Iran declares five days of mourning after President Raisi’s death

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Rescue team members work at the crash site of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan, northwestern Iran on May 20, 2024. (MOJ News Agency/AFP)
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Rescue team members carry the body of a victim at the crash site of a helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan, northwestern Iran on May 20, 2024. (MOJ News Agency/AFP)
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Rescue vehicles drive on foggy weather following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan, northwestern Iran on May 19, 2024. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)
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The helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at the Iranian border with Azerbaijan after the inauguration of the dam of Qiz Qalasi, in Aras. (AFP)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Iran declares five days of mourning after President Raisi’s death

  • Iran’s supreme leader appoints First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber acting president

DUBAI/TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced on Monday five days of mourning for President Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash.

“I announce five days of public mourning and offer my condolences to the dear people of Iran,” said Khamenei in an official statement a day after the death of Raisi and other officials in the crash in East Azerbaijan province.

Khamenei has appointed First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber acting president and has a maximum period of 50 days to hold elections following the death of Raisi, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported. 

Raisi, the country’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and others have been found dead at the site of a helicopter crash Monday after an hourslong search through a foggy, mountainous region of the country’s northwest, state media reported. Raisi was 63.

The government cabinet has appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani as acting foreign minister.

Lebanon and Syria on Monday announced three days of national mourning for the Iranian president and foreign minister, who were killed in a helicopter crash overnight near the Azerbaijan border.

Iran enjoys sway in both countries, backing the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah in Lebanon and supporting Syria’s government and security forces stay in power throughout more than a decade of war.

“I can’t tell you how sorry I am about this incident that happened. Especially that the foreign minister had become a friend,” Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told reporters on Monday.




Rescue team works following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, on May 19, 2024. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

The helicopter also carried the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, other officials and bodyguards, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be wreckage of helicopter.” The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.




In this photo released by the Iranian Presidency Office, President Ebrahim Raisi, right, shakes hands with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev during their meeting in the inauguration ceremony of dam of Qiz Qalasi, or Castel of Girl in Azeri, at the border of Iran and Azerbaijan, on May 19, 2024. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Footage released by the IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.”

Condolences started pouring in from neighbors and allies after Iran confirmed there were no survivors from the crash. Pakistan announced a day of mourning and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a post on X that his country “stands with Iran in this time of sorrow.” Leaders of Egypt and Jordan also offered condolences, as did Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said he and his government were “deeply shocked” — Raisi was returning on Sunday after traveling to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam with Aliyev when the crash happened.




In this photo posted on social media by the Iran News Agency, a group of people from Hamadan, western Iran are seen praying for the health of President Raisi and his accompanying delegation. (X: @IrnaEnglish)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conveyed his condolences. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement released by the Kremlin, described Raisi “as a true friend of Russia.”

Khamenei, who had himself urged the public to pray Sunday night, stressed the business of Iran’s government would continue no matter what.


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Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters


Under the Iranian constitution, Iran’s vice first president takes over if the president dies, with Khamenei’s assent, and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days.

First Vice President Mokhber already had begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported. An emergency meeting of Iran’s Cabinet was held as state media made the announcement Monday morning. The Cabinet issued a statement afterward pledging it would follow Raisi’s path and that “with the help of God and the people, there will be no problem with management of the country.”




A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on May 19, 2024, shows him speaking during meeting of members of the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran. (AFP)

A hard-liner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, Raisi was viewed as a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts had suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.

With Raisi’s death, the only other person so far suggested has been Mojtaba Khameini, the 55-year-old son to the supreme leader. However, some have raised concerns over the position being taken only for the third time since 1979 to a family member, particularly after the Islamic Revolution overthrew the hereditary Pahlavi monarchy of the shah.




People follow the news of a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on a TV in a shop in Tehran on May 19, 2024. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

Raisi won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi is sanctioned by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq war.

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampers international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war on Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also has continued arming proxy groups in the Mideast, like Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, mass protests in the country have raged for years. The most recent involved the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been earlier detained over allegedly not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to the liking of authorities. The monthslong security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 detained.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

Raisi is the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb blast killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the country’s Islamic Revolution.


Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

Updated 20 June 2024
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Iran condemns Canada's listing of Revolutionary Guards as terrorist group

DUBAI: Iran condemned Canada's listing of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization as "an unwise and unconventional politically-motivated step," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency on Thursday.
"Canada's action will not have any effect on the Revolutionary Guards' legitimate and deterrent power," Kanaani said, adding that Tehran reserves the right to respond accordingly to the listing.
On Wednesday, Ottawa listed the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, a step that could lead to the investigation of former senior Iranian officials now living in Canada.
The United States took a similar step in 2019 against the Revolutionary Guards, which Western nations accuse of carrying out a global terrorist campaign.
Tehran rejects such claims, saying that the elite force is a sovereign institution responsible for safeguarding national security.


Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

Updated 20 June 2024
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Rifts seem to appear between Israel’s political and military leadership over conduct of the Gaza war

  • “Hamas is an ideology, we cannot eliminate an ideology,” said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
  • PM Netanyahu's office quickly rebuffed the spokesman's statement, saying Hamas has to be defeated

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army’s chief spokesman on Wednesday appeared to question the stated goal of destroying the Hamas militant group in Gaza in a rare public rift between the country’s political and military leadership.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted Israel will pursue the fight against Hamas, the group running the besieged Gaza Strip, until its military and governing capabilities in the Palestinian territory are eliminated. But with the war now in its ninth month, frustration has been mounting with no clear end or postwar plan in sight.
“This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the military spokesperson, told Israel’s Channel 13 TV. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — whoever thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong.”
Netanyahu’s office responded by saying that the country’s security Cabinet, chaired by the prime minister, “has defined the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war. The Israeli military, of course, is committed to this.”
The military quickly issued a clarification, saying it was “committed to achieving the goals of the war as defined by the Cabinet” and that it has been working on this “throughout the war, day and night, and will continue to do so.”
Hagari’s comments, it said, “referred to the destruction of Hamas as an ideology and an idea, and this was said by him very clearly and explicitly,” the military statement added. “Any other claim is taking things out of context.”
There have already been open signs of discontent over the handling of the war by Netanyahu’s government, a coalition that includes right-wing hard-liners who oppose any kind of settlement with Hamas. Months of internationally mediated truce talks, including a proposal floated this month by President Joe Biden, have stalled.
Benny Gantz, a former military chief and centrist politician, withdrew from Netanyahu’s war Cabinet earlier this month, citing frustration over the prime minister’s conduct of the war.
And early this week, Netanyahu expressed displeasure with the army’s decision to declare a “tactical pause” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to help deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged territory. An aide said Netanyahu was caught off guard by the announcement, and Israeli TV stations quoted him as saying “we have a country with an army, not an army with a country.”
Israel attacked Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack into southern Israel, which killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostage.
Israel’s war effort initially enjoyed broad public support, but in recent months wide divisions have emerged. While Netanyahu has pledged “total victory,” a growing array of critics and protesters have backed a ceasefire that would bring home the roughly 120 hostages still in Gaza. The Israeli military has already pronounced more than 40 of them dead, and officials fear that number will rise the longer the hostages are held.
Inside Gaza, the war has killed more than 37,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. The war has largely cut off the flow of medicine, food and other supplies to Palestinians, who are facing widespread hunger.
The United Nations said Wednesday that its humanitarian workers were once again unable to pick up aid shipments at the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel because of a lack of law and order.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that although there were no clashes along the route where Israel has declared a daily pause in fighting, the lawlessness in the area prevented UN workers from picking up aid. This means that no trucks have been able to use the new route since Israel announced the daily pause on Sunday.
In recent weeks, Israel’s military has concentrated its offensive in the nearby city of Rafah, which lies on the border with Egypt and where it says Hamas’ last remnants are holding out.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people had earlier taken shelter in Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere in the territory, and the city is now nearly empty as the Israeli military carries out airstrikes and ground operations.
The Israeli military says it has killed over 500 militants and inflicted heavy damage on Hamas’ forces, but officials expect the operation to continue for at least several more weeks.
Israel also has taken over a 14-kilometer (8-mile) corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt, including the Rafah border crossing. Footage circulating on social media shows the crossing blackened and destroyed, with only the former passenger terminal remaining intact. Before Israel moved into the area, the crossing was used to deliver humanitarian aid and to allow Palestinians to leave the territory.
The head of the Rafah municipality, Ahmed Al-Sufi, said Wednesday that Israeli strikes have destroyed more than 70 percent of the facilities and infrastructure. He accused Israeli forces of systematically targeting camps in Rafah, adding that entire residential areas in one neighborhood have been destroyed. Al-Sufi didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional information.
In a separate incident, 11 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, said Dr. Saleh Al-Hamas of the nearby European Hospital. There were no further details and the Israeli military had no immediate comment.


Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

Updated 20 June 2024
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Libyans want an end to country’s divisions and feuding politicians to hold elections, UN envoy says

  • Koury said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections

UNITED NATIONS: Libyans from rival regions and all walks of life are fed up with the country’s divisions and want political players to end their years-long impasse and agree to hold national elections, a key step to peace in the oil-rich north African country, the UN deputy representative said Wednesday.
Stephanie Koury told the UN Security Council that she has been meeting political leaders, civil society representatives, academics, women’s groups, military leaders and others in the country’s rival east and west to listen to their views. She said there is consensus that the current “status quo is not sustainable” – and the political process needs to advance toward elections.
Libya plunged into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. In the chaos that followed, the country split, with rival administrations in the east and west backed by rogue militias and foreign governments.
The country’s current political crisis stems from the failure to hold elections on Dec. 24, 2021, and the refusal of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah — who led a transitional government in the capital of Tripoli — to step down. In response, Libya’s east-based parliament appointed a rival prime minister who was suspended. The east is now governed by Prime Minister Ossama Hammad while the powerful military commander Khalifa Haftar continues to hold sway.
Koury, the top UN official in Libya since the resignation of special representative Abdoulaye Bathily in April, said many Libyans she spoke to signaled the importance of a “pact” or agreement that would affirm, among other things, the rival parties’ respect for the outcome of elections. They also expressed deep concern at the country’s divisions and parallel governments, and provided ideas on a roadmap to elections, she said.
“While institutional and political divisions keep deepening, ordinary Libyans long for peace, stability, prosperity and reconciliation,” Koury said. “Resolute and united action to advance a political process is needed by Libyans with the support of the international community.”
In February, Bathily warned the country’s feuding political actors that if they didn’t urgently form a unified government and move toward elections Libya will slide into “disintegration.”
The three African nations on the council – Sierra Leone, Algeria and Mozambique joined by Guyana – said in a joint statement Wednesday that “the Security Council must remain committed to an inclusive Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process facilitated by the United Nations … for the holding of national elections.”
The four countries called on the rival political players “to move from the entrenched institutional and political positions, resolve their differences, build consensus and facilitate the holding of national election.”
US deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said the United States also continues to firmly support the UN political mission’s efforts “to bring Libya closer to unlocking a viable process toward long-overdue elections.”
“Progress toward greater military integration remains key to reaffirming Libyan sovereignty and preventing Libya from becoming enmeshed in regional turmoil,” he said.
Turning to Russia’s actions in Libya, Wood told the council the United States recently sanctioned “Russian state-owned enterprise Goznak for producing counterfeit currency globally and printing more than $1 billion worth of counterfeit Libyan currency, which exacerbated Libya’s economic challenges.”
Libya is under a UN arms embargo, and Wood said the United States also notes “with particular concern the recent reports of Russian Federation naval vessels unloading military hardware in Libya.”
Libya’s UN Ambassador Taher El-Sonni, who represents the internationally recognized government in the west, stressed that national reconciliation is the only way to rebuild social cohesion and trust between the rivals, unite the country and pave the way for elections.
“We are tired and fed up from the stalemate and the vicious cycle that we have been going through for decades now,” he said. “We are tired and fed up from being lectured on what to do and what not to do,” and from the Security Council’s inaction.
“We are tired and fed up to use Libya as a proxy for certain countries and regional powers for selfish greedy battles, some of which have colonial ambitions,” El-Sonni said.
He called on the Security Council “to leave Libya alone” and let the people decide their own future and “take their destiny in their own hands.”


US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

Updated 20 June 2024
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US military’s stop-start Gaza pier to resume operations, officials say

  • The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members

WASHINGTON: The US military’s on-again, off-again floating pier in Gaza is expected to resume operations on Thursday to unload sorely needed humanitarian aid for Palestinians, two US officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the pier had been re-attached to the shore on Wednesday after being temporarily removed last Friday due to poor sea conditions.
Aid began arriving via the US-built pier on May 17, and the UN said it transported 137 trucks of aid to warehouses, some 900 metric tons.
But then rough seas damaged the pier, forcing repairs, and poor weather and security considerations have limited the number of days it has been operational.
US President Joe Biden announced in March the plan to put the pier in place for aid deliveries as famine loomed in Gaza, a Hamas-run enclave of 2.3 million people, during the war between Israel and the Palestinian militants.
The US military estimates the pier will cost more than $200 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 service members.
It is unclear how much longer it will be operational.
Speaking at the Pentagon on Tuesday, spokesperson Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder declined to say when the military might halt its pier operations altogether. He said the pier has so far allowed for a total of over 3,500 metric tons of aid to reach Gaza’s shores.
“With the caveat that this has always been intended to be a temporary pier, I’m not aware at this point of any established date of: ‘This is when we’re going to stop,’” he told reporters.
“And again, taking a step back here, the big picture: Whether it be by land, sea or air, (the United States is) employing all avenues to get assistance into Gaza.”


Some life-saving food assistance entered South Darfur, UN says, but aid groups say more is needed

Updated 20 June 2024
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Some life-saving food assistance entered South Darfur, UN says, but aid groups say more is needed

  • Violence in Sudan quickly extended to the Darfur region in the country’s west, which has seen some of the most brutal attacks since the conflict began

CAIRO: South Darfur saw a slight increase in critical aid when the UN’s World Food Program delivered life-saving food and nutrition to some families across the violence-riddled western Sudanese state, the organization said. But more assistance is needed, humanitarian organizations say.
The WFP mission in Sudan said Tuesday that more than 50,000 people in hunger hotspots across South Darfur are receiving much-needed food assistance in collaboration with relief agency World Vision.
WFP didn’t give a time frame for when the aid was distributed or say how WFP delivered the supplies. Several spokespersons for the organization did not immediately respond to requests for additional information.
Famine looms in parts of Sudan, which has been engulfed by violence since April of last year, when tensions between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted into intense fighting across the country.
“The number of people in South Darfur that suffer from hunger is vast and on top of that, there is a significant shortage of funds,” Yonas Mesele, deputy country director for Sudan with the French humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Mesele said that of the estimated $581.2 million needed to meet humanitarian needs in Sudan, only 26 percent was secured, citing an announcement at a meeting for the Food Security and Livelihoods Cluster Coordination on June 13.
The fighting in Sudan has displaced over 4.6 million people, according to the UN migration agency, including more than 3.6 million who were internally displaced and over 1 million others who fled to neighboring countries.
Violence in Sudan quickly extended to the Darfur region in the country’s west, which has seen some of the most brutal attacks since the conflict began. The population in the state of South Darfur is at risk of soon dying from hunger, a recent report by a Dutch think-tank warned.
The Clingendael Institute report said last month that around 2.5 million people in Sudan could die from hunger by the end of September 2024, with about 15 percent of the population in the regions of Darfur and Kordofan being likely the worst affected.
“Time is running out to avoid a rapid deterioration of the conflict-induced food insecurity crisis,” Samy Guessabi, country director for Sudan with Action Against Hunger, told the AP. “The international community and the parties to the conflict must take immediate action to alleviate hunger and prevent a catastrophic malnutrition emergency.”
In May, the WFP said in a report that at least 1.7 million people are already experiencing emergency levels of hunger in Darfur, including in Al Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state that is besieged by RSF.
Despite the “devastating levels of hunger” that civilians are facing in the greater Darfur region, deliveries of food assistance have been “intermittent due to fighting and endless bureaucratic hurdles,” WFP said.
In April, the UN said it started distributing food in Darfur for the first time in months.