Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Update Above, military personnel stand guard at a nuclear facility in the Zardanjan area of Isfahan, Iran on April 19, 2024, in this screengrab taken from video. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)
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Update Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
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A handout picture provided by the Iranian Army media office on October 28, 2023 shows missiles being launched during a military drill in the Isfahan province in central Iran. Iranian media have reported huge explosions in Isfahan, presumably from an Israeli missile attack. (AFP/File photo)
Update Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
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Israel's military displays on April 14, 2024, an Iranian ballistic missile retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel the night before. (REUTERS/File Photo)
Update Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
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A ballistic missile lies on the shore of the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel late on April 13, 2024. (REUTERS/File Photo)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
  • US media: United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran
  • Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation

DUBAI/JERUSALEM: Explosions echoed over an Iranian city on Friday in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation — a response that appeared gauged toward averting region-wide war.

The limited scale of the attack and Iran’s muted response both appeared to signal a successful effort by diplomats who have been working round the clock to avert all-out war since an Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from Iran’s air defenses hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by “infiltrators,” rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

An Iranian official said there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident.

“The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more toward infiltration than attack,” the official said.

Israel said nothing about the incident. It had said for days it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday’s strikes, the first ever direct attack on Israel by Iran in decades of shadow war waged by proxies which has escalated throughout the Middle East through six months of battle in Gaza.

The United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran but did not endorse the operation or play any part in its execution, US media quoted officials as saying.

NBC and CNN, citing sources familiar with the matter and a US official, respectively, said Israel had provided Washington with pre-notification of the strike.

Various networks cited officials confirming a strike had taken place inside Iran, with CNN quoting one official as stating the target was not a nuclear facility.

The two longstanding foes had been heading toward direct confrontation since a presumed Israeli airstrike on April 1 that destroyed a building in Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus and killed several Iranian officers including a top general.

Iran’s response, with a direct attack on Israel, was unprecedented but caused no deaths and only minor damage because Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones.

Allies including the United States had since been pressing hard to ensure any further retaliation would be calibrated not to provoke a spiral of hostilities. The British and German foreign ministers visited Jerusalem this week, and Western countries tightened sanctions on Iran to mollify Israel.

In a sign of pressure within Israel’s hard-right government for a stronger response, Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister tweeted a single word after Friday’s strikes: “Feeble!.”

Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation.

“It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action,” EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said. Similar calls came from Beijing and from Arab states in the region.

In financial markets, global shares eased, oil prices surged and US bond yields fell as traders worried about the risks.

NO MENTION OF ISRAEL

Within Iran, news reports on Friday’s incident made no mention of Israel, and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale.

An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran” had been shot down by air defenses in Isfahan.

Shortly after midnight, “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky,” Iranian state TV said.

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a “suspicious object.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had warned Israel before Friday’s strike that Tehran would deliver a “severe response” to any attack on its territory.

Iran told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

By morning, Iran had reopened airports and airspace that were shut during the strikes.

Still, there was alarm over security in Israel and elsewhere. The US Embassy in Jerusalem restricted US government employees from travel outside Jerusalem, greater Tel Aviv and Beersheba “out of an abundance of caution.”

In a statement, the embassy warned US citizens of a “continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning.”

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Hamas Islamists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s military offensive has killed about 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gazan health ministry.

Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, carrying out attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, raising fears the Gaza conflict could grow into a wider regional war.


Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
  • “Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said

CARACAS: Iran on Saturday said it will send experts to its ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators in hospitals it said had been stopped due to Western sanctions.
Venezuela requested Iran’s help, according to a message on the social media platform X by the Iranian government attributed to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said.
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients.
Venezuela is also an ally of Russia and China.
The return of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry has made its alliance with Iran critical to keeping its lagging energy sector afloat. Washington last year temporarily relaxed sanctions on Venezuela’s promise to allow a competitive presidential election. The US now says only some conditions were met. 

 


Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
  • Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said

BUCHAREST: Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said.
The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.
The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.
After receiving an alert at “around 4:00am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.
The cause of the accident was unclear.
According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat for ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.
Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
 

 


Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
  • A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s lawmakers failed to elect a speaker on Saturday as neither of the two main candidates secured a majority during a tense session of parliament.
It is the latest in a series of failed attempts to replace the former head of parliament who was dismissed in November, with political bickering and divisions between key Sunni parties derailing every attempt so far.
Saturday’s vote was the closest yet to selecting a new head of the 329-member parliament, with 311 lawmakers showing up for the session and the leading candidate falling just seven votes short.
The parliament’s media office announced that 137 lawmakers chose Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, the oldest MP, while 158 picked Salem Al-Issawi.
However, candidates require at least 165 votes to win.
Many lawmakers did not return for a second attempt on Saturday, with local media sharing videos of a brief brawl between MPs and reporting that at least one of them was injured.
The parliament’s media office then announced that the session had been adjourned.
Iraq, a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, is governed by complex power-sharing arrangements.
The largely ceremonial role of president traditionally goes to a Kurd, that of prime minister to a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is usually Sunni.
But parliament is dominated by a coalition of pro-Iran Shiite parties, reflecting the country’s largest religious group.
A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc.
The new speaker will replace Halbussi, the influential politician dismissed by Iraq’s top court in November last year after a lawmaker accused him of forging a resignation letter.
Halbussi had been the country’s highest-ranking Sunni official since he first became a speaker in 2018.
The new speaker’s stint will not last long with the general election due in 2025.
 

 


Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
Updated 19 May 2024
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Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
  • Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east

TRIPOLI: Clashes between Libyan armed groups broke out on Friday night in the city of Zawiya, some 40 kilometers west of the capital Tripoli, a security official told AFP.
An official at the city’s security directorate told AFP the clashes were ongoing but “intermittent” on Saturday.
“The southern areas of the city of Zawiya have been witnessing clashes between armed groups since last night,” the official said.
Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war and chaos after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
On Saturday morning, schools in Zawiya were suspended as some roads leading to the city were shut down amid a “casual” exchange of fire between the groups, the official said.
Media reports said the fighting left casualties, but authorities in Tripoli have yet to confirm any.
The Tripoli-based health ministry said in a statement it was working to evacuate parts of the city and taking injured people to hospitals.
The Libyan Red Crescent said it had evacuated some families from areas affected by the fights.
Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight.
Videos shared since Friday night on social media, which AFP could not verify, showed armed men in SUVs firing heavily at other armed groups.
Other videos showed smoke rising from parts of the city.
Although relative calm has returned to the oil-rich country in the past few years, clashes periodically occur between its myriad armed groups.
Last month, clashes broke out in the capital Tripoli, sparking panic among locals who were celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In August 2023, Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year left 55 people dead when two powerful groups fought.
Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east.
 

 


How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
Updated 19 May 2024
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How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse

How women and girls in war-torn Gaza are coping with water, sanitation and hygiene collapse
  • UN Women has described ongoing Israel offensive as a “war on women” with at least 10,000 female deaths since last October
  • Deprived of access to adequate services, more than 1 million women and girls face daily challenges and serious health risks

LONDON: Deprived of adequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services, Palestinian women and girls in Gaza are bearing the brunt of the prolonged and deepening humanitarian emergency caused Israel’s ongoing military offensive.

With no resolution to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in sight, more than a million displaced women and girls in the embattled Palestinian enclave continue to endure daily challenges in increasingly dire conditions.

UN Women has described the Israeli military operation in Gaza, which began in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, as a “war on women,” with at least 10,000 killed since the start of the conflict — among them more than 6,000 mothers.

Those figures, published in April, are now likely far higher as Israel expands its operation and bombing raids into eastern Rafah — Gaza’s southernmost city, now home to some 1.4 million displaced Palestinians.

According to UN figures, this latest operation has forced an estimated 150,000 Palestinians to flee central and northern Rafah.

While the biggest risk to women and girls in Gaza is injury or death under Israeli bombardment, “the unhygienic conditions and lack of water in Gaza are also having a very negative impact on women and girls’ health and dignity,” Fikr Shalltoot, the Gaza programs director at Medical Aid for Palestinians, told Arab News.

Israel denies deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure, accusing Hamas of using residential areas for cover.

As summer approaches, soaring temperatures worsen the spread of communicable diseases caused by a lack of hygiene facilities, water, and access to proper food. The heat itself is also a significant danger to children and the elderly.

A Palestinian woman holding her children reacts outside a hospital where casualties are brought following Israeli bombardment in Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on April 8, 2024. (AFP)

“During a recent heatwave, a 5-year-old girl tragically died in her tent due to extreme heat,” Shalltoot said.

Analysis of satellite imagery by BBC Verify found that the Israeli operation in Gaza has damaged or destroyed more than half (53 percent) of the territory’s vital water and sanitation facilities.

The analysis, based on images acquired in March and April, also confirmed that four of the six wastewater treatment plants in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. These facilities were critical to preventing sewage buildup.

Fidaa Al-Araj, Oxfam’s food security, cash, and protection coordinator in Gaza, said the water, sanitation, and hygiene situation facing women and girls in the enclave was “challenging,” leaving them unable to access clean toilets or private shower spaces.

A woman reacts upon seeing the body of a relative killed in Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024. (AFP)

“Having been displaced into camps or even in a host community, the numbers of people, of internally displaced persons, are very, very high,” Al-Araj told Arab News. “So, there is (overcrowding), there are many difficulties in having access to toilets, bathrooms, showers.”

She added: “Even if you have the facilities, and even if by any stretch they are enough for the IDPs residing in any given space, there is the issue of lack of running water to supply those facilities and to have them up and running all the time.

Displaced Palestinian women roll dough at their pizza making project at a makeshift shelter in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024. Lack of water has made the work much difficult.  (AFP)

“So, the hygiene conditions are very compromised, to say the least. When it comes to women and girls, there are issues of privacy, which is completely lacking.”

Where washrooms are present, people have “to wait in line with all sorts of people, even strangers, men and women, just to use the toilet. You have people banging on the door of the toilet while you’re in there, asking you to hurry up because the line is still very long.”

INNUMBERS

• 700,000 Women and girls now hosted in Rafah who have nowhere else to go. 

• 93% Women surveyed who feel unsafe in their own homes or in displacement.

• 6/10 Women who reported complications in pregnancy since Oct. 7.

Source: UN Women

This also makes management of menstruation especially challenging, as women and girls “endure longer hours without changing a pad, without washing,” Al-Araj added.

According to UN figures, there are more than 690,000 menstruating women and adolescent girls in the Gaza Strip. But aid agencies, which have had very limited access to the enclave due to the Israeli blockade, have been unable to meet the high demand for hygiene kits.

A girl ponders over what the future holds for her as she stands between barbed-wire patches at a camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 30, 2024. (AFP)

And since Israel took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7 and closed the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing, the already limited flow of commercial goods and humanitarian aid has been further strangulated.

MAP’s Shalltoot confirmed that women’s sanitary products were “scarce in the local market,” highlighting that this has had “a psychological and physical health impact on women and girls.”

She said: “They resort to homemade, makeshift alternatives, which negatively impact their health by putting them at risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections and protection-related risks.

“This also negatively impacts their psychological well-being, anxiety and insecurity.”

Even the simple act of taking a shower has been almost impossible for women in Gaza for several months.

A woman gives a baby a bath inside a tent at a camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 18, 2024. (AfP)

“It’s very difficult to find a spot designated to take showers, and if it’s there, it’s very difficult to have water,” Oxfam’s Al-Araj said. “And if the water is there, it’s very difficult to find time to take an adequate shower.”

She added: “As a woman and as a mother of girls, I’ve been through all of this. To overcome these circumstances, you space out the shower times, so you take a shower when it’s absolutely needed.

“Sometimes you could spend a couple of weeks or even more without taking a shower.”

The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres told the BBC that the destruction of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities has led to “disastrous health consequences for the population,” notably a significant rise in gastric complaints in Rafah.

A Palestinian woman brushes a girl's hair outside a tent at a refugee camp in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (AFP)

Contaminated water has also led to a spike in hepatitis A cases, with women and girls facing a heightened risk of exposure to the disease due to their traditional domestic responsibilities and caring for the sick, according to UN Women’s April gender alert report.

The report, titled “Scarcity and Fear,” highlighted that the lack of adequate and dignified facilities also exposes women and girls to reproductive and urinary tract infections.

“This situation could develop into dangerous or concerning health conditions for the women and girls, and I’m really sorry to say that it’s not given priority,” said Al-Araj.

“The heightening demand on the time, resources, and capacity of the medical facilities and staff makes prioritizing women’s issues or girls’ issues very difficult.”

Moreover, there are no quick fixes. Even if sufficient aid is permitted to enter Gaza, facilities need to be carefully planned in order to meet the necessary standards of privacy, cleanliness, and safety.

A Palestinian girl carries a toddler as people flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip to a safer location on May 11, 2024, Israeli strikes. (AFP)

“It’s not enough to build a shower or a toilet,” said Al-Araj. “It’s not enough to provide it with water and that’s it. You have to think of the site … Is it safe for women and girls, is it accessible at all times … is it targeted maybe by different threats?

“You also have to think about the supplies. You don’t give a hygiene kit or a dignity kit once, for example, and that’s it, your work is done. You need to regularly provide those kinds of kits.”

Al-Araj also emphasized the need for “complementary services,” including extending responses “to enhancing access to sexual and reproductive health care system.

“I can only wish that the aftereffects of all of this wouldn’t linger for long or have irreversible results.”