Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

UN nuclear watchdog’s chief Rafael Grossis says they will be engaging with Iran again after the ‘temporary interruption’ after President Ebrahim Raisi’s death. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Death of Iran’s president has delayed talks with UN nuclear watchdog, Grossi says

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency faces a range of challenges in Iran
  • Nuclear watchdog has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities

HELSINKI: The deaths of Iran’s president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash have caused a pause in the UN nuclear watchdog’s talks with Tehran over improving cooperation with the agency, the watchdog’s chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters on Wednesday.
“They are in a mourning period which I need to respect,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Grossi said in Helsinki, where he spoke at a nuclear conference.
“But once this is over, we are going to be engaging again,” he said, describing it as a “temporary interruption that I hope will be over in a matter of days.”
Grossi said the IAEA was planning to continue technical discussions with Iran but they had not yet taken place due to last weekend’s helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
The IAEA faces a range of challenges in Iran, from Tehran’s recent barring of many of the most experienced uranium-enrichment experts on its inspection team to Iran’s continued failure to explain uranium traces found at undeclared sites despite a years-long IAEA investigation.
The IAEA has been trying to expand its oversight of Iran’s atomic activities while the country’s uranium-enrichment program continues to advance. Iran is enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity, close to the 90 percent of weapons-grade, which no other country has done without developing nuclear weapons.
Tehran says its aims are entirely peaceful.
Iran currently has about 140 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. According to an IAEA definition, that is theoretically enough, if enriched further, for three nuclear bombs. The IAEA’s last quarterly report in February said Iran had 121.5 kg, enough for two bombs.
Iran is still producing about nine kg a month of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent, Grossi said. It is also enriching to lower levels at which it has enough material for potentially more bombs.
Grossi, who two weeks ago said he wanted to start to see concrete results on improved cooperation from Iran soon, repeated that hope but said a more wide-ranging deal would require “a bit more time.”
For now, his team had not made progress on the main issues, he said.
“It is high time there is some concrete issuance and if not resolution, some clarification of what is this,” Grossi said of the uranium traces at undeclared sites.
“And I would say, confidence in many parts of the world (in Iran on the nuclear issue) is growing thinner.


Moroccan ex-minister who defended government critics sentenced to five years

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Moroccan ex-minister who defended government critics sentenced to five years

  • The verdict marks the latest development in one of the freedom of expression cases that has drawn condemnation from Morocco’s international allies and human rights organizations

RABAT, Morocco: Mohamed Ziane, an ex-Moroccan minister of human rights, was sentenced to five years in prison on Friday in a corruption case that his attorney described as retribution for outspokenness and work defending political prisoners.
An appeals court in Rabat handed down the sentence after a hearing in which the frail 81-year-old Ziane — once known for his loud and combative rhetoric — was silent as a form of protest.
The court had earlier found him and two other colleagues guilty of corruption and embezzling from their political party during Morocco’s 2015 election campaign.
Ali Reda Ziane — his attorney who is also his son — strenuously denied the charges faced by his father and his two colleagues. He said the court had not followed typical procedures in the case or any of its appeals, all 17 of which the defense lost.
He also linked the proceedings to his father’s defense of journalists and activists who had faced charges for unrelated offenses after criticizing the government.
“It means freedom of expression has been curtailed in Morocco,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday.
The verdict marks the latest development in one of the freedom of expression cases that has drawn condemnation from Morocco’s international allies and human rights organizations. It supplements a three-year sentence issued in 2022, in which Ziane was found guilty of 11 charges including defamation, adultery, sexual harassment and insulting a public official.
In a statement Sunday, the Moroccan Association In Support of Political Prisoners called the charges arbitrary and the proceedings unfair. The group described the case against Ziane as “purely political, aiming to humiliate and subjugate the man and discourage him from expressing his opinions.”
Ziane was among those profiled in a 2022 Human Rights Watch report on how Morocco has harshly cracked down on the freedom of expression of those critical of its government.
“Moroccan authorities, since the mid-2010s, have increasingly accused and prosecuted high-profile journalists and activists of non-speech crimes, including crimes involving consensual sex,” the report said.
Morocco’s government dismissed the report as biased and said it was full of false allegations. The government spokesperson did not respond to questions about Ziane’s sentencing on Monday.
The report documented how authorities convicted one of Ziane’s sons for hiding a witness and obstructing justice after a woman scheduled to testify in a human rights case that Ziane was defending slept at their home for security reasons before having to appear in court.
It also chronicled how pro-government media published leaked images and videos — including ones showing nudity — and suggested Ziane was engaged in an affair with a client. His son and attorney told The Associated Press that the legal complaints filed against him began after he accused Morocco’s intelligence services of being behind the leak — a charge the country’s Interior Ministry denied.
In 2023, Amnesty International said Ziane’s legal troubles were based on “bogus charges that stem from his work defending activists, journalists and victims of human rights abuses.”
Those who Ziane has defended as an attorney include Taoufik Bouachrine, the former editor of the independent Arabic language daily newspaper, Akhbar Al-Youm, and Nasser Zefzafi, an activist who helped lead an anti-government protest movement in northern Morocco’s Rif region last decade.
Bouachrine is currently serving a 15-year sentence for human trafficking, blackmail and sexual misconduct. Zefzafi is serving a 20-year sentence for undermining public order and threatening national unity.
Ziane’s defense of both men followed decades of human rights activism that began after he resigned as Morocco’s Human Rights Minister, a position he served in from 1996 to 1997. After serving as president of the Rabat Bar Association, he began defending activists and journalists critical of the government in 2017, becoming a rare dissenting voice who had once served in Morocco’s government.


Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

Updated 9 min 40 sec ago
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Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

  • Lebanon expects extension of UNIFIL mandate for another year, PM says
  • Mikati: ‘No one can guarantee Israel’s intentions’

BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier over Beirut, Sidon and other parts of Lebanon on Monday.

The planes conducted mock raids over the Hasbaya area and the occupied Shebaa Farms, reaching as far as Bekaa.

Although hostile operations on the southern front have significantly decreased, sporadic strikes continue.

One Israeli air raid targeted a house in the town of Chihine in the Tyre district.

The raid resulted in injuries, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party reported that one of its members was killed.

A Lebanese Army unit, meanwhile, found the wreckage of a drone in the town of Aaiha in the Rashaya district. Army command did not clarify the nature of the drone or whether it was Israeli-made or from another source.

A Lebanese Army watchtower was attacked by Israel on Sunday night on the outskirts of the town of Alma Al-Shaab in southern Lebanon, resulting in “moderate injuries to two soldiers, who were transferred to a hospital for treatment,” according to the military.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, targeted the Israeli military site of Al-Malikiyah with an attack drone, hitting one of its bunkers.

The developments in the south and the issue of renewing UNIFIL’s mandate, which is on the UN Security Council’s agenda, have been the focus of internal political attention.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said at a meeting with key officials that recent developments “naturally call for caution, but we continue to discuss with concerned parties and engage in necessary diplomatic contacts to prevent matters from spiraling into undesirable consequences.”

He added: “We cannot say there are reassurances and guarantees, as no one can guarantee the Israeli enemy’s intentions. However, we continue our diligent efforts to address the situation.”

Regarding the renewal of the mandate for the international forces operating in the south of Lebanon, Mikati said: “We continue diplomatic contacts to ensure a calm extension of UNIFIL’s mandate, whose essential role in the south we highly appreciate, along with the fruitful cooperation between them and the army.

“From the contacts we have made, we have sensed a keenness to maintain this role, especially under the delicate circumstances the south is going through.”

Speaking after a meeting with Mikati, Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said he informed the prime minister that “there is a quasi-agreement to renew the work of UNIFIL forces for one year, under the same conditions and without any modifications.”

Bou Habib, who briefed Mikati upon his return from New York, also said that US and European officials he met with emphasized “the importance of not expanding the war and working to avoid escalating military actions in the south.”

He added: “There is a kind of optimism, or less pessimism, about the outbreak of a wide war in Lebanon.”

Also on Monday, a group of opposition MPs submitted a petition requesting Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri hold a session to discuss the repercussions of the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli military, now in its 10th month. 

The opposition MPs — Georges Okais, Mark Daou, Ashraf Rifi, and Salim Sayegh — demanded Berri “hold a parliamentary session at the earliest opportunity to discuss the ongoing war, prevent its escalation, and ensure that the government fulfills its constitutional duties.”

In their petition, the parliamentarians called for diplomatic efforts to return to the 1949 ceasefire agreement and fully implement UN Resolution 1701.

They stressed the need to put an end to military actions “outside the framework of the Lebanese state and its institutions, declare a state of emergency in the south, hand over control to the army, and allow it to respond to any attack on Lebanese territory.”

They referred to the “escalation and threats reaching the highest level since Oct. 8, and the increasing fears of the expansion of the ongoing war, which has cost us hundreds of Lebanese lives and thousands of destroyed residential units so far, in addition to the economic and environmental damage caused by daily Israeli attacks, and the repercussions of this in light of the political and economic crises plaguing the country, and the obstruction of electing a president for the country.”

Nabil Qaouk, a member of the Central Council of Hezbollah, stated that Israel had put the region “on a path of escalation.”

He said that “the support fronts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen have entered a new phase, introducing new field equations through which we hope to increase pressure on the Israeli enemy to stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip.”


Israeli parliament votes to label UN relief agency a terror organization

A displaced Palestinian girl sits next to sacks of humanitarian aid at the UNRWA distribution center in Rafah, Gaza.
Updated 51 min 14 sec ago
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Israeli parliament votes to label UN relief agency a terror organization

  • UNRWA provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria
  • Israel has said hundreds of UNRWA staff are members of terrorist groups but has yet to provide evidence to a UN-appointed review

JERUSALEM: The Israeli parliament gave preliminary approval on Monday to a bill that declares the main United Nations relief organization for Palestinians a terrorist organization and proposes to sever relations with the body.
The vote against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) is the latest step in a Israeli push against the agency, which Israeli leaders have accused of collaborating with Hamas in Gaza.
The bill was approved in a first reading and will be returned to the foreign affairs and defense committee for further deliberation, the Knesset information service said.
The bill’s sponsor, Yulia Malinovsky, was quoted as describing UNRWA as a “fifth column within Israel.”
UNRWA provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It has long had tense relations with Israel but relations have deteriorated sharply since the start of the war in Gaza and Israel has called repeatedly for UNRWA to be disbanded.
“It’s another attempt in a wider campaign to dismantle the agency,” UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma said. “Such steps are unheard of in the history of the United Nations.”
Israel has said hundreds of UNRWA staff are members of terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but has yet to provide evidence to a UN-appointed review.
Several donor countries halted funding to UNRWA following the Israeli accusations but many have since reversed the decision, including Britain which said last week it would resume funding.
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority condemned the Israeli vote, and Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior ally of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on the international community to resist attempts to dissolve the agency.


Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

Updated 22 July 2024
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Sonic booms heard over Beirut as Israeli raids on Lebanon continue

  • Lebanon expects extension of UNIFIL mandate for another year, PM says
  • Mikati: ‘No one can guarantee Israel’s intentions’

BEIRUT: Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier over Beirut, Sidon and other parts of Lebanon on Monday.

The planes conducted mock raids over the Hasbaya area and the occupied Shebaa Farms, reaching as far as Bekaa.

Although hostile operations on the southern front have significantly decreased, sporadic strikes continue.

One Israeli air raid targeted a house in the town of Chihine in the Tyre district.

The raid resulted in injuries, and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party reported that one of its members was killed.

A Lebanese Army unit, meanwhile, found the wreckage of a drone in the town of Aaiha in the Rashaya district. Army command did not clarify the nature of the drone or whether it was Israeli-made or from another source.

A Lebanese Army watchtower was attacked by Israel on Sunday night on the outskirts of the town of Alma Al-Shaab in southern Lebanon, resulting in “moderate injuries to two soldiers, who were transferred to a hospital for treatment,” according to the military.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, targeted the Israeli military site of Al-Malikiyah with an attack drone, hitting one of its bunkers.

The developments in the south and the issue of renewing UNIFIL’s mandate, which is on the UN Security Council’s agenda, have been the focus of internal political attention.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said at a meeting with key officials that recent developments “naturally call for caution, but we continue to discuss with concerned parties and engage in necessary diplomatic contacts to prevent matters from spiraling into undesirable consequences.”

He added: “We cannot say there are reassurances and guarantees, as no one can guarantee the Israeli enemy’s intentions. However, we continue our diligent efforts to address the situation.”

Regarding the renewal of the mandate for the international forces operating in the south of Lebanon, Mikati said: “We continue diplomatic contacts to ensure a calm extension of UNIFIL’s mandate, whose essential role in the south we highly appreciate, along with the fruitful cooperation between them and the army.

“From the contacts we have made, we have sensed a keenness to maintain this role, especially under the delicate circumstances the south is going through.”

Speaking after a meeting with Mikati, Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said he informed the prime minister that “there is a quasi-agreement to renew the work of UNIFIL forces for one year, under the same conditions and without any modifications.”

Bou Habib, who briefed Mikati upon his return from New York, also said that US and European officials he met with emphasized “the importance of not expanding the war and working to avoid escalating military actions in the south.”

He added: “There is a kind of optimism, or less pessimism, about the outbreak of a wide war in Lebanon.”

Also on Monday, a group of opposition MPs submitted a petition requesting Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri hold a session to discuss the repercussions of the ongoing conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli military, now in its 10th month. 

The opposition MPs — Georges Okais, Mark Daou, Ashraf Rifi, and Salim Sayegh — demanded Berri “hold a parliamentary session at the earliest opportunity to discuss the ongoing war, prevent its escalation, and ensure that the government fulfills its constitutional duties.”

In their petition, the parliamentarians called for diplomatic efforts to return to the 1949 ceasefire agreement and fully implement UN Resolution 1701.

They stressed the need to put an end to military actions “outside the framework of the Lebanese state and its institutions, declare a state of emergency in the south, hand over control to the army, and allow it to respond to any attack on Lebanese territory.”

They referred to the “escalation and threats reaching the highest level since Oct. 8, and the increasing fears of the expansion of the ongoing war, which has cost us hundreds of Lebanese lives and thousands of destroyed residential units so far, in addition to the economic and environmental damage caused by daily Israeli attacks, and the repercussions of this in light of the political and economic crises plaguing the country, and the obstruction of electing a president for the country.”

Nabil Qaouk, a member of the Central Council of Hezbollah, stated that Israel had put the region “on a path of escalation.”

He said that “the support fronts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen have entered a new phase, introducing new field equations through which we hope to increase pressure on the Israeli enemy to stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip.”


West Bank village lives in constant fear of Israeli settler raids

Updated 22 July 2024
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West Bank village lives in constant fear of Israeli settler raids

SUSYA, Palestinian Territories: The stress shows on the face of Samiha Ismail, who since Oct. 7 has been stuck in her home in an occupied West Bank village that lives in constant fear of attack by Israeli settlers.

The day after the Hamas raid into southern Israel, settlers entered Susya, a hilltop village in the south of the West Bank, vowing retribution and “humiliation,” the 53-year-old Palestinian recalled.

More than nine months on, Ismail is among 450 inhabitants who spend most of the day indoors. Even their sheep are not allowed out of their sheds.

“Every time we take them to pasture, the settlers chase us,” said the panicked Ismail.

Instead, the sheep of Israeli settlers now dot the nearby hills.

Susya’s inhabitants say their livelihood has gone. 

One international aid group has sent counselors to help Susya residents with their mental health.

“Before the war, we would have defended our land, but today, nobody moves,” she said.

The settlers are armed and protected by the army, she added, and her husband and son have been “beaten up” several times.

Since the start of the Gaza war, Israeli settlement of the occupied West Bank — considered illegal under international law — has hit new records.

Excluding annexed East Jerusalem, some 490,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank alongside some 3 million Palestinians.

In June, the Israeli government declared more than 12 sq. km. of the West Bank to be state land, the largest land appropriation since the 1993 Oslo Accords set out the foundations for land use in the territory.

Land that is declared as Israeli state property can be used for more settlements.

In addition, 25 settlement outposts — not even authorized by Israel — have sprung up across the West Bank since the start of the year, according to Peace Now, a settlement watchdog.

Men in military fatigues have meanwhile raided Susya at night, kicking down doors and looting property, including donkeys and mules, locals said.

Some have even entered houses at night to intimidate residents.

“Most of us no longer sleep at night,” Ismail said.

Mohamed Al-Nawajaa, 78, was born before the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians when Israel was created in 1948 — known as the Nakba, or catastrophe, to Palestinians.

“After October 7, they took all these hills. We were kicked out in 1948, 1967 ... and again in 2024. But this land is ours,” the shepherd said, his head wrapped in a traditional keffiyeh scarf.

Israel’s offensive has killed at least 39,006 people in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to data from the Health Ministry in the territory.

Since the war erupted, violence has soared in the West Bank, with at least 579 Palestinians killed in violence with settlers or Israeli troops, according to the Palestinian authorities.

At least 16 Israelis, including soldiers, have been killed in attacks involving Palestinians, according to official Israeli figures.

Nawajaa said his biggest concern is his grandchildren. He does not let them leave the house.

He said the settlers had struck him and left him lying on the floor of his house. Others in the village have had similar experiences.

“They come at night, around 3 a.m. They say, ‘this house is mine,’” he said

The harassment has frayed nerves in Susya. The Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, charity set up tent clinics this year due to concerns for the villagers’ mental health.

“There is no doubt that this is the biggest problem here,” said Simona Onidi, an MSF coordinator. 

“We can’t talk about post-traumatic disorder here. It’s never post; it’s a permanent trauma.”

Abdul Rahim Al-Nawajaa is despondent about the future. “The suffering is endless,” said the 60-year-old Bedouin as he pruned his acacia tree, the only one left standing since his olive trees were “vandalized.”

Settlers killed his father a few years ago in a dispute over a sheep and have demolished Abdul’s house “several times.”

“The settlers act in total impunity. A soldier might put a gun to your head, and you can’t do anything,” the shepherd said.

Fears of a new forced exodus stalk Susya. But Mohamed Al-Nawajaa defiantly declared: “We will stay in our houses.”