‘Become stronger’: Iranians urged to vote as Mideast tensions soar

‘Become stronger’: Iranians urged  to vote as Mideast tensions soar
Men walk past a wall bearing an electoral campaign poster, ahead of the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections, in Tehran on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 February 2024
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‘Become stronger’: Iranians urged to vote as Mideast tensions soar

‘Become stronger’: Iranians urged  to vote as Mideast tensions soar
  • Voters in the Islamic republic will pick a new parliament for another four years

QOM,Iran: In the Iranian shrine city of Qom, huge street banners remind voters to head to the polls in Friday’s parliamentary elections, held as the Gaza war stokes Middle East tensions.

Voters in the Islamic republic will pick a new parliament for another four years, as well as members of the Assembly of Experts in charge of electing Iran’s supreme leader.

The vote comes amid a biting economic crisis and will be the first since Iran was rocked by nationwide protests over the death of Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest for allegedly violating the strict dress code for women.

Large posters around Qom — around 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of the capital Tehran — show Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in front of a ballot box, with a message urging people to vote in order for Iran “to become stronger.”

Islamic theology student Mohammad Jafari said he will heed the call, voicing hope that the election will strengthen Iran at a time its arch enemy Israel is fighting a devastating war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“The elections will strengthen both the country’s internal and international standing,” said 27-year-old Jafari in Qom, a center of Shiite Muslim shrines and home to renowned religious scholars.

The Gaza war broke out after the unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas militants claimed about 1,160 lives in Israel, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Israel’s military campaign has killed at least 29,782 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s Health Ministry.

Iran and Israel are bitter enemies, and Tehran has made support for the Palestinian cause a centerpiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iran has supported Hamas in the war, but denied any direct involvement in its attack, or in military action launched by allied armed groups in countries from Lebanon to Yemen.

To Jafari, it is important that “our enemies see that the government has the support of the people” to deter military threats against it.

Regional tensions have soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, also drawing in Iran-backed militant groups in Syria and Iraq.

Iran has repeatedly said it does not seek an “expansion” of conflict.

Rahbari, a 40-year-old housewife in Qom, said the elections are an opportunity to assert Iran’s “independence” and “neutralize all enemy plots.”

She said it is important to vote given “the events that are happening in the region and also the threats made by Iran’s enemies.”

Iran’s current parliament, elected in 2020, has been dominated by conservatives and ultra-conservatives after many reformists and moderates were disqualified.

The 2020 elections saw the lowest voter turnout since 1979 — while a recent poll conducted by Iran’s state television found that more than half of respondents were indifferent to the elections.

Jafari believes a low turnout this time would show Iran “is in the grip of unrest and divisions,” fearing this might prompt a “military attack” on its territory.

But for others in Iran, the war in Gaza is not a major concern.

Iran’s economy has been reeling under crippling US sanctions imposed over its contested nuclear program, and inflation in recent years has hovered near 50 percent.

The 88-member Assembly of Experts is tasked with electing, supervising and, if necessary, dismissing the supreme leader, who has the final say in all matters of state in Iran.

Khamenei, now 84, has held the post since 1989.

Former moderate president Hassan Rouhani has called on the people to vote “to protest against the ruling minority.”

Rouhani recently announced that he was barred from seeking reelection to the Assembly of Experts after 24 years of membership.

Meanwhile a coalition called the Reform Front has said it will not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections.”

Majid Hosseini, a farmer visiting the Masoumeh shrine in Qom, insisted that the elections this year are particularly important.

“If we do not participate, all these 40 years of hard work will be lost,” the 79-year-old said, referring to the Islamic revolution of 1979.

Similarly, Mehdi Mousavi believes choosing the Assembly of Experts is especially significant.

The assembly is “the guarantor of preserving Islam,” said the 39-year-old Qom resident, noting that its members are “experts in the important religious issues.”


Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
Updated 11 sec ago
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Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip

Rafah battles intensify as Israel takes over Gaza-Egypt border strip
  • The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there
RAFAH: Rafah residents reported intense artillery shelling and gunfire Thursday in Gaza’s far-southern city after Israel said it had seized a strategic corridor on the Palestinian territory’s border with Egypt.
The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there.
A strike over the weekend that started a fire and killed dozens in a displacement camp drew a wave of fresh condemnation, including a social media campaign with the slogan “All eyes on Rafah” that has been shared by tens of millions of users.
Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced Israel had taken “operational control” of the narrow border area, where he said troops had “discovered around 20 tunnels.”
Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict which has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of the Israeli operation, has rejected claims of smuggling tunnels running beneath the buffer zone.
“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source was quoted as saying by state-linked Al-Qahera News.
Egyptian officials have said a potential Israeli takeover of Philadelphi could violate the two countries’ landmark 1979 peace deal, though there has been no official comment from Cairo since the military’s announcement.
On a visit in Beijing, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called for increased humanitarian assistance to besieged Gaza, and reiterated his country’s longstanding opposition to “any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, meanwhile, called on Thursday for a “broad-based, authoritative and effective international peace conference” to address the war, as he hosted Arab leaders including El-Sisi.
On the ground in the Gaza Strip, witnesses reported fighting in central and western Rafah.
Witnesses also said Israeli forces had demolished several buildings in the city’s eastern areas where the Israeli incursion began on May 7, initially focusing on the vital Rafah border crossing, a key entry point for humanitarian aid.


An AFP correspondent reported artillery and gunfire in Gaza City’s southern neighborhood of Zeitun, in the territory’s north, where witnesses saw thick plumes of smoke rising over Jabalia refugee camp and Beit Lahia.
A steady stream of civilians have fled Rafah, transporting their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.
Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering there. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported late Wednesday that two of its paramedics “were killed as a result of the Israeli occupation’s direct bombing” of an ambulance near Rafah.
The weekend Israeli strike and ensuing fire which tore through the camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials and has prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.
Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.
In the wake of the strike, Algeria presented a draft UN resolution that “demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties” and the release of all hostages, but it was not clear when it would be put to a vote.
In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday, France’s Emmanuel Macron said Paris was “determined to work with Algeria” to ensure the council “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
He also called on Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine.”
Decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland to formally recognize the State of Palestine this week have sparked a debate over the issue, and Macron said it should take place at a “useful moment.”
Israel’s has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza since October 7, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the war could go on until the year’s end.
“We may have another seven months of fighting to consolidate our success and achieve what we have defined as the destruction of Hamas’s power and military capabilities,” Hanegbi said.
The United States has been among the countries urging Israel to refrain from a full-scale Rafah offensive because of the risk to civilians.
However, the White House said Tuesday that so far it had not seen Israel cross President Joe Biden’s “red lines.”
The New York Times and CNN, citing weapons experts and analysis of video from the scene of the weekend Rafah strike, reported that the bomb believed to have started the fatal fire was a US-made GBU-39 guided munition.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel to quickly devise a post-war strategy for Gaza, stressing: “In the absence of a plan for the day after, there won’t be a day after.”

Iran opens registration period for the presidential election after Raisi’s helicopter crash

Iran opens registration period for the presidential election after Raisi’s helicopter crash
Updated 30 May 2024
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Iran opens registration period for the presidential election after Raisi’s helicopter crash

Iran opens registration period for the presidential election after Raisi’s helicopter crash
  • The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash
  • The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates

TEHRAN: Iran opened a five-day registration period Thursday for hopefuls wanting to run in the June 28 presidential election to replace the late Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash earlier this month with seven others.
The election comes as Iran grapples with the aftermath of the May 19 crash, as well as heightened tensions between Tehran and the United States, and protests including those over the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini that have swept the country.
While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 85, maintains final say over all matters of state, presidents in the past have bent the Islamic Republic of Iran toward greater interaction or increased hostility with the West.
The five-day period will see those between the ages of 40 to 75 with at least a master’s degree register as potential candidates. All candidates ultimately must be approved by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and jurists ultimately overseen by Khamenei. That panel has never accepted a woman, for instance, nor anyone calling for radical change within the country’s governance.
Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, won Iran’s 2021 presidential election after the Guardian Council disqualified all of the candidates with the best chance to potentially challenge him. That vote saw the lowest turnout in Iran’s history for a presidential election. That likely was a sign of voters’ discontent with both a hard-line cleric sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in mass executions in 1988, and Iran’s Shiite theocracy over four decades after its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Who will run — and potentially be accepted — remains in question. The country’s acting president, Mohammad Mokhber, a previously behind-the-scenes bureaucrat, could be a front-runner, because he’s already been seen meeting with Khamenei. Also discussed as possible aspirants are former hard-line President Mohammad Ahmadinejad and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami — but whether they’d be allowed to run is another question.
The five-day registration period will close on Tuesday. The Guardian Council is expected to issue its final list of candidates within 10 days afterwards. That will allow for a shortened two-week campaign before the vote in late June.
The new president will take office while the country now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a drone and missile attack on Israel amid the war in Gaza. Tehran also has continued arming proxy groups in the Middle East, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
Meanwhile, Iran’s economy has faced years of hardship over its collapsing rial currency. Widespread protests have swept the country, most recently over Amini’s death following her arrest over allegedly not wearing her mandatory headscarf to the liking of authorities, A UN panel says the Iranian government is responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.
Raisi is just the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb blast killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the Islamic Revolution.


Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’

Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’
Updated 30 May 2024
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Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’

Egypt’s El-Sisi calls to ensure Gazans not ‘forcibly displaced’
  • El-Sisi’s comments come after the Israeli army said it had gained “operational control” over the strategic Philadelphi corridor along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt

Beijing: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Thursday urged the international community to ensure Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are not displaced from their war-ravaged territory.
“I... call on the international community to immediately provide for long-term humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip and to end the Israeli siege,” El-Sisi told a forum of Arab leaders and Chinese officials in Beijing.
He also urged the international community to “stop any attempt at forcing Palestinians to forcibly flee their land.”
China is this week hosting El-Sisi and several other Arab leaders for a forum at which discussions on the war in Gaza were expected.
El-Sisi’s comments come after the Israeli army said Wednesday it had gained “operational control” over the strategic Philadelphi corridor along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
The corridor had served as a buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt, and Israeli troops patrolled it until 2005, when they were withdrawn as part of a broader disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
Its seizure comes weeks after Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on May 7 as their ground assault on the far-southern Gaza city began.
El-Sisi on Thursday said there was “no pathway to peace and stability in the region” without a “comprehensive approach to the Palestinian cause.”
He called for a “serious and immediate commitment to the two-state solution and a recognition of the Palestinians’ legitimate right to an independent state.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’
Updated 30 May 2024
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French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’

French PM Macron urges Abbas to ‘reform’ Palestinian Authority with ‘prospect of recognition’
  • In a statement, Macron said France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories"

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron urged Palestinian Authority chief Mahmud Abbas to “implement necessary reforms,” offering the “prospect of recognition of the state of Palestine” during a phone call Wednesday, his office said.

Macron “highlighted France’s commitment to building a common vision of peace with European and Arab partners, offering security guarantees for Palestinians and Israelis,” as well as “making the prospect of recognition of a state of Palestine part of a useful process,” Macron’s Elysee Palace said.
The readout of the call with the chief of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank follows Tuesday’s official recognition for a Palestinian state by fellow European nations Spain, Ireland and Norway, which drew ire from Israel.
Macron’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne earlier Wednesday accused France’s neighbors of “political positioning” ahead of June 9 European elections, rather than seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Macron had said Tuesday that he would be prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, but such a move should “come at a useful moment” and not be based on “emotion.”
France supports “a reformed and strengthened Palestinian Authority, able to carry out its responsibilities throughout the Palestinian territories, including in the Gaza Strip, for the benefit of the Palestinian people,” Macron told Abbas on Wednesday, according to the Elysee Palace readout.
Abbas’s office said in a statement that he expressed the Palestinian government’s commitment to “reform” during the talks with Macron.
He called on “European countries that have not recognized the state of Palestine to do so.”
Current fighting in Gaza, controlled by the PA’s rival Hamas, was sparked by the militant group’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel.
That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Macron called civilian casualties “intolerable” and offered his “sincere condolences to the Palestinian people” for the bombing of a displaced people’s camp in Rafah in southern Gaza.
He told Abbas that Paris was “determined to work with Algeria and its partners on the UN Security Council” so the body “makes a strong statement on Rafah.”
Algeria’s draft resolution calls on Israel to immediately halt military action in Rafah.


Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank

Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank
Updated 30 May 2024
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Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank

Car ramming attack kills two Israelis in West Bank
  • Videos posted on social media showed Israeli security forces subduing the suspect, and the vehicle was confiscated by Palestinian security forces.

JERUSALEM: A car ramming attack killed two Israelis near the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Israeli army said.
The army had earlier reported a car ramming attack near an Israeli settlement outside Nablus. It then told AFP “two Israeli citizens were killed.”
According to Israeli media, the army launched a manhunt for the suspected attacker, as violence in the West Bank flares during Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The deadliest Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Hamas welcomed the attack near Nablus, saying in a statement it was a “natural response” against the “crimes of the enemy.”