Israel keeps tight curbs on Al-Aqsa Mosque, only 5,000 pray

Israeli border police watch as Muslim worshippers arrive at the Lion's Gate to make their way to the the Al-Aqsa Mosque. (AFP)
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Updated 27 October 2023
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Israel keeps tight curbs on Al-Aqsa Mosque, only 5,000 pray

JERUSALEM: Israeli security forces stopped young Palestinians from reaching Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, requiring them to say prayers outside Jerusalem’s Old City, before letting several thousand elder worshippers enter under continued tight curbs.
The authority in charge, the Jerusalem Islamic Endowments Department, said 5,000 worshippers performed Friday prayers at the holy site. That compares to about 50,000 on average prior to the conflict.
Large numbers of Israeli police kept guard around Al-Aqsa on a hill known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif or The Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Har ha-Bayit or Temple Mount.
Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the streets of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, where some expressed support for Hamas.
The crowd chanted slogans including: “liberate Gaza” and “the people want the Al-Qassam Brigades” in reference to Hamas’s armed wing. Others waved Hamas flags along with banners representing a range of Palestinian movements.
Fakhi Barghouti, 80, said Palestinians in the West Bank “need to do more about the war in Gaza.”
Several people refused to answer AFP’s questions, believing that Western and particularly French media coverage of the war was “biased.”
The demonstration came just hours after Israeli forces killed at least four Palestinians during a dawn raid in the north of the occupied West Bank, with Hamas members among the dead. Over 100 people have been killed and more than 1,900 injured in the West Bank during the current conflict.


Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

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Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

“An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said
The Britain-based monitor said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside...”

BEIRUT: An Iraqi fighter from an Iran-backed group was killed in an overnight airstrike in eastern Syria near the Iraq border overnight, the group and a war monitor said on Saturday.
The strike occurred in Deir Ezzor province, where Iran wields significant influence and which is regularly targeted by Israel and the United States, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said, referring to a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups.
The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside... a few kilometers away from Syrian-Iraqi borders.”
Iraq’s Sayyed Al-Shuhada Brigades announced the death of a fighter in a strike on “Friday which targeted his vehicle during a reconnaissance patrol on the Iraqi-Syrian border,” accusing the United States of being behind the attack.
Responsibility for the strike was not immediately claimed, but a spokesperson for the US-led military coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Daesh group told AFP that “neither the coalition nor US forces carried out overnight strikes in Deir Ezzor.”
The Observatory said that several hours before the strike, drones flew over the area.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes primarily targeting pro-Iran groups — which it rarely comments on publically.
In late March, 16 Tehran-affiliated fighters, including an Iranian military adviser, were killed in strikes on eastern Syria.
The strikes also killed one civilian working for the World Health Organization.
Iran has long been a key ally of the Syrian government, most notably providing military advisers.

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Updated 22 June 2024
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Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

  • Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence against popular rapper Toomaj Salehi who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, his lawyer said Saturday.
“Salehi’s death sentence was overturned,” the rapper’s lawyer Amir Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.


Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

Updated 22 June 2024
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Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

  • The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of Amman, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated

AMMAN: Police in Jordan said on Saturday they had uncovered and detonated explosives stored in a residential area of the capital and were investigating the incident.
The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of the capital, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated, according to a brief statement by public security directorate. Witnesses said the area was sealed by police.
The statement did not say if police suspected it was terrorism related or if arrests were made, or detail the quantity of explosives. It added more details would be published once the investigation was complete.
Over the past year, Jordan has said it has foiled many attempts to smuggle weapons by infiltrators linked to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, who it says have crossed its borders with rocket launchers and explosives, adding that some of the weapons managed to get through undetected.
Iran has denied being behind such attempts.
Most of the clandestine flow of arms into the country has been bound for the neighboring Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordanian officials say.
There have also been arrests of several Jordanians linked to the Palestinian militant group Hamas suspected of involvement in smuggling arms to the West Bank, they add.


Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

Updated 22 June 2024
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Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

  • The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said on Saturday that an Israeli civilian died after being shot near the occupied West Bank city of Qalqilya and that troops had launched an operation in the area.
The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details.
“IDF troops are currently operating in the area of Qalqilya after an Israeli civilian was pronounced dead, shortly after being found shot in the area,” the military said in a statement.
Israeli media reported that the dead man, who was in his 60s, was a Jewish Israeli citizen.
In recent days, there have been several violent incidents in Qalqilya and its vicinity.
On Friday, Israeli and Palestinian authorities said at least two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli operation in the city.
Israeli authorities said the two were militants from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.
Violence in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, has been on the rise for more than a year, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.


Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Updated 22 June 2024
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Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

  • Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates, five conservatives and a relative reformist
  • Election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions, compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.

Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”