‘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.”


Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike

Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike
Updated 18 April 2024
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Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike

Gazans search for remains after deadly Rafah strike

An Israeli strike hit the home where a displaced Palestinian family was sheltering in the southern city of Rafah, relatives and neighbors told AFP as they scraped at the soil with their hands.

Al-Arja said the blast killed at least 10 people.

“We retrieved the remains of children and women, finding arms and feet. They were all torn to pieces.

“This is horrifying. It’s not normal,” he said, hauling concrete and broken olive branches from the wreckage. “The entire world is complicit.”

Soon after the war began on Oct. 7, Israel told Palestinians living in the north of Gaza to move to “safe zones” in the territory’s south, like Rafah.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since vowed to invade the city, where around 1.5 million people live in shelters, more than half the territory’s population.

“How is Rafah a safe place?” said Zeyad Ayyad, a relative of the victims. He sighed as he cradled a fragment of the remains.

“I heard the bombing last night and then went back to sleep. I did not think it hit my aunt’s house.”

The search for remains was long and painful. The strike left a huge crater and children picked through the rubble while neighbors removed debris, tarpaulin, a pink top.

“We can see them under the rubble and we’re unable to retrieve them,” Al-Arja said. 

“These are people who came from the north because it was said the south is safe.”

“They struck without any warning,” he said.

In a separate strike on the house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood overnight on Tuesday, rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, Gaza’s civil defense service said.

“An Israeli rocket hit a house of displaced people,” said resident Sami Nyrab. 

“My sister’s son-in-law, her daughter, and her children were having dinner when an Israeli missile demolished their house over their heads.”


Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy city

Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy city
Updated 18 April 2024
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Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy city

Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy city
  • The rains were the heaviest experienced by the UAE in the 75 years that records have been kept

DUBAI: Dubai was busy on Thursday clearing its waterlogged roads and drying out flooded homes two days after a record storm deposited a year’s worth of rainfall in a day.

Dubai International Airport, a major travel hub, struggled to clear a backlog of flights, and many roads were still flooded in the aftermath of Tuesday’s deluge.

The rains were the heaviest experienced by the UAE in the 75 years that records have been kept. 

They brought much of the country to a standstill and caused significant damage.

Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices, and homes. 

Many reported leaks at their homes, while footage circulated on social media showed malls overrun with water pouring from roofs.

Traffic remained heavily disrupted. 

A highway through Dubai was reduced to a single lane in one direction, while the main road connecting Dubai with Abu Dhabi was closed in the Abu Dhabi direction.

“This was like nothing else. It was like an alien invasion,” said Jonathan Richards, a Dubai resident from Britain.

“I woke up the other morning to people in kayaks, pet dogs, pet cats, and suitcases outside my house.”

Another resident, Rinku Makhecha, said the rain swamped her newly renovated house, which she moved into two weeks ago.

“My entire living room is just like ... all my furniture is floating right now,” she said.

In Dubai’s streets, some vehicles, including buses, could be seen almost entirely submerged in water. 

Long queues formed at petrol stations.

Dubai Airport had not resumed normal operation after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays, and cancellations.

Dubai Airport Chief Operating Officer Majed Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV he expected Dubai International Airport to reach 60 to 70 percent capacity by the end of Thursday and full operational capacity within 24 hours.

The airport struggled to get food to stranded passengers, with nearby roads flooded and overcrowding limited access to those who had confirmed bookings.

While some roadways into hard-hit communities remain flooded, delivery services across Dubai, whose residents are used to ordering everything at the click of a mouse, slowly began returning to the streets.

Following Tuesday’s events, questions were raised about whether cloud seeding, a process that the UAE frequently conducts, could have caused the heavy rains.

A UAE government agency overseeing cloud seeding — manipulating clouds to increase rainfall — denied conducting such operations before the storm.

President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said in a statement that he had ordered authorities to assess the damage and support families impacted by the storm.

Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum said on X that the safety of citizens, residents, and visitors was the utmost priority.

“At a meeting with government officials in Dubai, we set directives to prepare comprehensive plans in response to natural crises such as the unexpected current weather conditions,” he said.


Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes

Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes
Updated 18 April 2024
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Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes

Hezbollah says 2 fighters killed in Israeli strikes
  • GPS interference affecting both sides of Lebanese border, source says

BEIRUT: Two Hezbollah fighters were killed on Wednesday as Israel intensified strikes on south Lebanon following an attack by the Iran-backed group that wounded 14 Israeli soldiers.

Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.

A security source said: “Hezbollah’s complex attack against the Israeli army in Wadi Al-Aramshe early on Wednesday, which led to the injury of 14 Israeli soldiers, including six with serious injuries, was absorbed by the Israeli side after the painful blow it directed at the party by assassinating three of its field officials.”

The Israeli army responded to the Wadi Al-Aramshe operation on Wednesday night by targeting the town of Iaat in the Bekaa Valley, 5 km from Baalbek. A drone strike hit a warehouse belonging to a member of the Al-Zein family, resulting in light wounds to one civilian.

Israel continues to jam GPS around the Lebanese southern border region, especially during military operations.

A security source said: “This interference negatively affects both the Israeli army and Hezbollah in targeting objectives.”

Hezbollah announced a series of operations since dawn on Thursday, targeting Israeli military sites opposite the Lebanese border.

The group targeted an Israeli force attempting to withdraw a military vehicle that was targeted on Wednesday at Metula, opposite the Lebanese town of Kfarkela.

At dawn, Israeli soldiers in Al-Malikiyah, opposite the Lebanese town of Aitaroun, were targeted by Hezbollah using missiles.

The group also targeted Israeli soldiers in Al-Marj.

“After careful monitoring and anticipation of the enemy’s movement at Al-Marj … they were targeted with missile weapons and suffered a direct hit; some died while others were injured,” the group said in a statement.

Hezbollah attacked Israeli soldiers using missiles in the Hanita forest, opposite the Lebanese town of Alma Al-Shaab.

On Thursday, the party mourned two members killed in Wednesday night’s shelling of Kfarkela. Mohammed Jamil Al-Shami from Kfarkela and Ali Ahmed Hamadeh from Doueir were killed in the Israeli operation.

The Israeli army targeted Lebanese towns with heavy shelling until dawn on Thursday. The town of Khiam was a priority target; correspondents in the area counted seven strikes and 128 artillery and phosphorous shells impacting between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

A young man from Habboush, Ahmed Hassan Al-Ahmed, was killed in the shelling and mourned by residents of his town.

Jets struck Hezbollah targets in Khiam, including infrastructure and two military buildings, the Israeli army said.

Israeli drones targeted a house on the outskirts of Markaba and in Blida on Thursday, with casualties reported.

The Israeli army also targeted Kfarkela with two missiles from a drone, and with artillery and phosphorous shells. From Metula opposite the border, Israeli soldiers combed the town with heavy machine guns.

The outskirts of Dhayra, Al-Bustan and Aita Al-Shaab were hit by gunfire from the Israeli position in Birkat Risha and other positions adjacent to the Blue Line.

German airline Lufthansa announced on Thursday it had extended the suspension of flights to Beirut and Tehran until April 30.

The decision was taken on the night of the Iranian attack on Israel last weekend.

UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said that the organization’s peacekeepers “remain in their positions and carry out their duties, as well as our civilian staff.”

He added: “The safety and security of UN staff and their families are our priority.”


Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city

Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city
Updated 18 April 2024
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Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city

Dubai clears up after epic rains swamp glitzy desert city
  • Rains were the heaviest experienced by the United Arab Emirates in the 75 years that records have been kept
  • Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices and homes, houses’ roofs leaked and malls were overrun with water 

DUBAI: Dubai, a city in the desert proud of its futuristic gloss, was on Thursday busy clearing its waterclogged roads and drying out flooded homes two days after a record storm saw a year’s rain fall in a day.
Dubai International Airport, a major travel hub, struggled to clear a backlog of flights and many roads were still flooded in the aftermath of Tuesday’s deluge.
The rains were the heaviest experienced by the United Arab Emirates in the 75 years that records have been kept. They brought much of the country to a standstill and caused significant damage.
Flooding trapped residents in traffic, offices and homes. Many reported leaks at their homes, while footage circulated on social media showed malls overrun with water pouring from roofs.
Traffic remained heavily disrupted. A highway through Dubai was reduced to a single lane in one direction, while the main road that connects Dubai with the capital Abu Dhabi was closed in the Abu Dhabi direction.
“This was like nothing else. It was like an alien invasion,” Jonathan Richards, a Dubai resident from Britain told Reuters.
“I woke up the other morning to people in kayaks with pet dogs, pet cats, suitcases all outside my house.”
Another resident, Rinku Makhecha, said the rain swamped her freshly renovated house she moved into two weeks ago.
“My entire living room is just like ... all my furniture is floating right now,” she said.
In Dubai’s streets, some vehicles, including buses, could be seen almost entirely submerged in water. Long queues formed at petrol stations.
Dubai airport had yet to resume normal operation after the storm flooded taxiways, forcing flight diversions, delays and cancelations.
Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV he expected Dubai International Airport to reach 60-70 percent capacity by the end of Thursday and full operational capacity within 24 hours.
The airport struggled to get food to stranded passengers with nearby roads flooded and overcrowding limited access to those who had confirmed bookings.
RETURNING SUPPLIES
The storm, which hit neighboring Oman on Sunday, pounded the UAE on Tuesday, with 20 reported dead in Oman and one in the UAE.
While some roadways into hard-hit communities remain flooded, delivery services across Dubai, whose residents are used to ordering everything at the click of a mouse, slowly began returning to the streets.
Rains are rare in the UAE and elsewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, which is typically known for its dry desert climate. Summer air temperatures can soar above 50 degrees Celsius.
Following Tuesday’s events, questions were raised whether cloud seeding, a process that the UAE frequently conducts, could have caused the heavy rains.
But climate experts blame global warming for such extreme weather events.
Researchers anticipate that climate change will lead to heightened temperatures, increased humidity and a greater risk of flooding in parts of the Gulf region. Countries like the UAE where there is a lack of drainage infrastructure to cope with heavy rains can suffer the most.
A UAE government agency that oversees cloud seeding — a process of manipulating clouds to increase rainfall — denied conducting any such operations before the storm.
President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said in a statement he had ordered authorities to assess the damage and provide support to families impacted by the storm.
Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum said on X that the safety of citizens, residents and visitors was the utmost priority.
“At a meeting with government officials in Dubai, we set directives to prepare comprehensive plans in response to natural crises’ such as the unexpected current weather conditions,” he said.


Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official
Updated 18 April 2024
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Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official

Arab League chief voices Gaza fears in talks with UN official
  • Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit met with the UN’s Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat
  • UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN

CAIRO: Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit has told a senior UN official that he fears the conflict in Gaza could spiral out control and threaten regional security.

In a meeting in Cairo with Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat, head of mission and chief of staff of the UN Truce Supervision Organization, Aboul Gheit highlighted the need to implement the UN Security Council’s ceasefire resolution, and provide urgent humanitarian aid to the famine-stricken population in Gaza.

Gamal Roshdy, a spokesperson for the Arab League chief, said that the meeting discussed the regional situation, with Aboul Gheit saying that Israel’s war on Gaza violated international law and humanitarian principles.

The UNTSO chief briefed the secretary-general on conflicts in several areas monitored by the UN, including the Blue Line, which delineates the truce between Lebanon and Israel.

Aboul Gheit said that political resolutions remain the most effective means to ensure security for all parties.

However, achieving such resolutions remains challenging while Israel pursue its objectives through military force and by targeting civilians, he said.

According to the UNTSO website, the Security Council, in Resolution 50 (1948), called for a cessation of hostilities in Palestine on May 29, 1948, and decided that the UN Mediator should supervise the truce with the assistance of a group of military observers.

The first group of military observers, established in 1949 to supervise the implementation of the Israel-Arab Armistice Agreements, became known as the UN Truce Supervision Organization.

UNTSO observers in the Middle East to monitor ceasefires, supervise armistice agreements, prevent isolated incidents from escalating, and assist other UN peacekeeping operations in the region.