Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet members, in Tehran, Iran July 28, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 July 2021

Iran’s supreme leader criticizes US as nuclear talks stalled

  • The accord saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday called the US “stubborn” in stalled nuclear talks in Vienna for discussing Tehran’s missiles and regional influence.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks come as his hard-line protege, President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, is posed to be sworn in next week as the head of the country’s civilian government and as talks on reviving the deal remain stalled in Vienna.
While Raisi has said he wants to return to the accord, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Khamenei seemingly called for a more-adversarial approach in his remarks. They also appeared to describe outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s eight-year government as naive for its approach in reaching the 2015 agreement as its officials sat before him.
“Others should use your experiences. This experience is a distrust of the West,” Khamenei said in remarks broadcast by state television. “In this government, it was shown up that trust in the West does not work.”
He added: “Westerners do not help us, they hit wherever they can.”

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UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists

Updated 26 October 2021

UN experts denounce Israeli branding of Palestinian rights groups as terrorists

  • Group of special rapporteurs said designation of six organizations is an ‘attack on the Palestinian human rights movement and on human rights everywhere’
  • They said it is not what a democracy following accepted humanitarian standards would do; called on the international community to ‘defend the defenders’

NEW YORK: UN human rights experts on Monday “strongly and unequivocally” condemned the decision by Israeli authorities to designate six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations.
“This designation is a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement and on human rights everywhere,” the special rapporteurs said.
“Silencing their voices is not what a democracy adhering to well-accepted human rights and humanitarian standards would do.” 
They called on the international community to “defend the defenders” and added: “These civil society organizations are the canaries in the human rights coalmine, alerting us to the patterns of violations, reminding the international community of its obligations to ensure accountability, and providing voices for those who have none.”
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, on the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.
They include Martin Lynk, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and Fionnuala Ni Aolain, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
The experts said that antiterrorism laws must not be used as a tool to undermine freedoms, and reminded Israeli authorities that the Security Council and all other UN bodies “have all been clear about the requirement to apply counter-terrorism measures in a manner which is consistent with international law and does not violate states’ international obligations.”
Such “egregious misuse” of counterterrorism measures by Israel, the experts added, undermines the security of all.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday designated as terrorist groups the Palestinian organizations Addameer, which provides legal support for prisoners and collects data on arrests and detentions; Al-Haq, which documents rights violations; Defense for Children International Palestine; the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.
“These organizations speak the language of universal human rights (and document abuses in Palestine),” the experts said. 
They added that the decision to designate them as terrorist organizations effectively bans their work and gives the Israeli military free rein to arrest employees, close offices and confiscate assets.
The experts expressed concern that in the case of one of the organizations, the decision might be a reprisal for cooperation with UN groups.
“The Israeli military has frequently targeted human rights defenders in recent years as its occupation has deepened, its defiance of international law has continued and its record of human rights violations has worsened,” the experts said.
“While international and Israeli human rights organizations have faced heavy criticism, legislative restrictions and even deportations, Palestinian human rights defenders have always encountered the severest constraints.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the UN office in Jerusalem, in addressing the issue, continues to engage with the Israeli authorities and the concerned parties.
“The secretary-general has repeatedly expressed concern about the shrinking space for civil society in many places around the world, including in Israel,” he added.

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Prince Charles to visit Jordan and Egypt to follow up on COP26 commitments

Updated 26 October 2021

Prince Charles to visit Jordan and Egypt to follow up on COP26 commitments

  • In Jordan the prince and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall with meet King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, and representatives of humanitarian organizations
  • In Egypt they will meet the president and first lady, and discuss with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar ‘religious harmony and the role of faith in preserving the environment’

LONDON: Britain’s Prince Charles will travel to the Middle East next month on a trip that aims to showcase strong bilateral relationships and address the climate crisis.

The prince and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, will visit Jordan and Egypt from Nov. 16 to 19, as part of his autumn tour, at the request of the British government, his office announced on Monday. During his last autumn tour, in 2019, he visited India, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands.

Prince Charles “will explore how leaders, the private sector and wider society can implement commitments” following the World Leaders’ Summit that will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1, during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

During his visit to Jordan, which coincides with the nation’s centenary celebrations this year and 100 years of the UK-Jordan bilateral relationship, the royal couple will meet King Abdullah II and Queen Rania at Al-Husseiniya Palace.

They will also tour cultural and religions sites in Jordan and meet representatives of humanitarian organizations, including the UN Refugee Agency and the International Rescue Committee, the latter of which he became patron in January last year.

Charles will use his visit to focus on environmental issues, heritage preservation, and the creation of jobs and opportunities for young people. He will also participate in an interfaith discussion that “will acknowledge the diverse, tolerant and integrated nature of Jordanian society, highlighting the importance placed on religious freedom,” the prince’s office said. Camilla will focus on supporting education for women and girls and will discuss with Queen Rania her efforts in this area.

“Their royal highnesses’ return to Jordan underlines the importance that Her Majesty’s Government places on its close ties with Jordan, which is underpinned by the countries’ deep security cooperation and the long-standing relationship between the two royal families,” according to the prince’s office.

It added that Charles, who last visited Jordan in February 2015, will highlight the nation’s generosity in hosting refugees forced to flee conflicts in neighboring countries.

During their visit to Egypt, the royal couple will meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and First Lady Entissar Amer at Al-Ittihadiya Palace. They will also meet the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar to discuss “religious harmony and the role of faith in preserving the environment, (which) will serve to further strengthen religious ties between the UK and Egypt,” the prince’s office said.

Egypt will assume the presidency of COP27 in 2022, so the talks will also focus on efforts to combat climate change, it added.

“Their visit to Egypt will highlight the country’s close relationship with the UK, and will provide an opportunity to demonstrate Egypt’s growing commitment to protecting the environment,” the prince’s office said.

Charles and Camilla last visited the North African country in 2006. The trip will conclude with a reception in the shadow of the pyramids in Giza to celebrate the bond between the nations, and a visit to the ancient city of Alexandria.


Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria

Updated 25 October 2021

Officials: Iran behind drone attack on US base in Syria

  • 'They were Iranian drones, and Iran appears to have facilitated their use'
  • Attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges

WASHINGTON: US officials say they believe Iran was behind the drone attack last week at the military outpost in southern Syria where American troops are based.
Officials said Monday the US believes that Iran resourced and encouraged the attack, but that the drones were not launched from Iran. They were Iranian drones, and Iran appears to have facilitated their use, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been made public.
Officials said they believe the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges, and that they hit both the US side of Al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.
There were no reported injuries or deaths as a result of the attack.
US and coalition troops are based at Al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter Daesh militants. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon and Israel.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declined to provide details when asked about the report during a news conference Monday. He called it a “complex, coordinated and deliberate attack” and said the US has seen similar ones before from Shia militia groups that are backed by Iran. But he would not go into specifics and said he had no update on the munitions used in the attack.
Kirby also declined to say if troops were warned ahead of time or whether the US intends to make a military response.
“The protection and security of our troops overseas remains a paramount concern for the secretary,” Kirby said, referring to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “and that if there is to be a response, it will be at a time and a place and a manner of our choosing, and we certainly won’t get ahead of those kinds of decisions.”
Pro-Iran media outlets have been saying that the attack on Tanf was carried out by “Syria’s allies” — an apparent reference to Iran-backed groups — in retaliation for an attack days earlier near the historic Syrian town of Palmyra. Israel has been blamed for the attack, but US officials say America was not involved with it.
The Al-Tanf attack came in a period of rising tensions with Iran. The Biden administration this week said international diplomatic efforts to get Iran back into negotiations to return to a 2015 nuclear deal were at a “critical place” and that patience Is wearing thin.
The last major Iranian attack on US forces was in January 2020, when Tehran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles on Al-Asad air base in Iraq. US and coalition troops were warned of the incoming missiles and were able to take cover, but more than 100 US service members received traumatic brain injuries as a result of the blasts.
The Iran attack was in response to the US drone strike earlier that month near the Baghdad airport that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis.
Two months after the Al-Asad assault, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.

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Gaza fish restaurants thrive far from the foodie trail

Updated 26 October 2021

Gaza fish restaurants thrive far from the foodie trail

  • Of the 4,200 tons of fish and seafood netted from Gaza’s waters last year, just 300 tons were exported to the West Bank

GAZA CITY: The Gaza Strip might be off-limits for foreign foodies but the coastal Palestinian enclave is brimming with seafood restaurants, many owned by one local family whose culinary hook is their matriarch’s spicy fish tajine.

Munir Abu Hasira arrives at the Gaza port’s fish market at daybreak, but holds back as traders snatch up sardines and other fish caught during the night.

He is angling for more discerning catches like grouper, sea bream and large shrimp, which can go for around 70 shekels ($22) a kilo — a small fortune in the impoverished enclave, under Israeli blockade since 2007.

“It’s expensive because of the economic situation, but we buy the fish to supply restaurants and to export” to the occupied West Bank, he says, as workers pile fresh fish into a van.

For decades, the Abu Hasira family were fishermen, but since opening their first restaurant in the 1970s, they have gradually traded their fishing kit for chef’s tools.

Gaza fishermen say they struggle to eke out a living, snared by Israeli restrictions on the enclave’s fishing zone and on importing equipment into the enclave, from boat motors to sonar devices for finding shoals.

Problems like overfishing and pollution blight the local industry.

Some 4,200 tons of fish and seafood were netted from Gaza’s waters last year, according to the Israeli authorities. Just 300 tons were exported to the West Bank.

Sitting on a chair in a Gaza courtyard, Eid Abu Hasira, in his 80s, said he was the last of the family’s fishermen.

“I sold everything in 2013,” said the head of the family, sporting a white moustache and wearing a traditional robe and headdress.

“Today, we are in the fish trade, and have 13 Abu Hasira restaurants,” he said, clutching Muslim prayer beads as he leaned on a wooden cane.

One of his ancestors was a prominent Jewish Moroccan rabbi, who died during a trip to Egypt in the 19th century.

A descendent in Egypt had a vision that “they had to go to Gaza,” Eid Abu Hasira said.

“So we came here. My grandfather chose to live off the sea,” he said, adding that a Jewish branch of the family lives in Israel, while those in Gaza are Muslim.

As a young boy, his mother would cook up a seafood tajine that has become the Abu Hasira family chain’s signature dish.

Moeen Abu Hasira, 56, paid homage to his family’s culinary heritage, from their signature shrimp and tomato tajine, known as “zibdiyit,” to a fish tajine made with tahini, herbs and pine nuts, to grilled grouper.

“The secret of Gaza cuisine is strong chili,” he said from the kitchen of his restaurant, which he opened earlier this year.

The Abu Hasira family’s clientele has changed over time.

“Until the start of the first intifada, our restaurants were packed. Israelis came to eat here and so did tourists,” Moeen Abu Hasira said, referring to the first Palestinian uprising in 1987.

Since the Israeli blockade began in 2007 after the Islamist group Hamas took control of the enclave, few international tourists, foodies or gastronomic guide writers have visited.

Now, the family’s restaurants cater to a well-off Palestinian clientele, but Moeen Abu Hasira said times were hard as unemployment in Gaza hovers around 50 percent.

“Nobody will give you a star” in recognition of your restaurant, said the chef, who trained in French cuisine in a restaurant in the Israeli city of Jaffa.

“We did not learn in cooking schools or universities. There is none of that in Gaza,” he said. “We all learn from each other.”


Military court charges 68 over deadly Beirut clashes

Updated 25 October 2021

Military court charges 68 over deadly Beirut clashes

  • Army intelligence summons Samir Geagea, leader of Lebanese Forces Party, for investigation

BEIRUT: A Lebanese judge has charged 68 people following the Oct. 14 deadly clash in the Tayouneh neighborhood of Beirut that left seven people dead and dozens wounded.

Eighteen are in detention while the remaining 50 continue to evade the authorities.

The clash south of Beirut broke out during a Hezbollah-organized protest against Judge Tarek Bitar leading the investigation into last year’s massive Beirut port blast.

Judge Fadi Akiki, the state commissioner to the military court, charged the 68 people with crimes including murder, attempted murder, inciting sectarian strife, having unlicensed weapons and sabotage.

The five-hour long battle was fought between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, plus gunmen believed to be supporters of the Lebanese Forces party.

It took place on the border between Beirut’s Chyah and Ain Al-Rummaneh neighborhoods.

Also on Monday, Lebanon’s military intelligence agency summoned the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, to give testimony regarding the deadly clashes.

He was asked to appear before military investigators on Wednesday.

A security source confirmed to Arab News that the Directorate of Intelligence of the Lebanese Army summoned Geagea to the investigation branch in the Ministry of Defense.

Members of the Internal Security Forces pasted the summons on the door of Geagea’s headquarters in Maarab.

The source told Arab News that “the directorate of intelligence moved at the request of Judge Akiki, who asked army intelligence to listen to Geagea as a witness.”

The source added that “information is still being collected in these incidents, and there are detainees whose status must be decided upon.”

A judicial source indicated that a search warrant might be issued and an investigation launched against Geagea if he failed to attend the hearing.

The judicial source told Arab News that the defendants include “the Lebanese Forces official in charge of Maarab security, Simon Musallem, two members of the Amal movement, two Syrians, a Lebanese soldier, and the rest are supporters of the Lebanese Forces.”

Judge Akiki referred the detainees with the file to acting First Military Examining Magistrate Fadi Sawan.

Geagea responded to the latest development by stipulating that the Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah should also be summoned.

The secretary of the Lebanese Forces Party, Fadi Karam, tweeted: “The attack on Geagea and the forces by trying to use state agencies is an attack on Lebanese dignity and freedoms and the price for defending Lebanon’s sovereignty.

“It is an adoption of all concepts of backwardness, oppression and criminality.”

He added: “The battle now is between keeping Lebanon governed by criminals or saving it and putting it on the normal human path.”

Geagea had spent 11 years in solitary confinement inside the Ministry of Defense after being tried in 1994 on four charges of assassination of politicians — the most important of which was the assassination of former Prime Minister Rashid Karami in 1987.

Geagea denied all the charges, but was convicted and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life imprisonment.

He was released from prison after parliament granted him a special pardon in 2005. His party entered the parliament and participated in several governments.

He ran in the presidential elections in 2014 before adopting the nomination of his political opponent, Michel Aoun.

Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi also commented on the issue of the Tayouneh events, which paralyzed the holding of cabinet sessions.

In his Sunday sermon, he defended the residents of Ain Al-Rummaneh, refusing to turn “those who defended their dignity and the security of their environment into an easy target.”

The weekend witnessed an escalating exchange of words between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces, culminating with Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem accusing the forces of “conspiring in the interest of the embassies.”

Elsewhere, Hezbollah and defendant politicians have continued to pile pressure on Judge Bitar by filing more lawsuits against him.

On Monday, the Supreme Judicial Council held a session and Judge Bitar was summoned to discuss the developments of the case.

A judicial source ruled out taking any action against Bitar — as demanded by Hezbollah — because the council does not have the right to interfere in the course of investigations conducted by him.