JERUSALEM: Israel’s Iron Dome interceptions of Palestinian rockets during eight days of Gaza fighting cost $ 25 million to $ 30 million, the government said yesterday, arguing the US-backed system was well worth the money. “Were Iron Dome traded on the stock exchange or Nasdaq, it would have multiplied its share value several times over,” Civil Defense Minister Avi Dichter told Israel Radio. Using radar-guided interceptor missiles, Israel’s five truck-towed Iron Dome batteries shot down 421 of some 1,500 rockets, the military said. It put Iron Dome’s success rate at 90 percent. To lower costs, the system engages only rockets that threaten populated areas, though it often fires two interceptor missiles at once. Israel says it needs 13 batteries for nationwide defense. A defense industry source put the unit cost for Israel at around $ 50 million.
Iraqi family of English Channel shipwreck victim mourn her death
- Maryam, in her twenties, was desperate to join her fiancee Karzan who had settled in Britain
- At Maryam’s home, around 100 relatives gathered to offer their condolences for her death
SORAN, Iraq: In a simple house in northeast Iraq, the parents of Maryam Nuri Hama Amin mourn the loss of their beloved daughter who drowned trying to reach her fiancee in Britain.
“She wanted a better life,” her father Nuri Hama Amin said, still reeling from shock, just days after his daughter vanished into the freezing waters of the Channel between France and England. “But she ended up in the sea.”
Maryam — “Baran” to her family, a name meaning “rain” in Kurdish — was one of at least 27 migrants who died Wednesday when their inflatable boat sank off the French port of Calais.
The shipwreck was the deadliest disaster since at least 2018 when migrants began using boats en masse to cross the Channel to England.
“We have no information on the smugglers,” said her father, speaking from the family home in Soran, a town in Iraq’s autonomous region of Kurdistan, some 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) away from where his daughter died.
“Their promises turned out to be lies.”
Maryam, in her twenties, was desperate to join her fiancee Karzan, also from Iraqi Kurdistan, but who had settled in Britain.
Karzan was on the phone with her as she set out onto the dangerous waters from France — and was the one who called the family in Iraq to tell them she died, her cousin Kafan Omar said.
Shortly before she set left France, her father had spoken to her for hours on the phone.
“She was very happy, she was relaxed,” he said. “She was in a hotel in France, we spoke until eight in the morning.”
Since the shipwreck, the bodies of the passengers have been held in a morgue in France. Officially, nothing has been released about the identities and nationalities of the 17 men, seven women and three minors.
But at Maryam’s home, around 100 relatives gathered to offer their condolences for her death.
On Saturday, dozens of men, many dressed in traditional Kurdish clothes, sat reciting a prayer.
Close by, under the shelter of a large tent, women in black robes sat in mourning. Maryam’s mother was too grief-stricken to speak.
In the house, Maryam’s room is tidy, as if she had just left it.
Above the bed, two photos show Maryam and her fiancee at their engagement. A picture shows the young woman in a traditional dress decorated with embroidery, with a tiara over an elaborate hairstyle.
A bouquet of white roses lies on her bed.
Her cousin, Kafan Omar, said she had left home nearly a month before.
“She got a work visa and went to Italy, and then to France,” he said. “We had tried many times to send her to Britain to join her fiancee, but without success.”
Maryam was just one of thousands of young hopefuls from the region who have left home in recent months.
Thousands of migrants — many Kurds from Iraq — have been stuck on the border with Belarus in a bid to cross into Poland and the European Union. Some have returned on repatriation flights, battered by their freezing ordeal.
Many of those Iraqis say they have spent their savings, sold valuables and even taken loans to escape economic hardship in Iraq and start a new life.
Kermaj Ezzat, a close relative of the family, said young people in Iraqi Kurdistan were mainly leaving because of the region’s “instability.” He denounced the policies blocking their travel.
“These countries have closed their borders to young people who dream of a better future,” he said.
Maryam’s father gave a message to others wanting to head west.
“I call on young people not to emigrate and to endure the difficulties here, rather than sacrifice their lives to reach Europe,” he pleaded.
Arab coalition strikes underground missile base in Houthi-occupied Sanaa
- Residents cautioned as air raids target drone workshops, weapons depots in Dhahban district
AL-MUKALLA: The Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized government of Yemen struck on Saturday early morning military sites controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis in the capital, Sanaa.
Residents reported hearing several large explosions that triggered subsequent blasts and balls of fire across Sanaa.
The coalition said in a statement that the airstrikes targeted secret underground tunnels in the presidential palace used for storing ballistic missiles and other military locations.
Drone workshops and weapons depots in Sanaa’s Dhahban district were also targeted, the coalition said, asking residents to avoid approaching those areas.
Residents described the airstrikes on early Saturday as the “longest and most intensive” in years.
On Friday, the coalition released satellite images of an airstrike on a ballistic missile while the Houthis were moving it from a secret depot to a launching area. During the last five days, the Arab coalition has intensified airstrikes on military camps and other areas in Houthi-held Sanaa with the aim of destroying ballistic missiles, explosives-rigged drones and other weapons.
Last week, the Arab coalition accused the Houthis of turning the airport in Sanaa into a military facility by testing an air defense system there.
In Marib province, the Arab coalition carried out many air raids in support of government troops on the ground during the past 24 hours, hitting Houthi military reinforcements.
This came as government troops on Friday and Saturday engaged in heavy clashes with Houthis in Juba and Thana, south of Yemen, with no information about gains for either side.
The Yemeni government announced that it had pushed back Houthi attacks in Juba after killing and wounding dozens of Houthis.
For the last couple of months, the Houthis have ratcheted up military pressure on government troops defending Marib in a bid to advance toward the city.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib province since February when the Houthis renewed an offensive to control the energy-rich Marib city.
The Houthi military pressure on Marib was alleviated during the last seven days when the Joint Forces on the country’s west coast launched an offensive, targeting the Houthis in strategic areas in the provinces of Taiz and Hodeidah.
The Joint Forces seized control of Hays district in Hodeidah and pushed deeper into Houthi-controlled territory, seizing parts of Maqbanah in Taiz and Al-Jarahi in Hodeidah.
On Saturday, the Joint Forces’ Giants Brigades announced they had seized control of part of Saqoum valley and a number of hilly terrains north of Maqbanah in Taiz after heavy clashes with the Houthis.
The latest advances by the Joint Forces have prompted the Houthis into sending their leaders to densely populated provinces under their control to incite people to join the battlefields.
The Houthi official media reported that Abdul Rahman Al-Jamai, deputy speaker of the Houthi-controlled parliament and governor of Ibb, on Friday called for a general mobilization of forces to reinforce the battlefields with fighters, funds and weapons.
Concluding a visit to Moscow on Friday, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg repeated concerns over the impact of the escalating fighting between government troops and the Houthis in Marib, Taiz and Hodeidah provinces on civilians and peace efforts. He urged warring factions to stop hostilities and work on achieving a comprehensive and inclusive peace deal to end the war.
“We are facing a potential military escalation that will only increase the suffering of civilians. Increased international efforts are essential to convince all sides of the need to settle disagreements at the negotiation table,” Grundberg said in a statement.
Iraninan riot police deployed after 67 arrested in Isfahan
- The demonstration was the latest since protests kicked off on November 9 in Isfahan
- Drought is a cause, but protestors also accuse authorities of diverting water from the city
TEHRAN: Riot police were deployed in force Saturday in the Iranian city of Isfahan, a day after dozens were arrested in violent protests over the drying up of a lifeblood river.
Security forces fired tear gas during the clashes with stone-throwers in the protest in the dry bed of the Zayadneh Rood river that crosses the city, Fars and ISNA news agencies said.
"We have arrested 67 of the main actors and agitators behind the troubles," police General Hassan Karami told on Saturday. He said between 2,000 and 3,000 "rioters" took part in the protest.
On Saturday, the situation was "calm" and streets empty, with riot police deployed on the city's Khadjou bridge, a Isfahan city resident said.
The demonstration was the latest since protests kicked off on November 9 in Isfahan, some 340 kilometres (210 miles) south of Tehran, a tourist magnet due to its majestic mosques and heritage sites, including a historic bridge across the river.
But it was the first to turn violent.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 farmers and city residents turned up for the gatherings last week, estimated Karami.
The riverbed has been the rallying spot for farmers and other people from across Isfahan province protesting the lack of water since November 9.
Drought is a cause, but they also accuse the authorities of diverting water from the city to supply the neighbouring province of Yazd, which is also desperately short on supplies.
"I used to walk along the riverbed with friends, but today the riot police are deployed in large numbers near the Khajou bridge and they are asking people to avoid the area," said a woman in her 50s.
During the clashes on Friday, some people set fire to objects in the city, Fars and ISNA reported.
"After the farmers left, the opportunists and counter-revolutionaries were left behind, which made it easy for the security apparatus, especially the police, to identify and arrest those who destroyed public and state property," Isfahan police chief Mohammad-Reza Mirheidari said on television.
But members of the security forces were hit by fire from hunting rifles, he said, without specifying how many.
One of them was stabbed, although his condition was not believed to be critical.
A Fars journalist said two bulldozers were used to destroy a pipe taking water from Isfahan province to Yazd.
"Among the injured demonstrators, two are in a serious condition," Nourodin Soltanian, spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, told the Mehr news agency on Saturday.
Recently, there have been almost daily protests in the region of Isfahan, which has been particularly hard-hit by drought.
On Saturday, the ultra-conservative daily Kayhan pointed the finger of blame for the violence at "mercenary thugs", whereas the pro-reform Etemad said the protests in Isfahan showed a "lack of trust in the government".
Last Sunday, more than 1,000 people marched towards the governor's office in the western province of Chahar-Mahal Bakhtiari to demand a solution to water shortages, state media reported.
According to Fars, farmers and local authorities struck a deal on Thursday about water distribution.
President Ebrahim Raisi met with representatives from the provinces of Isfahan, Yazd and Semnan earlier this month and vowed to resolve water issues.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said the topic is the country's top problem, without making reference to the protests.
Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed
- After the demise of Daesh in Iraq, courts in the country have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated by the militants
BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces said they shot dead a convicted militant on Saturday as he tried to escape from a prison with two accomplices.
The three prisoners, all members of the Daesh group, were serving life sentences at the Taji penitentiary north of Baghdad, the security services said in a statement.
They were spotted as they tried to break out of jail by climbing over an external wall, the statement said.
Guards opened fire “when they refused to heed warnings,” it said, adding one prisoner was killed while the two others “surrendered.”
“The three terrorists had been sentenced to life in jail,” the statement said without identifying them.
The Daesh group swept across swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014 where they set up so-called caliphate.
Iraq officially declared victory over Daesh in 2017, and two years later they were defeated in Syria.
But sleeper cells continue to be active in both countries where they frequently carry out attacks.
After the demise of Daesh in Iraq, courts in the country have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated by the militants.
Only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.
Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be against capital punishment.
President faces another test as Algerians vote
- Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika
ALGIERS: Algerians vote on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” the vote for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, as with a string of poorly attended votes since the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that drove Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections,” said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
But he said voters saw the exercise as producing “an electoral mandate stripped of any political content.”
Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
But while the national electoral board ANIE says more than 15,000 candidates are in the running, campaigning has been muted.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class.”
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” he said.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to “build the institutions of the state on a solid foundation” and break with Bouteflika-era local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud.
Tebboune’s rule has seen a crackdown on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he has packaged major policy moves as responses to the “blessed Hirak” and its calls for reform.
He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France.
But on Friday Tebboune said in a televised interview that “these relations must return to normal provided the other party (France) conceives them on an equal basis, without provocation.”
The analyst Hennad said the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, was using slogans around change to impose its agenda, without truly engaging other political forces.
The president pushed through an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election that saw just 23 percent of voters take part.
But Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, has downplayed the significance of turnout and said the key question is whether representatives have legitimacy.
Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are standing on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabylie region that often sees significant abstentions.
Electoral board head Mohamed Charfi has stressed the body’s efforts to boost turnout.
But Boudjemaa said the main issue at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year,” warning that Algerian’s purchasing power could “collapse.”
“Several indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.