Iran’s foreign minister calls EU sanctions ‘regrettable’

Iran’s foreign minister calls EU sanctions ‘regrettable’
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Iran’s foreign minister calls EU sanctions ‘regrettable’

Iran’s foreign minister calls EU sanctions ‘regrettable’
  • EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to expand sanctions on Iran by agreeing to extend restrictive measures on Tehran’s weapons exports

DUBAI: European Union sanctions announced following Iran’s attack against Israel are “regrettable” because the country was acting in self-defense, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian posted on X on Tuesday.
Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles on Israel in what it said was retaliation against a suspected Israeli bombing of its embassy compound in Damascus.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed in principle to expand sanctions on Iran by agreeing to extend restrictive measures on Tehran’s weapons exports of any drone or missile to Iranian proxies and Russia.
“It is regrettable to see the EU deciding quickly to apply more unlawful restrictions against Iran just because Iran exercised its right to self-defense in the face of Israel’s reckless aggression,” Amirabdollahian said on X, before calling on the EU to apply sanctions on Israel instead.
More work will need to follow in Brussels to approve a legal framework before the expansion of the sanctions can take effect.


Israeli airstrike on Rafah kills 12 Palestinians, Gaza medics say

Israeli airstrike on Rafah kills 12 Palestinians, Gaza medics say
Updated 11 sec ago
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Israeli airstrike on Rafah kills 12 Palestinians, Gaza medics say

Israeli airstrike on Rafah kills 12 Palestinians, Gaza medics say
  • Officials say Israeli strike occurred as they tried to recover body of civilian in southern Gaza city
  • Israel says more fighting in central, northern and southern Gaza
  • Head of UNRWA calls for end to Israeli attacks on staff and buildings

GAZA: Israeli forces killed at least 12 Palestinians in a dawn airstrike on Rafah in southern Gaza on Thursday and fighting raged in several other areas of the coastal enclave, Gaza medics said.
Israel pressed on with its offensive on Rafah a day after saying its forces had taken control of a buffer zone along the nearby border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, giving it effective authority over Gaza’s entire land frontier.
It said the buffer zone’s capture had cut off a route used by the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas to smuggle arms into Gaza during more than seven months of war, which has laid waste to much of the territory and raised fears of famine.
Gaza medical sources said the 12 Palestinians, whom it said were civilians, had been killed and an unspecified number of others wounded in an Israeli airstrike as they tried to recover the body of a civilian in the center of Rafah.
Another Palestinian civilian was killed in an airstrike on Al-Shati refugee camp west of Gaza City in the north of the densely populated enclave, the medics said.
Israel reported clashes in southern, central and northern Gaza but did not immediately comment on the reported deaths in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians took refuge earlier in the war.
Israel has kept up raids on Rafah despite an order by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top UN court, to halt its attacks. Israeli forces say they are trying to root out Hamas fighters and rescue hostages being held there, and the ICJ also called for the release of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas.
More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s air and land war in Gaza, with 53 of those killed in the past 24 hours, the Hamas-run enclave’s health ministry said.
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas fighters crossed from Gaza into southern Israel on Oct. 7 last year, killed 1,200 people and abducted more than 250, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli military said a soldier had been killed in fighting in northern Gaza, bringing to 292 Israel’s combat losses since its first Gaza ground incursion on Oct. 20.

TUNNELS, ARMS AND EXPLOSIVES
In an overnight call with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant underlined the continuing importance of Israeli operations in the Rafah area “due to concrete information regarding hostages held there.”
“Minister Gallant detailed IDF activities in the Rafah area where 20 terror tunnels have been identified,” the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement on the overnight call.
The Israeli military also said in a statement that tunnels used by Hamas for smuggling and moving fighters underground had been discovered during the latest raids, as well as large amounts of arms and explosives.
The Israeli statements did not say where the smuggling tunnels ran from. An Israeli official said on May 15 there were 50 tunnels connecting Rafah to the Sinai in Egypt, and voiced concern that Hamas could use them to smuggle senior operatives or hostages into Egyptian territory. Egypt on Wednesday denied the existence of any such tunnels.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major ground offensive in Rafah on Tuesday but said it did not believe such an operation was under way.
The US has, with Egypt and Qatar, been involved in efforts to mediate indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on arranging a ceasefire and the release of the remaining hostages. Those talks have stalled, with both sides blaming the other for the lack of progress.
As the war drags on, malnutrition has become widespread in Gaza as aid deliveries have slowed to a trickle, and the United Nations has warned of incipient famine.
Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), also called for an end to what he said were Israeli attacks on UNRWA staff and buildings in Gaza.
In article for the New York Times, he said Israeli officials were “delegitimizing UNRWA by effectively characterizing it as a terrorist organization,” and he described a “dangerous precedent of routine targeting of UN staff and premises.”
His comments followed allegations by Israel in January that 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 staff in Gaza took part in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Israel did not immediately respond to his remarks.
The Gaza war has also stoked violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, another territory where Palestinians seek statehood.
Israel said two soldiers were killed in an overnight hit-and-run by a Palestinian motorist in the West Bank city of Nablus. There was no immediate claim of responsibility from Palestinian factions.


Israel yet to respond to French Lebanon proposals, French ministry says

Israel yet to respond to French Lebanon proposals, French ministry says
Updated 30 May 2024
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Israel yet to respond to French Lebanon proposals, French ministry says

Israel yet to respond to French Lebanon proposals, French ministry says
  • The written proposal also looks at long-term border issues

PARIS: Israel has not given a response to France on Paris’ proposals to reduce tensions between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, France’s foreign ministry spokesperson said on Thursday.
Israel and Hezbollah have been engaged in escalating daily cross-border strikes over the past months — in parallel with the war in Gaza — and their increasing range and sophistication has raised fears of a wider regional conflict.
France has historical ties with Lebanon and has proposed written proposals to both sides that would see Hezbollah’s elite unit pull back 10 km (6 miles) from the Israeli border, while Israel would halt strikes in southern Lebanon.
Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne went to both Lebanon and Israel in April to push France’s efforts, and Israel’s foreign minister was in Paris earlier this month. Lebanon’s foreign minister was in Paris for talks on Wednesday.
“We have had a relatively positive response from the Lebanese, but I think we have not had any return from Israel at this point,” Christophe Lemoine told reporters in a daily briefing.
The written proposal also looks at long-term border issues and had been discussed with partners including the United States, which has its own efforts to ease tensions and exerts the most influence on Israel.
The Shiite Muslim Hezbollah has amassed a formidable arsenal since a 2006 war with Israel and since October thousands of people on both sides of the border have been displaced by the clashes.


US envoy condemns attacks on Western-linked brands in Baghdad

US envoy condemns attacks on Western-linked brands in Baghdad
Updated 30 May 2024
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US envoy condemns attacks on Western-linked brands in Baghdad

US envoy condemns attacks on Western-linked brands in Baghdad
  • A stun bomb exploded at 1:20 am in front of a dealership of the US construction equipment company Caterpillar
  • Ten minutes later, a blast went off in front of the Cambridge Institute in nearby Palestine Street

BAGHDAD: The US ambassador to Iraq denounced attacks Thursday targeting Western-linked brands in Baghdad this week, as anger grows across the Middle East over Israel’s war in Gaza.
A stun bomb exploded at 1:20 am in front of a dealership of the US construction equipment company Caterpillar in the Jadriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, the Iraqi security forces said.
Ten minutes later, a blast went off in front of the Cambridge Institute in nearby Palestine Street, which a resident identified as a likely Iraqi-owned language learning center.
On Sunday, a makeshift bomb was thrown at a branch of the US fast-food chain KFC, causing minor damage. The next night, masked men broke into another branch, smashing glass.
“We condemn recent violent attacks against US and international businesses,” the US ambassador to Baghdad, Alina Romanowski, said on social media platform X.
She urged the Iraqi government to “conduct a thorough investigation, bring to justice those who are responsible, and prevent future attacks.”
“These attacks endanger Iraqi lives and property, and could weaken Iraq’s ability to attract foreign investment,” the US diplomat added.
The Iraqi security forces said Thursday’s attacks, whose motives remained unknown, did not cause any damage or injuries, adding they were a “desperate attempt to harm Iraq’s reputation.”
After the KFC attacks, security forces said they had arrested several suspects.
Since the war in Gaza started in October, a boycott movement spearheaded by pro-Palestinian activists has targeted major Western brands, such as Starbucks and McDonald’s.
Iraq does not recognize Israel’s statehood, and all of its political parties support the Palestinian cause.
Earlier this week, influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr renewed his calls to close the US embassy in Baghdad “through diplomatic means without bloodshed,” after an Israeli strike killed dozens of civilians in a camp in Gaza.


Syria’s main insurgent group blasts the US Embassy over its criticism of crackdown on protesters

Syria’s main insurgent group blasts the US Embassy over its criticism of crackdown on protesters
Updated 30 May 2024
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Syria’s main insurgent group blasts the US Embassy over its criticism of crackdown on protesters

Syria’s main insurgent group blasts the US Embassy over its criticism of crackdown on protesters
  • The group said Washington should instead respect protesters at American universities who have demonstrated against the war in Gaza
  • The statement by the US Embassy in Damascus came after months of protests against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham

IDLIB, Syria: The main insurgent group in rebel-held northwest Syria blasted the US on Thursday over its criticism of a crackdown on protesters in areas outside government control.
The group said Washington should instead respect protesters at American universities who have demonstrated against the war in Gaza.
The statement by the US Embassy in Damascus came after months of protests against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, or HTS, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province by people opposed to the rule of the group that was once known as the Nusra Front, the Syria branch of Al-Qaeda. The group later changed its name several times and distanced itself from Al-Qaeda.
Anti-HTS sentiments had been rising for months following a wave of arrests by the group of senior officials within the organization.
Earlier this month, HTS members attacked protesters demanding the release of detainees with clubs and sharp objects outside a military court in Idlib city, injuring several people. Days later HTS fighters fired into the air and beat protesters with clubs, injuring some of them as protests intensified to demand the release of detainees and an end to the group’s rule.
The rebel-held region is home to more than 4 million people, many of them displaced during the conflict that broke out in March 2011 and has so far killed half a million people.
The conflict began with protests against President Bashar Assad’s government before turning into a deadly civil war that left large parts of the country in ruins.
The US Embassy in Damascus posted on the social media platform X on Wednesday that it supports “the rights of all Syrians to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including in Idlib.”
It added that “we deplore Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham’s regime-style intimidation and brutality against peaceful protesters as they call for justice, security, & respect for human rights.”
HTS responded in a statement saying that “liberated areas enjoy a safe environment for the expression of opinion” as long as they don’t aim to destabilize the region and spread chaos. It added that the US Embassy should back the Syrian people aiming to achieve “freedom and dignity against a criminal regime.”
“The rights of university students in the United States should be preserved and their demands in supporting the Palestinian people and Gaza should be respected,” HTS said in a statement.


Qatar’s offer to build 3 power plants to ease Lebanon’s electricity crisis is blocked

Qatar’s offer to build 3 power plants to ease Lebanon’s electricity crisis is blocked
Updated 30 May 2024
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Qatar’s offer to build 3 power plants to ease Lebanon’s electricity crisis is blocked

Qatar’s offer to build 3 power plants to ease Lebanon’s electricity crisis is blocked
  • Cost and space issues in urban areas have also limited solar use
  • People currently get an average of four hours of electricity a day from the state company

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s political class, fuel companies and private electricity providers blocked an offer by Qatar to build three renewable energy power plants to ease the crisis-hit nation’s decades-old electricity crisis, Lebanese caretaker economy minister said Thursday.
Lebanon’s electricity crisis worsened after the country’s historic economic meltdown began in October 2019. Power cuts often last for much of the day, leaving many reliant on expensive private generators that work on diesel and raise pollution levels.
Although many people have installed solar power systems in their homes over the past three years, most use it only to fill in when the generator is off. Cost and space issues in urban areas have also limited solar use.
Qatar offered in 2023 to build three power plants with a capacity of 450 megawatts — or about 25 percent of the small nation’s needs — and since then, Doha didn’t receive a response from Lebanon, caretaker Economy Minister Amin Salam said.
Lebanon’s energy minister, Walid Fayyad, responded in a news conference held shortly afterward that Qatar only offered to build one power plant with a capacity of 100 megawatts that would be a joint venture between the private and public sectors and not a gift as “some claim.”
Salam said that after Qatar got no response from Lebanon regarding their offer, Doha offered to start with a 100-megawatt plant.
Lebanon’s political class that has been running the country since the end of 1975-90 civil war is largely blamed for the widespread corruption and mismanagement that led to the country’s worst economic crisis in its modern history. Five years after the crisis began, Lebanon’s government hasn’t implemented a staff-level agreement reached with the International Monetary Fund in 2022 and has resisted any reforms in electricity, among other sectors.
People currently get an average of four hours of electricity a day from the state company, which has cost state coffers more than $40 billion over the past three decades because of its chronic budget shortfalls.
“There is a country in darkness that we want to turn its lights on,” Salam told reporters in Beirut, saying that during his last trip to Qatar in April, officials in the gas-rich nation asked him about the offer they put forward in January 2023.
“The Qatari leadership is offering to help Lebanon, so we have to respond to that offer and give results,” Salam said. Had the political leadership been serious in easing the electricity crisis, he said, they would have called for emergency government and parliamentary sessions to approve it.
He blamed “cartels and Mafia” that include fuel companies and 7,200 private generators that are making huge profits because of the electricity crisis.
“We don’t want to breathe poison anymore. We are inhaling poison every day,” Salam said.
“Political bickering is blocking everything in the country,” Salam said referring to lack of reforms as well as unsuccessful attempts to elect a president since the term of President Michel Aoun’s term ended in October 2022.
Lebanon hasn’t built a new power plant in decades. Multiple plans for new ones have run aground on politicians’ factionalism and conflicting patronage interests. The country’s few aging, heavy-fuel oil plants long ago became unable to meet demand.