Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown

A medical team member wearing a protective suit and a face mask, works on blood samples to be tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a medical center in a hospital in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq February 15, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 February 2021

Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown

  • “Unfortunately, government labs showed genetic mutations in the Covid-19 strain," Iraq's health minister said

BAGHDAD: Iraq will re-impose partial lockdown measures until early March after detecting a new strain of the coronavirus, including among children, its health minister announced on Monday.
“Unfortunately, government labs showed genetic mutations in the Covid-19 strain, detecting the new fast-spreading strain in Iraq,” Hassan Al-Tamimi told reporters.
He referred to the strain as the one “which spread in the UK,” and said it had been detected in some Iraqi children, but did not give a total number of people who had been diagnosed with the new variant.
It emerged in southern England in December and is thought to be more contagious than earlier forms.
Iraq has been among the countries hardest-hit by coronavirus in the Middle East, with more than 640,000 reported cases and over 13,000 deaths.
After peaking in September at around 5,000 new cases per day, Iraq saw a remarkable drop with around 800 new cases a day in December but the numbers have been on the rise since then.
On Monday, Iraq announced more than 2,700 cases confirmed cases, a record since the start of the year.
The daily deaths have remained relatively low, with only six confirmed deaths on Monday — compared to a peak in September of around 70 deaths per day.
The rise in cases prompted authorities to re-impose a series of measures to tackle the virus until March 8.
Masks will be obligatory in public places, with a fine of 25,000 Iraqi dinar ($17) for any violators.
From Thursday an overnight curfew will be in place from 8:00 p.m. until 5:00 am while Iraqis will be subjected to full lockdowns on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The measures will still be in place during Pope Francis’ historic visit from March 5-8, which will include trips to Baghdad, the city of Mosul in the north and a meeting with the country’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
Iraqi officials told AFP on Monday they were still proceeding with the visit as planned.


Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

Updated 25 September 2022

Borrell says Iran protest crackdown ‘unjustifiable, unacceptable’

  • A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police

BRUSSELS: The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday that Iran’s crackdown on protests is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable,” as Tehran vowed no leniency against the unrest gripping the country.
A wave of protests has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
At least 41 people have died, mostly protesters but including members of the Islamic republic’s security forces, according to an official toll, although human rights groups say the real figure is higher.
In a statement on behalf of the EU, Borrell said: “For the European Union and its member states, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protesters is unjustifiable and unacceptable.”
Moves “to severely restrict Internet access by the relevant Iranian authorities and to block instant messaging platforms is a further cause for concern, as it blatantly violates freedom of expression,” he added.
Amini was arrested on September 13, accused of having breached rules that mandate tightly fitted hijab head coverings as well as ripped jeans and brightly colored clothes.
Iran’s judiciary chief on Sunday “emphasised the need for decisive action without leniency.”


Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest

Updated 25 September 2022

Iran summons UK and Norway ambassadors amid violent unrest

  • Protests over Amini’s death have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran
  • At least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began

DUBAI: Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday it summoned Britain’s ambassador to protest what it described as a hostile atmosphere created by London-based Farsi language media outlets. The move comes amid violent unrest in Iran triggered by the death of a young woman in police custody.
The state-run IRNA news agency reported the ministry also summoned Norway’s ambassador to Iran and strongly protested recent remarks by the president of the Norwegian parliament, Masud Gharahkhani.
The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody after being detained by Iranian morality police launched unrest across Iran’s provinces and the capital of Tehran.
Protests over Amini’s death have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran. State TV has suggested that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities put the toll at least 11, with more than 1,200 demonstrators arrested.
The Foreign Ministry’s website said it summoned Simon Shercliff, the UK’s ambassador to Iran, on Saturday and protested the hosting of critical Farsi-language media outlets. The ministry alleges the news outlets have provoked disturbances and the spread of riots in Iran at the top of their programs.
Iran said it considers the news agencies’ reporting to be interference in Iran’s internal affairs and acts against its sovereignty.
The crisis in Iran began as a public outpouring of anger over the the death of Amini, who was arrested by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly wearing her Islamic headscarf too loosely. The police said she died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account.
Amini’s death has sparked sharp condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations.


Amid unrest, Iranian Guard attacks militant group in Iraq

Updated 25 September 2022

Amid unrest, Iranian Guard attacks militant group in Iraq

  • The Guard’s ground forces fired artillery from positions within Iran’s West Azerbaijan province
  • Iran's official news agency says intelligence forces have arrested members of a separatist group

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Saturday attacked a Kurdish militant group’s base located in the north of neighboring Iraq, state media said, a week after widespread anti-government protests began over a young woman’s death in police custody.

IRNA said the Guard’s ground forces fired artillery from positions within Iran’s West Azerbaijan province, attacking what it described as a “terrorist group” based across the border in Iraq. The report did not elaborate.

IRNA also said some members of a separatist group, so-called “Komleh” in Iran, were arrested by intelligence forces, without giving details.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to Iran’s military, quoted the Guard’s statement as saying the operation will continue in order to ensure border security.

Tasnim added that the attack targeted the bases of Kurdish separatist groups in the north of Iraq and took place at 16:00 local time, and caused serious damage to them.

The Guard’s attacks were in response to the support of the separatist group for the recent unrest in the country, as well as their attempt to import weapons into Iran, the report said.
The death of a 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being detained by Iranian morality police, has launched unrest across Iran’s provinces and capital of Tehran. Amini’s family hails from Iran’s Kurdish region.

State TV suggested Saturday that 41 protesters and policemen have been killed since the protests erupted last Saturday. He said official statistics would be released by the Interior Ministry. According to a tally by The Associated Press, there have been at least 11 deaths from both sides since protests began after Amini’s funeral.


Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

Updated 25 September 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

NABLUS: Israeli troops killed a Palestinian militant in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, Palestinian sources said, with Israel’s army saying soldiers fired on “armed suspects” during a routine patrol.
The army said that “hits were identified” after soldiers fired toward “armed suspects driving in a vehicle and a motorcycle” near Nablus in the northern West Bank, an area that has seen near daily violence in recent months.
The Palestinian health ministry named the man killed as Saed Al-Koni.
A loose coalition of fighters called “The Lions Den” that has recently emerged in Nablus claimed Koni as one of their members.
Among the members of this group was teenager Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi, who has become a folk hero on social media since his killing by Israeli forces in August. Pendants of Al-Nabulsi are on sale in the markets of Nablus Old City.
Koni’s death was the second in the Nablus area in the past two days.
On Saturday, a Palestinian driver was killed by Israeli troops after what the army called an “attempted ramming attack,” but which Palestinians said was a traffic accident.
The army said soldiers and police opened fire on a vehicle after the driver “attempted to run them over” during a patrol outside Nablus.
The Palestinian foreign ministry described Muhammad Ali Hussein Awad, 36, as a “defenseless Palestinian” who was not “posing any danger.”
“The Israeli police deliberately shot Awad, with the aim of killing him, after his vehicle collided with a police vehicle in a traffic accident,” the ministry said.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six Day War of 1967.
Israeli forces have faced criticism over their frequent use of lethal force in response to perceived threats.
Israel is on high alert ahead of the Jewish high holiday season which begins on Sunday evening with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of raids in the northern West Bank, including Nablus and nearby Jenin, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians.


Saudi FM calls for global support amid MENA security pressures

Updated 25 September 2022

Saudi FM calls for global support amid MENA security pressures

  • Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud covered security pressures in Lebanon, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen
  • Urges global community to ‘cooperate for progress’ in combating the proliferation of weapons

NEW YORK CITY: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud has reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to the UN charter, calling on the international community to strengthen cooperation amid several global challenges.

In a wide-ranging speech on the fifth day of the 77th UN General Assembly in New York City, the minister covered several major geopolitical issues across the region and the world.

Outlining how the Kingdom’s commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and its charter is underpinned by Saudi Arabia’s Islamic and Arab values, Prince Faisal said that his country supports all efforts to “silence the guns, protect civilians, and provide prospects for development and peace.”

He added that the Kingdom supports “all efforts that can bring about a political solution to put an end to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis in order to stop the fighting and preserve international and regional peace and security.”

Moving to issues in the Middle East, the foreign minister said that the Jeddah Summit for Security and Development, which saw the participation of the US and nine Arab states, was an opportunity to “confirm collective action for a better world in the region for our peoples and our countries.”

He added that “security and stability in the Middle East requires a just and global solution for the Palestinian question,” calling for Palestinian state.

Commenting on Lebanon, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, he said these countries must not become a “breeding ground” for terrorists as they endure various crises of peace and stability.

“Afghanistan must not become a basis for terrorist operations,” the prince said.

Earlier in the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres praised the Kingdom’s efforts campaigning for a truce in Yemen and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis in the war-torn country.

Guterres made the remarks during a meeting with Prince Faisal, who covered the Yemeni crisis during his speech. The foreign minister reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to a truce in Yemen.

Prince Faisal continued on the theme of Yemen’s crisis, telling the UN General Assembly that roads must be reopened, especially around Taiz, the country’s third-largest city.

He urged partners at the 77th UN General Assembly to “cooperate for progress” in the security field, calling on “the international community to counter the proliferation of weapons,” adding that the Kingdom is campaigning for “the Middle East to become free from these weapons.”

The foreign minister also referred to Sudan and Egypt, reaffirming the Kingdom’s support for the water needs of both countries.

He added that the Kingdom is committed to fighting climate change, with Saudi Arabia making particular contributions to the Paris Agreement.

The foreign minister said that the Kingdom is committed to “gradual and responsible change to diversified energy sources that are more sustainable,” noting that the global community must take into account the different economic and energy situations in every country.

He referred to the Kingdom’s Green Initiative, adding that Saudi Arabia is focussed on protecting the environment and green areas.

Prince Faisal concluded that he hoped the Kingdom’s “spirit of partnership and respect for a better world” would help to deliver Saudi Arabia’s message to the international community.