UN nuclear watchdog slams Iran over ‘hidden’ uranium 

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Diplomats attend the quarterly IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 06, 2022. (Joe Klamar / AFP)
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IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi, left, and China's Ambassador to the UN, Wang Qun, attending the UN agency's meeting on June 06, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
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Iranian Charge d'Affaires to UN Mohammad Reza Ghaebi attending the IAEA governor's meeting on June 6, 2022. (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)
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Russian Ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov at the meeting. (AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2022

UN nuclear watchdog slams Iran over ‘hidden’ uranium 

  • 30 members of the 35-nation board of governors voted for the resolution formally criticizing Tehran
  • Only China and Russia opposed the resolution, while three other members abstained

VIENNA/JEDDAH: In a stinging rebuke, the UN atomic watchdog on Wednesday adopted a resolution formally criticizing Tehran for its failure to cooperate with inspectors monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.

The critical resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency governors’ meeting in Vienna threatened to raise tension over Iran’s nuclear threat to the boiling point. It rebuked Iran for failing to provide “credible information” about unexplained fissile uranium particles discovered at three undeclared nuclear development sites.

US Ambassador Laura Holgate urged Tehran to cooperate with UN inspectors and said the aim of the censure motion was to hold Iran accountable. “Restricting IAEA acess and attempts to paint the IAEA as politicized for simply doing its job will serve no purpose,” she said.

Laura Holgate, US Ambassador to the UN's Vienna office and to the IAEA, attends IAEA Board of Governors meeting on June 06, 2022. (AFP)

Only two countries on the agency’s 35-nation board of governors, Russia and China, opposed Wednesday’s resolution; 30 voted in favor and three abstained. The motion brought by the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

The text says the board “expresses profound concern” that the uranium traces remain unexplained due to insufficient cooperation by Iran, and calls on Tehran to engage with the watchdog “without delay.”

Before the resolution was passed, Iran said it had turned off two cameras monitoring its nuclear program. Tehran deactivated two of the IAEA’s online monitors that observe the enrichment of uranium gas through piping at enrichment facilities. The move makes it even more difficult for inspectors to monitor Tehran’s nuclear program. Experts have warned that Iran now has enough uranium enriched close to weapons-grade levels to pursue an atomic bomb if it chooses to do so.

Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. Iran now has enough uranium enriched close to weapons-grade levels to pursue an atomic bomb if it chooses to do so, say monitors. (AFP file photo)

Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn that Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous.

Talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions, have been stalled since March.

France, Germany and the UK warned that the latest moves by Tehran were “further reducing the time Iran would take to break out towards a first nuclear weapon, and fueling distrust as to Iran’s intentions.”

They said: “The IAEA has been without crucial access to data on centrifuge and component manufacturing for a year and half now. This means that neither the agency, nor the international community, know how many centrifuges Iran has in its inventory, how many were built, and where they may be located.”

The countries urged Iran “to stop escalating its nuclear program and to urgently conclude the deal that is on the table.”

Israel hailed the resolution chiding Iran. 

“This is a significant resolution that exposes Iran’s true face,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement, adding that IAEA members had “worked together with the aim of arresting and preventing Iran’s attainment of nuclear weaponry.”

“If Iran continues with its activities, major countries should bring the Iranian issue back to the Security Council,” he added.

(With Agencies)

Israel: 2 soldiers wounded in West Bank drive-by shooting

Updated 26 March 2023

Israel: 2 soldiers wounded in West Bank drive-by shooting

  • The attack was the third to take place in the Palestinian town of Huwara in less than a month
  • One soldier was seriously wounded and the second was in moderate condition

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said two soldiers were wounded, one severely, Saturday evening in a drive-by shooting in the occupied West Bank, the latest in months-long violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
The attack was the third to take place in the Palestinian town of Hawara in less than a month. One soldier was seriously wounded and the second was in moderate condition, the military said. A manhunt was launched as forces sealed roads leading to Hawara.
No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the shooting attack, but Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, praised it.
“The resistance in the West Bank can surprise the occupation every time and the occupation cannot enjoy safety,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said.
Violence has surged in recent months in the West Bank and east Jerusalem amid near-daily Israeli arrest raids in Palestinian-controlled areas and a string of Palestinian attacks.
US-backed regional efforts to defuse tensions have led to the meeting of Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jordan and Egypt respectively, where parties hoped to prevent a further escalation during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
On Feb. 27, when Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Jordan’s Aqaba, a Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israelis in Hawara. Another shooting attack in Hawara took place as the parties met again in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, wounding two Israelis.
Eighty-six Palestinians have been killed by Israeli or settler fire this year, according to an Associated Press tally. Palestinian attacks have killed 15 Israelis in the same period.
Israel says most of those killed have been militants. But stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and people not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.
Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their future independent state.

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Iraq halts northern crude exports after winning arbitration case against Turkiye

Updated 25 March 2023

Iraq halts northern crude exports after winning arbitration case against Turkiye

  • The decision to stop shipments of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude relates to a case from 2014
  • Baghdad deems KRG exports via Turkish Ceyhan port as illegal

BAGHDAD: Iraq halted crude exports from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and northern Kirkuk fields on Saturday, an oil official told Reuters, after the country won a longstanding arbitration case against Turkiye.
The decision to stop shipments of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude relates to a case from 2014, when Baghdad claimed that Turkiye violated a joint agreement by allowing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to export oil through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
Baghdad deems KRG exports via Turkish Ceyhan port as illegal.
“Iraq was officially informed by the International Court of Arbitration [about the] final ruling on Thursday and it was in favor of Iraq,” a senior oil ministry official said.
Turkiye informed Iraq that it will respect the arbitration ruling, a source said.
Turkish shipping officials told Iraqi employees at Turkiye’s Ceyhan oil export hub that no ship will be allowed to load Kurdish crude without the approval of the Iraqi government, according to a document seen by Reuters.
Turkiye subsequently halted the pumping of Iraqi crude from the pipeline that leads to Ceyhan, a separate document seen by Reuters showed.
On Saturday, Iraq stopped pumping oil through its side of the pipeline which runs from its northern Kirkuk oil fields, one of the officials told Reuters.
Iraq had been pumping 370,000 bpd of KRG crude and 75,000 bpd of federal crude through the pipeline before it was halted, according to a source familiar with pipeline operations.
“A delegation from the oil ministry will travel to Turkiye soon to meet energy officials to agree on new mechanism to export Iraq’s northern crude oil in line with the arbitration ruling,” a second oil ministry official said.

The final hearing on the arbitration case was held in Paris in July 2022, but it took months for the arbitrators, the secretariat of the arbitration court and the International Chamber of Commerce to approve the verdict, a source familiar with the process told Reuters.
The impact on the KRG’s oil production depends heavily on the duration of the Iraqi Turkish Pipeline (ITP) closure, sources said, adding this would cause significant uncertainty to oil firms operating in the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KRI).
A cessation of exports through the pipeline would trigger a collapse of the KRI economy, according to a letter last year to US representatives from Dallas-based HKN Energy, which operates in the region.
Turkiye would need to source more crude from Iran and Russia to make up for the loss of northern Iraqi oil, the letter said.
Analysts have warned that companies could withdraw from the region unless the environment improved.
Foreign oil firms, including HKN Energy and Gulf Keystone, have linked their investment plans this year to the reliability of KRG payments, which face months of delays.


Death toll in US strikes on pro-Iran targets in Syria rises to 19 -war monitor

Updated 26 March 2023

Death toll in US strikes on pro-Iran targets in Syria rises to 19 -war monitor

  • US carried out strikes in eastern Syria in response to a drone attack on Thursday that left one American contractor dead

Beirut: The death toll in US air strikes on pro-Iran installations in eastern Syria has risen to 19 fighters, a Syrian war monitor said on Saturday, in one of the deadliest exchanges between the US and Iran-aligned forces in years.
The US carried out strikes in eastern Syria in response to a drone attack on Thursday that left one American contractor dead, and another one wounded along with five US troops. Washington said the attack was of Iranian origin.
The retaliatory strikes by the US on what it said were facilities in Syria used by groups affiliated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps left a total of 19 dead, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The war monitor said air raids killed three Syrian troops, 11 Syrian fighters in pro-government militias and five non-Syrian fighters who were aligned with the government.
The monitor’s head Rami Abdel Rahman could not specify the nationalities of the foreigners. Reuters was unable to independently confirm the toll.
The initial exchange prompted a string of tit-for-tat strikes. Another US service member was wounded, according to officials, and local sources said suspected US rocket fire hit more locations in eastern Syria.
President Joe Biden on Friday warned Iran that the United States would “act forcefully” to protect Americans.
Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar Assad during Syria’s 12-year conflict.
Iran’s proxy militias, including Lebanese group Hezbollah and pro-Tehran Iraqi groups, hold sway in swathes of eastern, southern and northern Syria and in suburbs around the capital.
Tehran’s growing entrenchment in Syria has drawn regular Israeli air strikes but American aerial raids are more rare. The US has been raising the alarm about Iran’s drone program.

Anatomy of a disaster
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African migrants stuck in Tunisia say racism persists after crackdown

Updated 24 March 2023

African migrants stuck in Tunisia say racism persists after crackdown

  • ‘We need evacuation, Tunisia is not safe, there’s no future here when you have this color, it is a crime to have this color’

BEIRUT: Weeks after a violent crackdown on migrants in Tunisia that triggered a perilous rush to leave by smuggler boats for Italy, many African nationals are still homeless and jobless and some say they still face racist attacks.

Outside the UN refugee agency in Tunis, dozens of African migrants stood protesting this week by the temporary camp where they have lived, including with children, since authorities urged landlords to force them from their homes.

“We need evacuation. Tunisia is not safe. No one has a future here when you have this color. It is a crime to have this color,” said Josephus Thomas, pointing to the skin on his forearm.

In announcing the crackdown on Feb. 21, President Kais Saied said illegal immigration was a criminal conspiracy to change Tunisia’s demography, language the African Union described as “racialized hate speech.”

US Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf said Saied’s comments had unleashed “attacks and a tidal wave of racist rhetoric,” with rights groups saying hundreds of migrants reported being attacked or insulted.

Saied and Tunisia’s foreign minister have rejected accusations that he or the government are racist and they announced steps to ease visa regulations for Africans and reminded police of anti-racism laws.

While the official crackdown appeared to end weeks ago, migrants say they still face abuse.

“People told me ‘since you are in our country after the president’s speech, don’t you have any dignity?’ I kept silent and they told me I am dirt,” said Awadhya Hasan Amine, a Sudanese refugee outside the UNHCR headquarters in Tunis.

Amine has lived in Tunis for five years after fleeing Sudan and then Libya with her husband. Now 30, she has been living on the street outside the UNHCR headquarters since local people pelted her house in the capital’s Rouad district with rocks.

“We want to live in a place of safety, stability and peace. We don’t want problems in Tunisia,” she said.

Although some West African countries evacuated hundreds of their citizens earlier this month, many remain stuck in Tunisia, unable to support themselves let alone afford passage home or pay smugglers hundreds of dollars to ferry them to Europe.

“Tunisia is an African country. Why do they do racist things to us?” said Moumin Sou, from Mali, who was sacked from his job working behind a bar after the president’s speech and was beaten up the next day by a man in the street who stole his money.

Sou wants to return home, he said, but many others are determined to travel on to Europe.

In the wake of the crackdown, in which police detained hundreds of undocumented migrants and authorities urged employers to lay them off and landlords to evict them, smuggler crossings to Italy have surged.

Tunisian National Guard official Houssem Jbeli said on Wednesday alone the coast guard had stopped 30 boats carrying more than 2,000 people. On the same day and the following day four boats sank, with five people drowned, authorities said.

540,000 children in Yemen ‘starving’: UNICEF

Updated 24 March 2023

540,000 children in Yemen ‘starving’: UNICEF

  • The agency pleads for more aid as a child dies every 10 minutes

JEDDAH: More than 540,000 children under the age of 5 in Yemen are suffering life-threatening severe acute malnutrition and a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, the UN said on Friday.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF warned that it could be forced to slash support for children in Yemen without a funding boost.

A total of 11 million children are in need of humanitarian assistance, UNICEF says.
It said it required $484 million to continue assistance this year, but the UN raised only $1.2 billion for all its agencies in Yemen at a pledging conference in Switzerland last month, well short of the $4.3 billion target.
“The funding gap UNICEF continued to face through 2022 and since the beginning of 2023 is putting the required humanitarian response for children in Yemen at risk,” the organization said said.
“If funding is not received, UNICEF might be forced to scale down its vital assistance for vulnerable children.”

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized the capital, Sanaa, in a coup. An Arab coalition intervened the following year to support the legitimate government, and launched their first assaults against Houthi positions on March 26, 2015.
A truce expired last year, but fighting has remained largely on hold.
More than 11,000 children are known to have been killed or maimed since the conflict escalated in 2015.
Fighting in Yemen has triggered what the UN describes as one of the world's worst humanitarian tragedies. Itsays more than 21.7 million people, two-thirds of Yemen's population, will need humanitarian assistance this year.