Opinion

Amnesty investigates ‘dozens of deaths’ in Iran protests as regime’s Guards give ominous warning

An Iranian man checks a scorched gas station that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in gasoline prices in Eslamshahr, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, on Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2019

Amnesty investigates ‘dozens of deaths’ in Iran protests as regime’s Guards give ominous warning

  • The comments raise fears that a harsh security crackdown could be on the cards
  • Protests have spread across the Islamic Republic since Friday

DUBAI: Amnesty international said it was investigating "dozens of deaths" in Iran as powerful Revolutionary Guards warned anti-government protesters of “decisive” action if unrest over gasoline price hikes do not cease.

"We're horrified at reports that dozens of protesters have been killed in Iran, hundreds injured and over 1,000 arrested since Friday," the human rights organization said Monday. "We're alarmed that authorities have shut down the internet to create an information blackout of their brutal crackdown. We're investigating."

The statement followed an ominous warning from the regime's most powerful military force that a harsh security crackdown could be on the cards.

The protests have spread across the Islamic Republic since Friday, turning political with demonstrators demanding that top clerical leaders step down. At least 100 banks and dozens of buildings and cars have been torched, state media reported.

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The scale of the unrest triggered by announcements of fuel rationing and price rises of at least 50 percent remains unclear as authorities have curbed Internet access to stop the use of social media to organize rallies and disseminate videos.
But it appears to be the most serious unrest since late 2017 when 22 people were reported to have killed in dozens of cities and towns in protests over poor living standards, with some calling on top figures in the Shiite Muslim elite to resign.
President Hassan Rouhani’s government said the gasoline price rises were intended to raise around $2.55 billion a year for extra subsidies to 18 million families — or roughly 60 million Iranians on low incomes.
But many ordinary Iranians angry and in despair over reimposed US sanctions that have helped undermine the government’s promises of more jobs and investment, and authorities are anxious to end the unrest.
“If necessary we will take decisive and revolutionary action against any continued moves to disturb the people’s peace and security,” the Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s heavily armed main security force, said in a statement carried by state media.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday blamed the turmoil on Iran’s opponents and foreign foes, denouncing protesters who attacked public property as “thugs” and “hooligans.”
Some Iranians managed to post social media videos that showed police firing tear gas to disperse protesters. The images could not be verified by Reuters. Authorities said one policeman and a civilian had been killed and 1,000 “rioters” arrested.
“Rioters used knives and guns...A number of security agents and policemen were killed or taken hostage,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a televised news conference.
The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet became even harder last year when President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted under the accord.
Frustration has grown over a sharp devaluation of Iran’s rial currency as well as spikes in the prices of bread, rice and other staples since Washington began to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran to make tougher nuclear and security concessions.
Many in oil-producing Iran see cheap gasoline as a fundamental right and the price hike sparked worries about a further squeeze on living costs, despite state assurances that the revenue raised would be put to assisting needy families.


Palestinian strawberry farmers hope for rich pickings as export markets open up this season

Updated 16 min 15 sec ago

Palestinian strawberry farmers hope for rich pickings as export markets open up this season

  • “This season may be different in terms of production volume and quality.”

BEIT LAHIA/GAZA: Farming in the Gaza Strip can be unpredictable at the best of times, but for strawberry grower Akram Abu Khousa years of toil under Israeli restrictions are starting to bear fruit.

The Palestinian farmer is celebrating the success of the first major export of his crop from Gaza to Gulf markets, business he hopes will compensate him and his fellow growers after years of heavy financial losses suffered due to Israeli blockades and restrictions on border trade crossings.

“Over past years we have faced problems with marketing, which was almost confined to the local market. This forced us to reduce prices significantly and inflicted heavy losses on us, as a result of the deteriorating economic situation in the Gaza Strip,” Abu Khousa told Arab News.

“This season may be different in terms of production volume and quality.”

The blockade imposed by Israel following the success of Hamas in the second Palestinian legislative elections in early 2006, led to huge losses for strawberry farmers, and caused the areas of cultivated land to be reduced to only 450 dunums (111 acres) in 2015.

However, Israel increased the export allowance in 2017, reviving hopes among farmers of a more prosperous future.

The strawberry harvest season begins in early December and continues until the end of March.

This year Abu Khousa planted an area of more than eight dunums (almost 2 acres) of strawberries in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia, seven dunums of which were in the traditional way and one using hanging pots.

“The trend for hanging planting has increased the rate of production. One dunum cultivated in the modern way gives more than three times the traditional cultivation,” he said.

The soil and climate of Beit Lahia contain characteristics that distinguish the area from the rest of the Palestinian lands, making it ideal for the cultivation of high-quality strawberries.

SPEEDREAD

The blockade imposed by Israel led to huge losses for strawberry farmers, and caused the areas of cultivated land to be reduced to only 450 dunums in 2015.

At the beginning of December, Abu Khousa and other strawberry farmers began the process of harvesting and exporting their crops to West Bank cities. The Ministry of Agriculture had asked them for samples, and after testing their quality, the daily average of trucks allowed to leave Gaza was determined by the Israeli side.

The price of 1 kilo of strawberries locally, usually at the beginning of the season, was about 10 shekels (nearly $3), but gradually decreased, reaching four shekels at peak periods.

“If the export process does not continue, we will suffer a major setback and loss,” added Abu Khousa. He pointed out that local sales did not cover the basic cost of production.

He noted that the vast experience of the farmers of Beit Lahia made them capable of producing crops to meet strict international specifications.

The strawberry season provides hundreds of work opportunities during harvest times, helping to alleviate high unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip.

According to the latest data from the Palestinian Statistics Center, jobless rates were running at 53 percent, and 67 percent among youth.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza, Adham Al-Basyouni, told Arab News: “Israel has tried over the years of the blockade to control the export of strawberry products in particular, because it knows that it is one of the distinct crops that come out to the West Bank and European and Arab markets.”

The success of the experimental export of strawberries — which included 8 tons going to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain — had been a major boost for farmers and the local economy in Gaza, said Al-Basyouni, and he hoped it would be a prelude to further shipments of strawberries and other crops.

Strawberries are exported through Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing in the Gaza Strip, and then moved on to Jordan via King Hussein Bridge, and from there to the Gulf states.

The director of the Agricultural Cooperative Society in Beit Lahia, Mohamed Ghaben, said: “Gaza strawberries have very high-quality specifications and compete with the global product.”

There were 1,700 dunums planted with strawberries this season, compared to 1,100 dunums last season, and he expected production levels this time round to reach 5,000 tons, half of which were planned for export, he said.

The cultivation of strawberries in the Gaza Strip began at the end of the 1960s, with an experimental area estimated at one-and-a-half acres, and after achieving remarkable success, it gradually expanded until it reached 2,500 dunums in 2005.