rejected Iran’s ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani’s claim that “unfavorable” jail conditions in Bahrain had led to a hunger strike by some 800 prisoners.

Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Iran should “be more accurate and not to be misled by false information that harms relations between the two countries.”

Bahrain is part of the six-nation GCC, which includes Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

A Reuters report quoted Bahrain’s General Directorate of Reform and Rehabilitation as saying that the number of detainees who have reported being on hunger strike had at no time gone beyond 124 and that their complaints were being addressed.

The GDRR said the hunger strikers are provided with access to medical check-ups on a daily basis and none of them have required critical care or hospitalization. “Any claims to the contrary are false,” it said.

Bahrain’s MFA said the National Institution for Human Rights and the Prisoners and Detainees Rights Commission have conducted unannounced visits to the Reform and Rehabilitation Center to investigate allegations regarding the conditions of inmates.

“They reviewed a number of demands made by some inmates and submitted a detailed report to the relevant authorities,” the ministry said.

In addition to the Bahrain issue, the GCC Ministerial Council statement welcomed the steps taken by Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume diplomatic relations.

It reiterated the decisions of the GCC Supreme Council during its 43rd session in December 2022 that with respect to relations with Iran, mutual respect and resolving disputes by peaceful means and direct dialogue, rather than the use of, or threatening the use of force, must be adhered to.

The Ministerial Council stated that Iran should not exceed the rate of uranium enrichment required for non-military use, and the need to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It further “stressed the importance of preserving maritime security and waterways in the region, and addressing everything that might threaten the shipping lanes, international trade, and oil installations in the GCC states.”

The GCC and other countries have in the past accused Iran of attempting to destabilize the region, including arming the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and various groups in Iraq. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had also been accused of disrupting commercial shipping in the Arabian Gulf.


UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023

UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023
Updated 13 June 2024
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UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023

UN refugee agency says record 117 mln people forcibly displaced in 2023
  • UNHCR report stated that there had been a yearly increase in the number of people forcibly displaced over the last 12 years

GENEVA: The United Nations refugee agency on Thursday said the number of people forcibly displaced stood at a record 117.3 million as of the end of last year, warning that this figure could rise further without major global political changes.

“These are refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people, people being forced away by conflict, by persecution, by different and increasingly complex forms of violence,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Conflict remains a very, very deep driver of displacement.” In its report on global trends in forced displacement, UNHCR said that there had been a yearly increase in the number of people forcibly displaced over the last 12 years.

UNHCR estimates that forced displacement has continued to increase in the first four months of 2024, and that the number of those displaced is likely to have exceeded 120 million by the end of April. “Unless there is a shift in international geopolitics, unfortunately, I actually see that figure continuing to go up,” Grandi said, referring to the risk of new conflicts.

The conflicts that have driven displacement include the war in Sudan, which Grandi described as “one of the most catastrophic ones” despite garnering less attention that other crises.

More that 9 million people have been internally displaced and another 2 million have fled to neighboring countries including Chad, Egypt and South Sudan, Grandi said. “People are arriving in the hundreds every day,” he said, referring to the influx of people seeking safety in Chad. In Gaza, Israel’s bombardment and ground campaign have caused around 1.7 million people – nearly 80 percent of the Palestinian enclave’s population – to become internally displaced, many of them multiple times.

Grandi warned that the possible crossings of Gazans into Egypt from the southern border town of Rafah to escape Israel’s military offensive would be catastrophic. “Another refugee crisis outside Gaza would be catastrophic on all levels, including because we have no guarantee that the people will be able to return to Gaza one day,” Grandi said.


Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to a ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable and some not

Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to a ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable and some not
Updated 13 June 2024
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Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to a ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable and some not

Blinken says some of Hamas’ proposed changes to a ceasefire plan in Gaza are workable and some not
  • Without spelling out what changes Hamas sought, he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal”
  • The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas

Without spelling out what changes Hamas sought, he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal”

The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas

BEIRUT: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that mediators would keep trying to close an elusive ceasefire deal for Gaza after Hamas proposed changes to a US-backed plan, some of which he said were “workable” and some not.
The back-and-forth laid bare frustration over the difficulty of reaching an accord that could end eight months of war that has decimated the territory, killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and left scores of Israeli hostages still languishing in militant captivity. Previous moments of optimism have been repeatedly dashed by the differences between the two sides.
The ceasefire proposal has global support but has not been fully embraced by Israel or Hamas. Blinken did not spell out what changes Hamas sought, but he said the mediators — Qatar, Egypt and the US — will keep trying to “close this deal.” He put the onus on Hamas, accusing it of changing its demands.
“Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table. ... Some of the changes are workable. Some are not,” Blinken told reporters in Qatar. “I believe that they (the differences) are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged because ultimately Hamas has to decide.”
Blinken’s comments came as Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel to avenge the killing of a top commander, further escalating regional tensions.
Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of Hamas, has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the Israel-Hamas war began and says it will stop only if there is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of an even more devastating regional conflagration.
Air-raid sirens sounded across northern Israel, and the military said about 215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon, making it one of the largest attacks since the fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties as some rockets were intercepted while others ignited brush fires.
Hamas asks for changes

Hamas conveyed its official reply to the proposal to mediators on Tuesday. Hamas spokesman Jihad Taha told the Lebanese news outlet ElNashra that the “amendments” requested by the group aim to guarantee a permanent ceasefire and complete Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza.
The proposal announced by US President Joe Biden includes those provisions, but Hamas has expressed wariness about whether Israel will implement the terms. While the US says Israel has accepted the proposal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given conflicting statements, saying Israel is still intent on its goal of destroying Hamas.
Blinken, on his eighth visit to the region since the start of the war, said the deal on the table was “virtually identical” to one Hamas put forth on May 6. The UN Security Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the plan on Monday.
“At some point in a negotiation, and this has gone back and forth for a long time, you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not,” he said.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said there had been “counterproductive” actions by both sides.
The proposal’s three-phase plan would begin with a six-week ceasefire and the release of some hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israeli forces would withdraw from populated areas, and Palestinian civilians would be allowed to return to their homes. Aid distribution would also increase.
At the same time, negotiations would start over the second phase, which is to bring “a permanent end to hostilities” and “full withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining hostages.
Phase three would see the launch of a reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of remains of deceased hostages.
A major hitch for both sides appears to be the negotiations for the second phase.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said Israel will demand that Hamas be removed from power as part of any agreement on that phase.
“One of our conditions is not only the release of the hostages, it’s also the future of Gaza,” Erdan told CNN’s “The Source” on Monday. “We cannot agree to Hamas continuing to be the rulers of Gaza because then Gaza will continue to pose a threat to Israel.”
He also said Israel opposes a provision extending the initial ceasefire as long as talks are going on, saying it would allow Hamas to “continue with endless and meaningless negotiations.”
Hamas, in turn, appears to want stronger guarantees up front that the talks will lead to the permanent ceasefire and withdrawal.
Netanyahu’s far-right coalition allies have rejected the proposal and threaten to bring down his government if he ends the war leaving Hamas intact. But Netanyahu is also under mounting pressure to accept a deal to bring the hostages back. Thousands of Israelis, including families of the hostages, have demonstrated in favor of the US-backed plan.
Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed over 37,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not give the breakdown of civilians and fighters. The war has also driven some 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million from their homes, and Israeli restrictions and ongoing fighting have hindered efforts to bring in humanitarian aid, fueling widespread hunger.
Israel launched its campaign after Hamas and other militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong ceasefire last year in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Hamas is believed to be holding around 80 hostages and the remains of another 40.
Revenge for slain commander
Netanyahu’s office said he was conducting a security assessment in light of Hezbollah’s barrage in the north and what it called Hamas’ “negative response” to the proposal.
Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in retaliation for the killing of Taleb Sami Abdullah, 55. Known within Hezbollah as Hajj Abu Taleb, he is the most senior commander killed since the fighting began eight months ago. The Israeli strike late Tuesday destroyed a house where Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.
A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in recent days, causing fires in the area.
The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.
Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon have killed over 400 people, most of them Hezbollah members, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and noncombatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.
Other groups allied with Iran, including powerful militias in Iraq and Syria, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, have also attacked Israeli, US and other targets since the start of the war, often drawing Western retaliation. In April, Israel and Iran traded fire directly for the first time.
 


Hamas urges US to put ‘pressure’ on Israel for permanent Gaza ceasefire: statement

Hamas urges US to put ‘pressure’ on Israel for permanent Gaza ceasefire: statement
Updated 13 June 2024
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Hamas urges US to put ‘pressure’ on Israel for permanent Gaza ceasefire: statement

Hamas urges US to put ‘pressure’ on Israel for permanent Gaza ceasefire: statement

GAZA STRIP: The Hamas militant group in Gaza called on Washington on Thursday to “pressure” Israel to accept a permanent ceasefire in the territory, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wraps up a Mideast tour.

“He continues to talk about Israel’s agreement of the latest (ceasefire) proposal, but we have not heard any Israeli official speak out on this,” Hamas said in a statement, urging Blinken to put “direct pressure” on Israel.


Iran expanding enrichment capacity after IAEA resolution, diplomats say

Iran expanding enrichment capacity after IAEA resolution, diplomats say
Updated 13 June 2024
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Iran expanding enrichment capacity after IAEA resolution, diplomats say

Iran expanding enrichment capacity after IAEA resolution, diplomats say
  • Iran is only enriching to up to 60 percent at an above-ground pilot plant at Natanz and its Fordow site, which is dug into a mountain

VIENNA/PARIS: Iran is responding to last week’s UN nuclear watchdog board resolution against it by expanding its uranium-enrichment capacity at two underground sites, but the escalation is not as big as many had feared, diplomats said on Wednesday.
Iran bristles at such resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors, and it reacted to the previous one 18 months earlier by enriching to up to 60 percent purity, close to weapons grade, at a second site and announcing a large expansion of its enrichment program.
This time it plans to install more cascades, or clusters, of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, at both its underground enrichment sites, five diplomats said. IAEA inspectors observing Iran’s progress plan to issue a report to member states on Thursday, three of the diplomats said.
“It’s not as much as I would expect,” one Vienna-based diplomat said, referring to the scale of Iran’s escalation.
“Why? I don’t know. Maybe they’re waiting for the new government,” they said, referring to the death in a helicopter crash last month of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, and the presidential election due to be held on June 28.
The IAEA Board passed a resolution a week ago calling on Iran to step up cooperation with the IAEA and reverse its recent barring of inspectors despite earlier US concerns Tehran would respond with atomic escalation. Only Russia and China opposed.
Diplomats did not go into specifics on the number or type of centrifuges being added or what level they would enrich to, though one diplomat said they would not be used to quickly expand Iran’s production of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, close to the 90 percent of weapons grade.
The diplomats said they would wait to see what the IAEA said Iran had actually done but they were aware of Iran’s plans.
The move is “at the lower end of expectations and something we’re pretty sure they were going to do anyway,” one diplomat said, meaning it would have happened even without the resolution.
Iran did not fully follow through on its November 2022 announcement after the previous resolution. While it installed all the centrifuges it said it would at its underground enrichment plant at Natanz, 12 cascades of one advanced model, the IR-2m, are not yet in operation.
Iran is only enriching to up to 60 percent at an above-ground pilot plant at Natanz and its Fordow site, which is dug into a mountain. In November 2022 it started enriching to up to 60 percent at Fordow but it has yet to install all the additional cascades it said it would.


Houthis claim attack on merchant ship in Red Sea off Yemen

Houthis claim attack on merchant ship in Red Sea off Yemen
Updated 13 June 2024
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Houthis claim attack on merchant ship in Red Sea off Yemen

Houthis claim attack on merchant ship in Red Sea off Yemen

DUBAI: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Wednesday claimed an attack on a merchant ship in the Red Sea, part of an ongoing campaign they say is an act of solidarity with Palestinians.
The Houthis, who are at war with a Saudi-led coalition after ousting the government from Sanaa in 2014, have launched scores of drone and missile attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November.
They have said they are harassing the vital trade route in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
In a statement on Wednesday, the rebels said they had carried out a “military operation targeting the Tutor ship in the Red Sea, using a naval drone, aerial drones and ballistic missiles.”
The ship was hit about 68 nautical miles (126 kilometers) southwest of the rebel-held port city of Hodeida, maritime security firm Ambrey had said earlier in the day.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by Britain’s Royal Navy, said a vessel was “hit on the stern by a small craft” 66 nautical miles southwest of Hodeida.
In a statement, UKMTO said the ship was taking on water and not under the crew’s command.
It added that the vessel was “hit for a second time by an unknown airborne projectile” and that military authorities were assisting.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) later said the Tutor had been struck by a Houthi “unmanned surface vessel” that “caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room.”
CENTCOM — which along with British forces has been conducting strikes in rebel-held Yemen in retaliation for the Red Sea attacks — also said it had destroyed three anti-ship missile launchers and a Houthi drone over the past 24 hours.