Earthquake shakes Lebanon and Syria

The earthquake struck off the coast of Latakia in Syria. (AFP/File)
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Updated 04 April 2020

Earthquake shakes Lebanon and Syria

  • Syrian officials say the earthquake measured 4.7 on the Richter Scale and struck off the coast of Latakia

BEIRUT: A small earthquake in the eastern Mediterranean was felt across parts of Lebanon and Syria on Friday.

"Residents in Beirut, Zgharta, Batroun, Tripoli and Akkar felt an earthquake that lasted for several seconds," Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said.

The earthquake measured 4.7 on the Richter Scale at a depth of 20 kilometres, some 65 kilometres from the coastal city of Latakia, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.

The shaking was felt in Latakia Tartous, Hama, Homs, and Aleppo.


Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

Updated 02 December 2022

Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

  • Israel strips human rights defender Salah Al-Hamouri of his Jerusalem residency, plans to deport him to France

RAMALLAH: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians on Thursday and injured two others during a West Bank arrest raid that sparked gun battles, confirmed Palestinian medical sources.

The Jenin city refugee camp raid at dawn also resulted in the arrest of nine people. 

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh warned of the severe consequences of the Israeli killings. He called on the world’s countries to intervene.

A general strike to mourn the two who were killed, Mohammed Al-Saadi and Naim Al-Zubaidi, was declared in the city.

According to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health, eight Palestinians have been killed and 10 injured in the West Bank during the past 72 hours.

Shtayyeh accused Israeli forces of “benefiting from the absence of accountability and punishment, under an international policy based on double standards.”

Maj. Gen. Akram Rajoub, governor of Jenin, told Arab News that an atmosphere of pain, anger and sadness has overwhelmed the city due to the actions of the Israeli army, which “violates Palestinian lands and commits cold-blooded killing.”

He told Arab News that 54 Palestinians had been killed in Jenin since the beginning of this year.

Most of them were not involved in stone-throwing incidents, and they were not armed. Dozens were wounded, and many others have been detained.

“This is targeted killing and systematic state terrorism against the Palestinians,” the governor told Arab News.

Israeli armed forces issued an alert for expected rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel following the murder of the Jenin Brigade commander in Thursday’s early morning raid.

The Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission said that Israeli security authorities and settlers carried out 833 attacks against Palestinians during November.

It said the aggressive acts ranged from direct assaults on citizens to vandalism, land razing, the confiscation of property and more.

The attacks were concentrated in the Ramallah governorate with 170 attacks, followed by the Hebron governorate with 140, then the Nablus governorate with 111, said the commission.

In another development, Israeli authorities have decided to deport Palestinian prisoner Salah Al-Hamouri from East Jerusalem to France after the expiration of his detention on Sunday, Dec. 4.

Israelis arrested Al-Hamouri on March 22, and since then, he has been under administrative detention with no trial or known charge.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Israeli authorities to free Al-Hamouri and cancel their decision to deport him.

Activists said that Palestinian human rights defender Al-Hamouri “is at imminent risk of deportation” after Israel’s Supreme Court rejected on Nov. 30 an appeal against the Interior Ministry’s decision to revoke his Jerusalem residency status on the grounds of “breach of allegiance.”

This decision leaves Al-Hamouri with no legal status in Jerusalem. He will thus likely be deported on Sunday to France, as he also has French citizenship, human rights activists said.

“Salah Al-Hamouri’s case illustrates so many of the restrictive measures Israel is employing against Palestinians, including human rights defenders,” Jessica Montel, executive director of human rights organization HaMoked, told Arab News.

Among these are the “invasive surveillance technology, the criminalization of human rights organizations, the use of administrative detention, and the revocation of Jerusalem residency,” she said. “This is outrageous.

“As a member of the indigenous population of Jerusalem, Al-Hamouri owes no allegiance to the state of Israel. The fact that his residency was revoked largely based on secret evidence only exacerbates the injustice.”

Hassan Al-Hamouri, 66, father of Salah Al-Hamouri, told Arab News that the Israeli police summoned him on Nov. 29 and asked him not to raise Palestinian flags when receiving Salah on Sunday and not to organize official receptions.

He also said that the number of those receiving him should not exceed 20 at his house. 

Following this, Salah’s lawyer, Leah Tsemel, tried to talk to the police officer to find out what happened, but he refused to inform the lawyer anything.

The family later learned that Salah would be deported to France if he was released from Hadarim prison on Sunday.

Israeli authorities had previously deported Salah’s wife, who was pregnant in 2016, to France.

Palestinian human rights activists are concerned about Israel’s resumption of the deportation policy against Palestinians after it had been halted for many years.

Qadura Faris, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Arab News in a phone interview that deportation is the “harshest deterrent punishment practiced against Palestinian prisoners and citizens.

“Al-Hamouri is not accused of practicing violent acts against Israel, but rather he is a human rights activist and an administrative detainee without a specific charge. If such a person is expelled, what about the rest of the Palestinian prisoners?” 

Activists say 4,700 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli prisons, while the number of Palestinians detained in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip has reached 6,300 since the beginning of the year.


Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

Updated 02 December 2022

Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

  • "An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case," Gilan province's prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said
  • Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations

TEHRAN: Iran said on Thursday it had opened an investigation into the death of a man who was shot while celebrating Iran’s World Cup defeat to arch enemy the United States.
The loss eliminated Iran’s national football team from the tournament in Qatar on Tuesday night, drawing a mixed response from pro- and anti-government supporters.
Following the match, “a person named Mehran Samak died suspiciously after being hit by shotgun pellets in the city of Bandar Anzali,” Gilan province’s prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said, quoted by the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.
“An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case,” he added.
Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations that followed Iran’s loss to the United States.
The result sparked both scenes of joy and despair among Iranians in a country divided by protests that flared over the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old, an Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after falling into a coma following her arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Hossein Salami, said on Thursday Iran’s enemies had influenced youths who were happy with the football result.
“Today, they (the enemies) are all trying to sow the seeds of despair in the hearts of young people and some of them even showed their satisfaction afterwards and that they are happy with the elimination of the national football team,” he said.
“We must take measures to serve the people, because poverty and misery are also among the enemies of the country,” Salami said, according to the official news agency IRNA.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest sparked by Amini’s death.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights said on Tuesday that at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”


Turkiye calls for US understanding ahead of possible Syria operation

Updated 01 December 2022

Turkiye calls for US understanding ahead of possible Syria operation

  • Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar: ‘The US asked us to re-evaluate; we emphasized that they should understand us’
  • US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his ‘strong opposition’ to a new Turkish military operation in Syria

ANKARA: Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar called on the United States on Thursday to show understanding over a possible new Turkish military operation in Syria, after Washington voiced its “strong opposition” to such a move.
Turkiye has been threatening a new incursion into northern Syria for months, and stepped up preparations last month after a deadly bomb attack in Istanbul it blamed on a Kurdish militants.
“The US asked us to re-evaluate. We conveyed to them our sensitivities and thoughts, and asked them to keep their promises. We emphasized that they should understand us,” Akar told reporters.
Turkiye also asked allied countries that have a military presence in Syria not to allow local militias to use their flags and uniforms, Akar added. “We are reminding them that they should keep terrorists away from themselves and eventually they should cut their ties with terrorist organizations,” he said.
Turkiye sees the Kurdish YPG militia, the leading presence in the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as the Syrian wing of the PKK militant group and labels both of them as terrorist organizations.
The PKK is also considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.
The PKK and SDF have denied involvement in the Nov. 13 bombing of a busy pedestrian avenue in Istanbul.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told his Turkish counterpart of his “strong opposition” to a new Turkish military operation in Syria and voiced concern over the escalating situation in the county.

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Iran’s World Cup team gets tepid welcome home, amid protests

Updated 01 December 2022

Iran’s World Cup team gets tepid welcome home, amid protests

  • The players returned from Qatar late Wednesday, a day after their 1-0 loss
  • Anti-government protesters, considering the team a symbol of Iran's clerical rulers, had celebrated the loss in some Iranian cities with fireworks and cheers

BAGHDAD: Iran’s national soccer team received a subdued welcome home after their World Cup defeat against the United States, a match played against the backdrop of ongoing anti-government protests in Iran.
One Iranian man was shot dead celebrating the American victory.
The players returned from Qatar late Wednesday, a day after their 1-0 loss. Anti-government protesters, considering the team a symbol of Iran’s clerical rulers, had celebrated the loss in some Iranian cities with fireworks and cheers.
One man was shot dead by Iranian security forces in northwest Iran for honking his car horn in support of the US victory, the Oslo-based rights monitor Iran Human Rights reported on Thursday.
Iran’s treatment of the players will likely be scrutinized because they refrained from singing the Islamic Republic’s national anthem during their opening World Cup match. Many considered the move a show of solidarity with the protests. The team did sang the anthem in subsequent matches.
A few dozen fans greeted the national team’s return at Tehran’s international airport late Wednesday, with people cheering and waving the Iranian flag.
Yet the players have faced biting criticism from anti-government protesters who have blamed the team for not being more vocal about the security force’s violent put down of the demonstrations. Human rights groups say over 400 protesters have been killed in the crackdown, with thousands more arrested.
An image of players bowing in the presence of President Ebrahim Raisi before setting off to the tournament was widely criticized by activists on social media. A hard-line cleric, Raisi has likened protesters to “flies” and dismissed the movement as a foreign plot, without offering any proof.
Mehran Samak, 27, was shot dead after honking his car in support of the US win after Tuesday’s match in the city of Bandar Anzali in northwest Iran. Oslo-based Iran Human Rights reported he was “shot in the head by state forces when he went out to celebrate the Islamic Republic’s loss.”
Samak is also a childhood friend of Iranian midfielder Saeed Ezatollahi, who mourned his death on his social media. But again he received criticism from activists for not explicitly stating Samak was killed by government forces.
Many Iranian celebrities have however been targeted by the government with arrest or other measures for speaking out on behalf of the protesters.
Iranian officials acknowledged but downplayed compatriots celebrating the US win. Gen. Hossein Salami, chief of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, said those who had celebrated were doing so on “behalf of the enemies,” adding “it is not important to us.” His comments appeared in the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
A former culture minister and editor-in-chief of the Ettelaat newspaper, Abbas Salehi, who has close ties with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted: “Iran’s defeat in the game against America was bitter, but even more bitter was the happiness of some people.”
Iran was eliminated from the tournament in Qatar following the loss to the US on Tuesday that saw the players scrambling to score a goal in the last remaining minutes of the game. Striker Sardar Azmoun told reporters he was not satisfied with his performance in the last match.
It was the sixth time Iran has participated in the World Cup.
Anti-government protests first erupted in September, following the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police in the capital, Tehran. The protests quickly grew into the most serious challenge to Iran’s theocracy since its establishment in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.


Daesh group announces death of chief, names replacement

Updated 01 December 2022

Daesh group announces death of chief, names replacement

  • Says leader Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi has been killed in battle
  • Announces a replacement to head up its remaining sleeper cells

The Daesh militant group said Wednesday that its leader Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi has been killed in battle and announced a replacement to head up its remaining sleeper cells.

A spokesman for Daesh said Hashimi, an Iraqi, was killed "in combat with enemies of God", without elaborating on the date or circumstances of his death.

The US military's Central Command (CENTCOM) said Hashimi had been killed in an operation carried out by rebels of the Free Syrian Army in Daraa province in southern Syria in mid-October.

Daraa province is mostly controlled by Syrian government forces and rebels who have reached understandings with the regime. In mid-October, Damascus said it had launched a joint operation against Daesh with former rebels in the south of the province.

Using an alternative acronym for Daesh, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: "We welcome the announcement that another leader from Daesh is no longer walking in the face of the Earth."

Speaking in an audio message, the Daesh spokesman said Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi had been named as the group's new leader.

After a meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria in 2014 that saw it conquer vast swathes of territory, Daesh saw its self-proclaimed "caliphate" collapse under a wave of offensives.

The extremist group's austere and terror-ridden rule was marked by beheadings and shootings. 

It was defeated in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria two years later, but sleeper cells still carry out attacks in both countries.

The group or its branches have also claimed attacks elsewhere this year, including in Afghanistan, Iran and Israel.

The spokesman did not provide details on the new leader, but said he was a "veteran" jihadist and called on all groups loyal to Daesh to pledge their allegiance to its fourth leader.

Daesh's previous chief, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi, was killed in February this year in a US raid in Idlib province in northern Syria.

His predecessor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed, also in Idlib, in October 2019.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not comment on any US involvement in the operation that led to Hashimi's death.

"We are pleased to see the removal of Daesh leaders in such quick succession," she told reporters "The United States remains committed to countering the global threat from Daesh and stands ready to work with international partners."

The Daesh leadership have suffered repeated blows from various quarters this year.

In October, US forces killed a "senior" Daesh member in a pre-dawn raid in northeastern Syria, CENTCOM said at the time.

The US leads a military coalition battling Daesh in Syria. 

The raid targeted "Rakkan Wahid al-Shammari, an Daesh official known to facilitate the smuggling of weapons and fighters", CENTCOM said.

It said a later air strike had killed two other senior Daesh members.

In July, the Pentagon said it had killed Syria's top Daesh jihadist in a drone strike in the north of the country.

US Central Command said he had been "one of the top five" Daesh leaders.

Turkey said in September security forces had arrested a "senior executive" of Daesh known as Abu Zeyd, whose real name was Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaidai.

Turkish media said there were some indications Sumaidai might have been the Daesh leader.

Thousands of suspected militants and their relatives are still detained in camps in Syria and prisons in Iraq.

In January, Daesh launched a major attack on a prison housing fellow jihadists in northeastern Syria, in a jailbreak attempt that triggered a week of deadly clashes.

Hundreds of Daesh prisoners, including senior leaders, were thought to have escaped, with some crossing to neighbouring Turkey or Turkish-held territory in northern Syria, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The Pentagon warned Tuesday that a threatened Turkish ground operation against Kurdish targets in Syria would "severely jeopardise" gains made in the war against Daesh.