Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

Iran's Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a presidential candidate for the June 28 election, center, speaks as other candidates Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a former Minister of Justice, right, and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, Vice President of late Ebrahim Raisi, listen in a debate of the candidates at the TV studio in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 21 June 2024
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Iran’s presidential candidates talk economic policies in 2nd live debate ahead of June 28 vote

  • Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard

TEHRAN, Iran: In the second live debate on state television, six presidential candidates on Thursday discussed Iran’s economic problems ahead of the country’s June 28 election following a helicopter crash last month that killed President Ebrahim Raisi and seven others.
It was the second of five debates planned in the days before the vote in a shortened campaign to replace Raisi, a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei once floated as a possible successor to the 85-year-old cleric.
Like the first debate, the second one also related to economics with the candidates discussing their proposals for Iran’s spiraling economy which is struggling under sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western nations.
The candidates also discussed inflation, the budget deficit, fuel consumption subsidies and education. They all promised to try to get the sanctions lifted and to introduce reforms, but none offered concrete details.
“Negotiation is a method of struggle,” said prominent candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, 62, with regards to getting the Western sanctions on Iran lifted. Qalibaf is a former Tehran mayor with close ties to the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
He emphasized the destructiveness of the sanctions on the economy and said that Iranians have a right to a good life, not just an ordinary life.
Iran’s vice president, Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, 53, said he will continue Raisi’s unfinished administration and vowed to develop the tourism industry.
Regarding the health sector and the emigration of doctors and nurses abroad, Qalibaf said there should be a fundamental change in the way health workers are paid to increase the motivation to stay.
Many doctors and nurses reportedly have left Iran in recent years over its deepening economic woes and poor working conditions. Qalibaf’s call for more pay for health workers was repeated by the other candidates.
All the candidates said they believe the Education Ministry is the most important part of the government because “the next generation of the country is raised in this ministry.” Qalibaf said the ministry’s budget must be increased.
The one pro-reform candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, who is backed by pro-reform figures such as former President Mohammad Khatami and former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, thinks the economic crisis can be resolved by solving party differences inside the country as well as external factors.
The June 28 election comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s rapidly advancing nuclear program, its arming of Russia in that country’s war on Ukraine and its wide-reaching crackdowns on dissent.
Iran’s support of militia proxy forces throughout the wider Middle East, meanwhile, has been increasingly in the spotlight as Iran-backed Yemen’s Houthi rebels attack ships in the Red Sea over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

 


Displaced Sudanese eat dirt to survive, children too tired to cry says US envoy to UN

Updated 16 sec ago
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Displaced Sudanese eat dirt to survive, children too tired to cry says US envoy to UN

  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield calls on international donors to honor the pledges of aid for Sudan they made during Paris conference in April
  • She says efforts continue in attempt to reach ceasefire agreement between rival military factions, and to open up access for humanitarian aid

NEW YORK CITY: The US representative to the UN on Thursday painted a dire picture of the situation affecting the people of Sudan, which she said continues to be “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield lamented the international silence regarding the tragedy that is unfolding in the civil war-ravaged country, and the failure of donors to honor a significant proportion of their financial pledges of aid for Sudan made during an international conference in Paris on April 15.

The conflict in the country erupted in April 2023, between two rival factions of the country’s military government: the Sudanese Armed Forces under Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, more commonly known as Hemedti.

More than 10 million Sudanese civilians have been displaced by the conflict, including more than 2 million who have fled to neighboring countries in search of safety, Thomas-Greenfield said. The number of refugees from Sudan in Chad alone doubled during the first 12 months of the conflict, with more civilians fleeing there in a single year than during the previous 25 years combined, she added.

About 25. 6 million people now face food insecurity at crisis level or worse, Thomas-Greenfield said. About a third of them are dealing with emergency conditions and 750,000 people, including women, children, the very old and the very young, are at risk of famine and starvation.

Recalling her trip to a refugee camp in Chad last year, she said people were “eating dirt to survive, tree leaves for nutrition,” and children were so weak “they lacked energy to even cry.”

She added: “The room was quiet, totally quiet. That level of suffering is occurring all over Sudan, over and over and over again.

“I’ve said (before that) this is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And that has not changed. And sadly, the silence I heard that day in Chad has been met with even more silence across the world.”

Three months after the conference Paris, Thomas-Greenfield said, only two-thirds of the pledges have been paid out and only about a quarter of the required response to the crisis has been funded.

She also warned that humanitarian access to the country, which is “already severely restricted by the parties to the conflict, threatens to even further shrink.”

She highlighted in particular continued obstruction by the Sudanese Armed Forces at the Adre crossing on the border between Chad and West Darfur.

“This obstruction is completely unacceptable,” she said. “To make matters worse, experts predict that the rainy season will decrease already severely restricted cross-border access,

all while floodwaters worsen the already dire conditions in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of waterborne diseases.”

Although the scale of the crisis is “overwhelming,” Thomas-Greenfield stressed that “now is not a moment to throw up our hands.”

She announced a further $203 million in humanitarian assistance from the US for the civilians in Sudan, Chad, Egypt and South Sudan who have been affected by “this brutal conflict,” and expressed hope that “this new round of aid serves as a call to action for others to follow suit.”

But she added that “this money is not a panacea,” and vowed her country will continue to urge the warring parties in Sudan to support “an immediate ceasefire and to remove barriers to humanitarian access and delivery of aid.”


Netanyahu blocks minister’s order to build hospital for Gaza children

Palestinian children sit on the balcony of their house which was heavily damaged by Israeli bombardment.
Updated 55 min 23 sec ago
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Netanyahu blocks minister’s order to build hospital for Gaza children

  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced this week that he had ordered the building of a “temporary hospital” in Israel to treat sick children from Gaza
  • PM’s office announced suddenly on Thursday that Netanyahu “does not approve the establishment of a hospital for Gazans within Israeli territory”

JERUSALEM: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday overruled an order by his defense minister to build a field hospital in Israel to treat sick Gaza children, officials said.
The decision was a new sign of divisions within Netanyahu’s ruling coalition over its handling of the war in Gaza in the face of persistent international criticism of the high civilian toll.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced this week that he had ordered the building of a “temporary hospital” in Israel to treat sick children from Gaza.
Gallant discussed the project in a call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a government statement said Wednesday.
Reports said the hospital would be built close to Israel’s border with Gaza to help children suffering from cancer, diabetes and other illnesses who could not get treatment in the Palestinian territory.
But the prime minister’s office announced suddenly on Thursday that Netanyahu “does not approve the establishment of a hospital for Gazans within Israeli territory — therefore, it will not be established.”
An Israeli official told AFP the defense ministry first asked the prime minister’s office two weeks ago “to speed up the evacuation of patients, especially sick children,” from Gaza.
“No response was received, so the minister issued an order to the army to establish a field hospital within Israeli territory as an immediate solution for sick children.
“The prime minister canceled the order and, for political reasons, blocked a humanitarian solution,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Gallant and Netanyahu are longtime rivals. In March last year, the prime minister sacked his minister, a fomer general, after he spoke out against judicial reforms. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets and Netanyahu revoked his decision.


Body found, 9 men rescued in search for missing tanker crew off Oman

Updated 18 July 2024
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Body found, 9 men rescued in search for missing tanker crew off Oman

  • Six remaining crew from the Yemeni-bound and Comoros-flagged Prestige Falcon are still missing
  • Omani vessels and personnel, as well as an Indian Navy warship, joined the search

AL-MUKALLA: Nine crewmen from an oil tanker that capsized off Oman have been rescued and a body recovered, the Omani maritime agency said on Thursday.  

In a post on X, the Omani Marine Security Center said the rescued sailors, eight Indians and one Sri Lankan, are in “good health” and receiving medical attention.

Six remaining crew from the Yemeni-bound and Comoros-flagged Prestige Falcon are still missing after the tanker capsized 25 nautical miles southeast of Ras Madrakah, near the Omani port town of Duqm, on Monday.

“Search-and-rescue efforts are still ongoing to locate the remaining missing crew members,” the Omani center said.

Omani vessels and personnel, as well as an Indian Navy warship, joined the search.

The Omani Ministry of Transport, Communications, and Information Technology said in a statement on Wednesday that the Prestige Falcon “almost completely” sank, and that the cause of the incident is being investigated.

The ministry said that it has prioritized rescuing the missing crewmen, followed by righting the ship and dealing with any environmental hazards. 

This comes as Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi repeated threats on Thursday to continue attacks in the busy shipping lanes despite a recent strike that resulted in an oil spill in the Red Sea.

Al-Houthi said that 25 ballistic missiles, drones, and drone boats have been launched at ships in the past seven days alone.

He claimed that the militia attacks on 170 ships since November have left the Israeli port of Eilat facing bankruptcy, and forced the US aircraft carrier Eisenhower to “flee” the Red Sea.

“Operations at sea have a significant influence on American commercial activity, the economic position in America and Britain, and the Israeli enemy,” Al-Houthi said.

Environmentalists say that a leak from a tanker targeted by the Houthis in the Red Sea has resulted in a 200 km slick moving south, threatening the area’s already fragile ecosystem.

Wim Zwijnenburg, of the Humanitarian Disarmament Project at Dutch peace organization PAX, told Arab News that diesel from the ship’s engine is spreading to a marine conservation area near Saudi Arabia’s Farasan Island and Eritrea’s Dahlak archipelago.

“The Red Sea is home to various protected species, including turtles, sharks, and fish such as the coral grouper. But there are also indications that both pollution and climate change are affecting coastal fishing communities and coral reefs,” he said.

“This conflict-linked oil spill is just a sad continuation of further degradation of the unique ecosystems in the Red Sea.”

On Monday, a Houthi drone boat struck and damaged the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Chios Lion northwest of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah.

Since November, the Houthis have attacked ships in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean, claiming to be acting in support of the Palestinian people and to force Israel to cease its war in Gaza.

In response, the US launched retaliatory strikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and branded the militia a terrorist group.

Houthi media said on Thursday that US and UK forces carried out three airstrikes on Hodeidah city airport in the western province of Hodeidah.


Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

  • Resolution is symbolic but lays down marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip
  • Palestinian state would cause existential danger to Israel and its citizens, says resolution

JERUSALEM: An Israeli parliament vote to oppose a Palestinian state as an “existential threat,” just days ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, brought Palestinian and international criticism on Thursday.
The 120-member Knesset late on Wednesday passed by 68 votes to nine a resolution that said a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel would “perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
The resolution is symbolic but lays down a marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip as well as an opinion to be issued by the International Court of Justice over the legality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by the war unleashed by the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“The creation of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel would constitute an existential danger for the state of Israel and its citizens, would perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
It predicted that Hamas would take over the state and turn it into “a radical Islamic terrorist base” seeking to destroy Israel.
The resolution said “promoting” a Palestinian state was “a reward for terrorism and would only encourage Hamas and its supporters” after the October 7 attacks.
The Palestinian Authority said there would be “neither peace nor security for anyone without the establishment of a Palestinian state.” It accused Israel’s ruling coalition of “plunging the region into an abyss.”
The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution that it said was “in contradiction with resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.”
The Knesset voted by an even larger majority in February against countries unilaterally backing a Palestinian state. Spain, Ireland, Norway and Armenia have since said they recognized a Palestinian state.
The latest Knesset resolution was proposed by a right-wing deputy in opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and far-right parties. However, coalition deputies and some centrist lawmakers voted in favor.


Netanyahu makes a surprise visit to southern Gaza, days before speech to US Congress

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu sits in a military vehicle during a surprise visit to Israeli soldiers in Rafah, Gaza Strip.
Updated 18 July 2024
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Netanyahu makes a surprise visit to southern Gaza, days before speech to US Congress

  • Netanyahu’s visit to Rafah was announced hours after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise visit to troops in southern Gaza on Thursday, his office said, just days before his speech to the US Congress.
Netanyahu’s visit to Rafah was announced hours after Israel’s far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, visited Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, a move that could disrupt the delicate Gaza ceasefire talks.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist settler leader, said he had gone up to the contested Jerusalem hilltop compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque to pray for the return of the hostages “but without a reckless deal, without surrendering.”
The move threatens to disrupt sensitive talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire in the 9-month-old Israel-Hamas war. Israeli negotiators landed in Cairo on Wednesday to continue talks.
The visit also came just days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for a trip to the United States, where he will address Congress.
Ben-Gvir said while standing in front of the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque that he “is praying and working hard” to ensure that Netanyahu will not give in to international pressure and will continue with the military campaign in Gaza.
Ben-Gvir last visited the site in May to protest countries unilaterally recognizing Palestinian statehood.
He has been convicted eight times for offenses that include racism and supporting a terrorist organization. As a teen, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.
As security minister, Ben-Gvir oversees the country’s police force. As a key coalition partner, Ben-Gvir also has the power to rob Netanyahu of his parliamentary majority and try to force early elections.
Ben-Gvir has used his influence to push forward pet projects and encourage Netanyahu to press ahead with the war in Gaza in the face of widespread calls to reach a ceasefire deal that would bring home hostages.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit as a “provocative intrusion” that endangered the fragile status quo regarding the Jerusalem hilltop compound, which is considered holy for both Muslims and Jews.
The site is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, and by Muslims as Haram Al-Sharif, a holy site and important national symbol. Ben-Gvir has frequently visited the site during times of conflict, drawing condemnation. Tensions over the compound have fueled past rounds of violence.