Jeers as Iran officials blame Asadabad blasts on thunderstorms

Loud blasts were heard in several cities in western Iran early on Sunday, according to local media. (Shutterstock image)
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Updated 17 January 2022

Jeers as Iran officials blame Asadabad blasts on thunderstorms

  • The governor of Asadabad had ruled out the possibility of thunderstorms as the source of the blasts
  • Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Iranian authorities invited widespread ridicule on Sunday by insisting that large explosions in several areas in the west of the country were caused by thunderstorms.

Majid Mirahmadi, an official at the Interior Ministry, insisted: “After liaising with the relevant security and military agencies, it was determined that the sounds were caused by thunder and lightning and no special incident occurred.

However, the governor of the western town of Asadabad ruled out the possibility of thunderstorms as the source of reported loud blasts heard in several Iranian cities and towns.

One blast in the town of Asadabad caused panic among residents. “The intensity of the sound in some places was such that doors and windows of houses shook and people left their homes,” the Rokna news website said on its Telegram channel.

FASTFACT

Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran.

After several similar explosions in recent months, authorities said the Iranian military was holding unannounced air defense drills amid rising tensions with Israel and the US over Iran’s nuclear program.

Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran.

Two explosions at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility were clearly the result of sabotage.

Other explosions have taken place at missile sites, petrochemical plants, power stations and medical clinics. Previous explanations by the Tehran regime have included faulty safety procedures, human error, and, in one case, an earthquake.

Nevertheless, many analysts believe Iran is the target of a campaign of sabotage attacks by Israel as part of a “shadow war” between the two countries linked to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Most recently, in late 2021, there was a major explosion on an Iranian vessel docked at Latakia port in Syria, a fire broke out at an Iranian petrochemical factory on Khark Island in the Gulf, three people were injured in a fire at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps research center west of Tehran, and a cyberattack crippled gas stations across Iran.

Israel has long threatened military action against Iran if indirect talks with Washington and Tehran fail to salvage a 2015 nuclear pact that then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

(With Reuters)

 

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Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Updated 19 May 2022

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

  • “Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” said the military

JERUSALEM: Israel activated its missile defenses on Thursday after mistakenly identifying a threat near the border with Lebanon, the Israeli military said.
The incident also set off air raid sirens in parts of northern Israel.
“Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” the military said.

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Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

Updated 19 May 2022

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

  • FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup

LONDON: Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday urged football’s governing body FIFA pay compensation equal to the total 2022 World Cup prize money for migrant workers “abused” in host nation Qatar.
The call, backed by other rights organizations and fan groups, follows allegations that FIFA was slow to safeguard against the exploitation of workers who flooded into the tiny Gulf state to build infrastructure in the years leading up to the tournament that starts November 21.
“FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup,” Amnesty said in a statement accompanying a report.
The London-based group urged FIFA president Gianni Infantino “to work with Qatar to establish a comprehensive remediation program.”
It alleged that a “litany of abuses” had taken place since 2010, the year FIFA awarded the 2022 tournament to Qatar “without requiring any improvement in labor protections.”
“Given the history of human rights abuses in the country, FIFA knew — or should have known — the obvious risks to workers when it awarded the tournament to Qatar,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general.
Amnesty said some abuses persist and described $440 million as the “minimum necessary” to cover compensation claims and to ensure remedial initiatives are expanded for the future.
The sum is roughly the total prize money for this year’s World Cup. Amnesty’s call was backed in an open letter to Infantino also signed by nine other organizations, including Migrant Rights and Football Supporters Europe.
When asked for comment, FIFA said it was “assessing the program proposed by Amnesty” for Qatar, highlighting that it “involves a wide range of non-FIFA World Cup-specific public infrastructure built since 2010.”
Qatar’s World Cup organizers said they have “worked tirelessly” with international groups for the rights of workers on stadiums and other tournament projects. Much of the criticism has however been directed at construction outside the official tournament where hundreds of workers are said to have died in the past decade.
“Significant improvements have been made across accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, health care provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers,” said a spokesperson for the organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
“This tournament is, and will continue to be a powerful catalyst for delivering a sustainable human and social legacy ahead of, during, and beyond the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Workers’ claims range from unpaid salaries, “illegal” and “extortionate” recruitment fees averaging $1,300 to secure jobs, and compensation for injuries and deaths.
Amnesty welcomed initiatives by FIFA and Qatar, including improvements made on World Cup construction sites and labor legislation reforms introduced since 2014.
Qatar in 2017 introduced a minimum wage, cut the hours that can be worked in extreme heat, and ended part of a system which forced migrant workers to seek employers’ permission to change jobs or even leave the country.
Workers can go to labor tribunals and more government inspectors have been appointed.
Foreign workers, mainly from South Asia, make up more than two million of Qatar’s 2.8 million population.
But Amnesty said only about 48,000 workers have so far been green-lighted to claw back recruitment fees.
It said the requested $440 million represents only a “small fraction” of the $6 billion in revenues FIFA is expected to make over the next four years, much of it from the World Cup.


Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Updated 18 May 2022

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

  • The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats

RAMALLAH: The Islamic bloc affiliated with Hamas won the student council elections at Birzeit University in the West Bank on Wednesday, defeating their Fatah rivals in the tightly contested vote.

The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats.

Five blocs contested 51 seats, while the voter turnout was 78.1 percent. 

Students witnessed an intense debate between representatives of the rival blocs the previous day, with both parties’ policies and programs coming in for criticism.

The Islamic bloc has led the student council in recent years.

Their Fatah-backed rivals say they are paying the price for the mistakes of the Palestinian Authority in terms of corruption, nepotism and security coordination with Israel, and losing elections frequently.

A day before the vote, seven senior student members of the Islamic bloc were arrested by an Israeli undercover unit, which generated sympathy for the group and translated into votes, experts told Arab News.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, vice president of the university, said that the student council vote is an indicator of Palestinian public opinion and political balances in Palestinian society “because of the credibility, integrity and democracy at the Birzeit elections.”

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a senior Palestinian writer, told Arab News that Birzeit students are not influenced by employment interests or work, so the electoral process takes place “in a democratic atmosphere and with great integrity.”

He added: “If Hamas wins, the street is supportive and biased toward it. If Fatah wins, this means that the street is with it.”

Daraghmeh said that both Fatah and Hamas make great efforts to win the students’ backing.

The election “helps Hamas strengthen its political discourse, and show that Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank supports its path and political line,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fatah “wants to defend the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system in light of its inability to organize Palestinian general elections.”

Birzeit elections are held every two years, with about 15,000 students voting for 51 seats. There was no vote in 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The secretariat of the administrative body of the council consists of 13 members.

Birzeit was established in 1973 as a public university, and is the only West Bank academic institution that allows Hamas to practice its activities and politics without interference from Israel or the PA.

A number of prominent Palestinian leaders have graduated from the university, which offers 36 bachelor’s degree programs and 13 master’s programs, and employs 500 teachers.

Students from the West Bank and a few hundred Palestinians living in Israel study there.

Basem Naim, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, told Arab News that the political group views the student vote as “an essential indicator” because it highlights the direction of future generations.

“The Birzeit University elections constitute an essential platform for Hamas because most Palestinian leaders are university graduates. Therefore, their strength today indicates the type of future leaders of the Palestinian people in all sectors and fields,” he said.


Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

Updated 18 May 2022

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

  • The elections saw gains by anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents
  • The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory”

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged his party and its allies had lost their parliamentary majority in elections but said no single group had taken it, in his first televised speech since Sunday’s elections.
“Unlike the situation in parliament in 2018, no political group can claim a majority,” he said.
Hezbollah and its allies scored 62 seats during Sunday polls, according to a Reuters tally, losing a majority they secured in 2018, when they and their allies won 71 seats.
Hezbollah and its ally Amal held on to all of parliament’s Shiite seats. But some of its oldest allies, including Sunni, Druze and Christian politicians, lost theirs.
The elections saw gains by the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents.
The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory.”
Nasrallah called for “cooperation” between political groups including newcomers, saying the alternative would be “chaos and vacuum.”
The results have left parliament split into several camps, none of which have a majority, raising the prospect of political paralysis and tensions that could delay badly needed reforms to steer Lebanon out of its economic collapse.


Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

Updated 18 May 2022

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

  • The defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide
  • A court-ordered psychological assessment found him "responsible for his actions"

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced to death a man accused of the murder last month of a Coptic priest in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, judicial sources said.
The Alexandria court’s ruling is subject to approval by the mufti of the republic.
The sources said the defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide after a court-ordered psychological assessment found him “responsible for his actions.”
Father Arsanios Wadid died of his wounds in hospital after being stabbed on April 7 on Alexandria’s seafront promenade as he accompanied a group of young parishioners.
The assailant was grabbed by passers-by and handed over to police, who detained him in a psychiatric hospital because of doubts over his mental health.
Coptic Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, make up roughly 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of more than 100 million.
The community has long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation.
In February, however, Egypt for the first time swore in a Coptic judge to head its constitutional court.
Copts were targeted in a series of sectarian attacks after the military in 2013 deposed Islamist president Muhammad Mursi. Such attacks focused largely on remote villages in southern Egypt.