UN nuclear head says Iran pledges more access for inspectors

A handout picture provided by Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation shows Head of Iran Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami (R) meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi (L) at the Mehr Abad airport in Tehran. (AFP PHOTO / Atomic Energy OrganiZation of Iran)
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Updated 04 March 2023

UN nuclear head says Iran pledges more access for inspectors

  • Rafael Mariano Grossi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials in Tehran
  • Iran is supposed to provide access to information, locations and people, Grossi said

VIENNA: The head of the UN’s nuclear agency said Saturday that Iran pledged to restore cameras and other monitoring equipment at its nuclear sites and to allow more inspections at a facility where particles of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade were recently detected.
But a joint statement issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran’s nuclear body only gave vague assurances that Tehran would address longstanding complaints about the access it gives the watchdog’s inspectors to its disputed nuclear program.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials in Tehran earlier Saturday.
On his return to Vienna, Grossi recalled there had been “a reduction in monitoring activities related to cameras and monitoring systems” and said “we have agreed that those will be operating again.”
“This is very, very important” in terms of continuity of knowledge, “in particular in the context of the possibility of the revival of JCPOA,” he said, referring to the deal’s formal name, the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
He did not provide details about which equipment would be restored or how soon it would happen, but appeared to be referring to Iran’s removal of surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites in June 2022, during an earlier standoff with the IAEA.
“We have put a tourniquet on the bleeding of information and lack of continuity of knowledge we had — now we can start working again. These are not words, this is very concrete,” he said.
His first visit to Iran in a year came days after the IAEA reported that uranium particles enriched up to 83.7 percent — just short of weapons-grade — were found in Iran’s underground Fordo nuclear site.
The confidential quarterly report by the nuclear watchdog, which was distributed to member nations Tuesday, came as tensions were already high amid months of anti-government protests in Iran and Western anger at its export of attack drones to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
The IAEA report said inspectors in January found that two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at Fordo were configured in a way “substantially different” to what Iran had previously declared. That raised concerns that Iran was speeding up its enrichment.
Grossi said the Iranians had agreed to boost inspections at the facility by 50 percent. He also confirmed the agency’s findings that there has not been any “production or accumulation” of uranium at the higher enrichment level, “which is a very high level.”
Iran has sought to portray any highly enriched uranium particles as a minor byproduct of enriching uranium to 60 percent purity, which it has been doing openly for some time.
The chief of Iran’s nuclear program, Mohammad Eslami, acknowledged the findings of the IAEA report at a news conference with Grossi in Tehran but said their “ambiguity” had been resolved.
Nonproliferation experts say Tehran has no civilian use for uranium enriched to even 60 percent. A stockpile of material enriched to 90 percent, the level needed for weapons, could quickly be used to produce an atomic bomb, if Iran chooses.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile and capped enrichment at 3.67 percent — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. It also barred nuclear enrichment at Fordo, which was built deep inside a mountain in order to withstand aerial attacks.
The US unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, reimposing crushing sanctions on Iran, which then began openly breaching the deal’s restrictions. Efforts by the Biden administration, European countries and Iran to negotiate a return to the deal reached an impasse last summer.
The joint statement issued Saturday said Iran “expressed its readiness to continue its cooperation and provide further information and access to address the outstanding safeguards issues.”
That was a reference to a separate set of issues from the highly enriched particles.
Over the past four years, the IAEA has accused Iran of stonewalling its investigation into traces of processed uranium found at three undeclared sites in the country. The agency’s 35-member board of governors censured Iran twice last year for failing to fully cooperate.
The board could do so again when it meets on Monday, depending in part on how Western officials perceive the results of Grossi’s visit.
Western officials have suggested the so-called safeguards probe of the three sites could confirm longstanding suspicions that Iran had a nuclear weapons program up until 2003. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and continues to insist that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes.
The dispute over the safeguards probe was the main obstacle in negotiations last year to restore the nuclear agreement.
“The process has been long. I have not hidden that for us, it has been too long,” Grossi said, referring to the safeguards issue. But he said there was a “marked improvement” in his dialogue with Iranian officials.
“I was heard,” he said. “I hope we will be seeing results soon. We will see.”
(With AP and AFP)

Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

Updated 17 sec ago

Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it had nothing to do with the Israeli air strikes on Yemen's city of Hodeidah and that it will not allow anyone to use the Kingdom's airspace for offensive purposes.

“The Kingdom has no relation or involvement in the targeting of Hodeidah, and the Kingdom will not allow any entity to violate its airspace,” Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Defense, said in a statement on the X social media app.

Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city on Saturday in an apparent reprisal for the Houthi drone strike on a Tel Aviv apartment building that killed a civilian in a Tel Aviv apartment building before dawn Friday.

Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the airstrike was meant to send a message to the Houthis that their attacks would not be left unanswered.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls a large part of Yemen, had been attacking commercial vessels passing through the Red Sea and the Bab-Al-Mandab straight in a sympathy action for the Palestinians in Gaza amid Israeli aattacks.

The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV had acknowledged that the Israeli strikes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing and injuring several people.

Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

Updated 21 July 2024

Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

  • Gallant: The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday that Israel struck the Houthis in Yemen in order to send a message after they harmed an Israeli citizen.
“The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear,” Gallant said in a statement. “The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”
On Friday, a long-range Iranian-made drone hit the center of Tel Aviv in an attack claimed by the Houthi militia and which killed one man and wounded four others.

Israeli military: No security incident in city of Eilat

An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Israel's southern port city of Eliat on December 26, 2023.
Updated 21 July 2024

Israeli military: No security incident in city of Eilat

JERUSALEM: Israel’s military said on Saturday there was no indication of a security incident in the Red Sea port city of Eilat after reports of explosions were heard there.
“A short while ago, reports were received regarding explosions heard in the area of Eilat. It was found that no projectiles were fired toward the area of the city and no interceptor was launched. There is no indication of a security incident,” the military said. 


What is driving the rise in marriages between Syrian women and local men in neighboring countries?

Updated 21 July 2024

What is driving the rise in marriages between Syrian women and local men in neighboring countries?

  • More than a decade of war, displacement, hardship and uncertainty has chipped away at Syrian women’s sense of security
  • Many of these women agree to marry locals to avoid the harsh reality of being a single woman alone in a war-devastated country

LONDON: Informal advertisements for “affordable Syrian brides” have been circulating on Iraqi social media platforms in recent months, several of them perpetuating tropes about Syrian women with lines like: “Marry a Syrian woman for $100 and enjoy delectable dishes and an endearing dialect.”

The controversial posts, which have drawn local media attention, are captioned as though they are advertising chattel. One reads: “You can hear to’borni (a Syrian term of endearment) at home for as little as 500,000 dinars” — the equivalent of $380.

Men promoting the trend lament the exorbitant mahrs requested by Iraqi women, often ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, locals told Arab News. On top of this, they say, prospective Iraqi brides will also often request property, expensive jewelry and cars.

Mahr is a mandatory gift from a groom to his bride in Muslim societies as a form of security and respect, often with legal significance in marriage contracts.

Grooms and Syrian Kurdish brides during a mass wedding ceremony organized by the Barzani Charity Foundation in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. File photo for illustrative purpose only. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The sheer volume of online posts, especially on the video platform TikTok, suggests the trend is genuine. Commentators have expressed outrage at the posts, finding the rhetoric demeaning to both Syrian and Iraqi women.

More than a decade of violence, displacement, economic hardship and uncertainty has already chipped away at Syrian women’s dignity. Now, in neighboring countries where they have sought safety and economic security, they endure a form of commodification.

Many Syrian women, finding themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families, have sought employment in neighboring states, including Iraq, as the economic situation worsens in their home country.

Faced with the harsh reality of being a single woman alone in a conservative society and in countries where the law offers limited protection, some have agreed to marry locals for meager mahrs, if any at all.

Sattam Jadaan Al-Dandah, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, revealed in January that in 2023 alone, some 5,000 marriages between Syrian women and Iraqi men had been documented.

Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Sattam Jadaan Al-Dandah, has confirmed the trend about Syrian refugee women being married to Iraqis. (Supplied)

According to the UN Development Programme’s Gender Inequality Index for 2024, Iraq is the fifth worst country in the world for women and girls despite many recent efforts to address gender inequality.

“Syrian women in countries like Iraq, where the law does not provide adequate protection, often find themselves exposed to harassment, exploitation and even trafficking,” Mouna Khaity, a UK-based Syrian feminist and researcher, told Arab News.

“The main reasons Syrian women are agreeing to such arrangements — many even seeking them — in almost all neighboring host countries are the need for protection and the desire to escape a deteriorating economic situation.”

Thirteen years of conflict and economic sanctions have plunged 90 percent of Syria’s population below the poverty line, creating a new social norm where families struggle to survive without women’s labor.

Many Syrian women have found themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families after years of war in their country. (AFP)

“Under relatively normal circumstances women and girls’ communities and families would provide a level of protection, even though this sometimes entails unwanted intervention or even control,” said Khaity.

The erosion of this protection due to displacement has left Syrian women and girls more vulnerable.

About 5.4 million Syrians live in five countries across the region — Turkiye, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt — with more than 70 percent of them being women, according to UN figures.

After 13 years of civil conflict, lack of international funding has severely undercut the provision of basic services such as water, waste disposal and sanitation in displacement camps in northwest Syria, according to the United Nations. (AFP)

“Women in need of protection will accept a lower mahr compared to women who live within the protection of their families in their home countries,” said Khaity.

However, a woman’s decision to pursue marriage for economic reasons “is often not a personal choice but a collective family decision, with women — even girls — being persuaded this is an opportunity for a better life.

“This is often seen in displacement camps, where women don’t even have the option to choose, and marriage to a local can be perceived as a convenient way to transform from a charity recipient to a dignified and protected woman.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council in 2016 reported an alarming increase in occurence of child marriages within Syrian refugee communities, with girls as young as 13 being married off.

The increasing occurrence of child marriages within Syrian refugee communities has alarmed child protection advocates. Photo for illustration purposes only. (Getty Images)

A 2023 report by American Near East Refugee Aid, an NGO that addresses the needs of refugees and vulnerable communities in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, found that 41 percent of Syrian refugee women aged 20 to 24 in Lebanon were married before turning 18.

Stressing that the situation has been created by “layers of discrimination and injustices,” Khaity said the blame for such marriages should not be placed solely on individuals or families, but on “entire systems” that have normalized the exploitation of Syrian women through a lack of accountability.

“Neighboring countries have not been seeking to integrate Syrian refugees, who are being excluded by local communities and exploited by politicians for economic benefits,” she said.

Deeply rooted gender-related economic inequalities have long disadvantaged women, and the war has only widened this gap, despite increasing the proportion of women who earn an income.

Many Syrian women have found themselves as the sole breadwinners for their families after years of war in their country. (AFP)

“Middle Eastern societies have historically accumulated wealth in men’s hands, forcing women to be largely dependent on men,” said Khaity, adding that this has been achieved through “political systems, social norms and religious institutions.”

“Obedience to husbands has often been linked to men’s financial superiority and dominance, and consequently women’s reliance on them. There are financial resources that women cannot access.”

She added: “The war has deepened inequities, impoverished the majority of the population, heightened women’s vulnerability and displaced millions — all of which has devastated Syrian society.

“Therefore, many Syrian women have sought marriages with locals in host countries as a means to protect themselves, and often their families too, from all kinds of indignities — particularly in societies that have shown them hostility.”

The erosion of this protection due to displacement has left Syrian women and girls more vulnerable. (AFP)

Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, which forced millions to flee abroad, Syrians in Lebanon, Turkiye and Jordan have repeatedly encountered waves of violence and threats of deportation.

Douna Haj Ahmed, a UK-based Syrian human rights activist, believes this new status quo “has created a form of modern slavery where Syrian women are commodified and traded under the guise of marriage.”

She told Arab News that the marriage arrangements promoted on Iraqi social media “reduce women to mere objects for sale,” calling the phenomenon “a stark reminder of how conflict and poverty can lead to the resurgence of exploitative systems akin to slavery.”

She added: “Such exploitation is not only unethical but also profoundly inhumane. Marriage should be grounded in mutual respect and genuine affection, not in exploiting the more vulnerable party’s needs.”

Thirteen years of conflict and displacement have placed Syrian women in “a class of their own,” said Khaity. “There is tolerance for the dehumanization of Syrian women, who are now perceived as having fewer rights.”

Grooms and Syrian Kurdish brides during a mass wedding ceremony organized by the Barzani Charity Foundation in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan. File photo for illustrative purpose only. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Both activists also believe Syrian women have been commodified by deceptive TV dramas. Iraqi TikTok posts promoting marriage to Syrian women even feature clips from controversial Syrian programs portraying Damascene women as part of an obedient, attentive harem.

Khaity says the drama genre known in Syria as “Al-Bi’a Al-Shamiyeh” — or Damascene culture — has propagated an “untrue, historically inaccurate, and unfair image of Syrian women and their role in society.”

Since the 1990s, numerous Syrian dramas have portrayed Damascene women as ravishing beauties with an innate talent for cooking, household management and seduction. They scurry to attend to their husbands’ needs, rub their feet, shower them with affection, and even hand feed them.

Syrian women had been portrayed in a popular drama series as the obedient servants to their husband, doing only domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning by day, and providing pleasuring by night. (AFP/File)

The popularity of Syrian drama series across the Arabic-speaking world has played a significant role in creating and reinforcing such harmful stereotypes.

“For decades, Syrian drama has perpetuated an image of the Syrian woman as the obedient servant to her husband, whose life revolves around meeting his needs through cooking and cleaning by day, and pampering and pleasuring by night,” said Haj Ahmed.

“This negative portrayal has reinforced outdated and misleading ideas about women’s roles in Syrian society.”

Syria's long-running war has rendered hundreds of thousands of women and children vulnerable to abuses. (AFP/File)

Haj Ahmed said that amid harsh economic circumstances, “many young men in Arab countries have seen the war in Syria as an opportunity to fulfill unhealthy desires for marriage.

“They have exploited the vulnerability of Syrian girls caused by war and poverty, forcing some Syrian families to make harsh compromises and accept any suitor for their daughters in a desperate bid to alleviate the family’s financial burden.”

She added that the social media trend promoting Syrian brides for $100 “goes beyond discrimination and hate speech” to “reflect the patriarchal mentality that objectifies women, particularly in times of war and disaster.

“This narrative confirms that women are among the first to suffer in such situations. What Syrian women are experiencing is a recurring scenario for women in all conflict zones.”


Lebanon state media says civilians injured in Israeli strike

Updated 20 July 2024

Lebanon state media says civilians injured in Israeli strike

  • Hezbollah has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas

BEIRUT: An Israeli air strike in Lebanon about 30 kilometers from the border injured civilians on Saturday, Lebanese state media said, after Hezbollah and its Palestinian ally Hamas fired rockets and explosive-laden drones at Israeli positions.
Hezbollah has traded near-daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces in support of Hamas since the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel triggered war in the Gaza Strip.
“The Israeli enemy launched a raid on the town of Adloun” in south Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency said, adding that “a number of civilians have been injured” and traffic on the highway interrupted in both directions.
Videos circulating online showed several big explosions in the coastal town.
“Shrapnel from the explosions flew to surrounding villages,” the NNA said.
Earlier Saturday, NNA said Syrian nationals, including children, had been injured after an “enemy drone targeted an empty four-wheel drive” near their tent, close to the border.
Doctor Mouenes Kalakesh, who heads the Marjayoun government hospital, said a woman and her three children, two of them minors, had been admitted for shrapnel injuries after the strike outside Burj Al-Muluk.
Among them was an 11-year-old boy in critical condition after he sustained shrapnel injuries and a head wound, Kalakesh told AFP.
Hezbollah said it launched “dozens of Katyusha rockets” on Dafna, an area in Israel’s north that the group said it was targeting for the first time, “in response to the attack on civilians.”
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said they also fired a rocket salvo from south Lebanon toward an Israeli military position in the Upper Galilee “in response to the Zionist massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip.”
Later on Saturday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah said it also had launched “explosive-laden drones” targeting “artillery and missile positions” and Israeli troops at a site in the Golan Heights as well as Iron Dome platforms.
Before the drone attack, the Israeli army said a total of 45 “projectiles” had been fired from Lebanon Saturday afternoon, toward the occupied Golan Heights and the Galilee, reporting no casualties.
The army said it struck “the launcher in southern Lebanon from which the projectiles were launched toward the Golan Heights,” also targeting “an additional Hezbollah launcher.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah had warned that his Iran-backed group would hit new targets in Israel if more civilians were killed in Israeli strikes.
Israeli strikes on Thursday killed at least five people in Lebanon, including the commander of a Hamas-allied group, a security source and militant groups said.
The violence since October has killed at least 515 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead have been fighters, but they have included at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.