Iraq’s striking students defiant amid unrelenting protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA NEWS)

 

 

Iraq’s striking students defiant amid unrelenting protests

Despite pressure to return to classes, strikers say they will not stop until anti-gov’t protesters’ demands are met.

by

Iraq's striking students defiant amid unrelenting protests
Tiba, 23,says she believes the school strikes will force politicians to make concessions to protesters [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Baghdad, Iraq – Tiba says she decided to boycott her university classes the moment she learned that her friend Amer had been killed during clashes with Iraqi security forces.

The pair first met in October in Tahrir Square, the capital’s main site for anti-government demonstrations which have continued for two months. Amer told her that he was protesting on behalf of his brother, who had died in clashes with security forces. Days later, Tiba received news that her new friend had joined a growing list of Iraqi lives cut short during the protests.

“When I saw his picture among the martyrs, I knew I had to do something for my country,” said Tiba, a 23-year-old engineering student at Baghdad University. “The best thing I could do was go on strike,” she added.

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For two months, protesters have taken to the streets in Baghdad and towns and cities across the mostly Shia south to demand jobs, basic services and an end to corruption. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has since quit and now leads a caretaker government with limited powers, but the grassroots movement wants a complete overhaul of the political system before new elections are held. More than 400 people have been killed and thousands of others wounded in clashes with security forces.

Since October 25, university and school students across Baghdad and Iraq’s south have defied the government and gone on strike to support protesters’ demands.

The students believe the walkout is a potent tool to pressure politicians to act on the protesters’ demands.

“If we keep it up, the government will have to respond,” says Tiba. “Our university campuses have been literally empty for weeks. This can’t go on forever.”

‘No future’

For Hussein, an 18-year-old medical student at the University of Mustansiriya, taking part in the protests is his only hope for a better future.

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“There are barely any jobs out there, even if you’re a university graduate,” he told Al Jazeera. “So, what’s the point of going to class now and then being unemployed a few years later.”

Instead of attending university, Hussein helps organise weekly rallies at the ministry of education, attends the protests at Tahrir Square and participates in campaigns to encourage the sale of local products.

“We do everything from cleaning the streets and painting the walls in Tahrir to holding protests at our university gates to encourage people to join in,” he said, adding that the strikes would continue despite the prime minister’s decision to step down.

“Abdul Mahdi’s resignation means nothing. He’s just a tool in the hands of the corrupt political parties,” said Hussein.

“We’re continuing our strike until the electoral law changes. Unless that happens, our main ask for a complete overhaul of the political system can’t be achieved.”

While university students say the ministry of education has done little to force them back to classes, university professors say strong measures have been taken against faculty members who choose to go on strike.

According to Fayez Abdel Hamid, who teaches medicine at the University of Baghdad, Iraq’s public universities received communication from the ministry of education to ensure staff were attending their jobs.

“Deans were given orders to pass on the names of professors who have been on strike and to deduct money from their salaries as punishment,” he said.

Zaid Shafik, an IT professor at al-Nahrain University, says while he has been forced by his university to prove his attendance, he continues to join the protests.

“After I sign the register in the morning, I head to Tahrir with the students,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s our right to protest, and we’ll continue to do so no matter the measures taken against us.”

Dhamiaa al-Rubaei, spokesperson for the ministry of education, said students and teachers had been given space to protest.

“We’ve only been encouraging students to attend classes for the sake of their own futures,” she told Al Jazeera.

“With regards to lecturers, they have been mostly attending their classes even if some support students on strike.”

Iraq education story
University campuses in Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq have become empty as thousands of students continue to boycott classes and join protests in Tahrir Square instead [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Schools participate

Most of those boycotting classes have been university-level students but school teachers and students have also taken part.

After the Iraqi teachers’ syndicate called for a nationwide strike from October 28 to November 7 to mark the beginning of school walkouts, most schools in Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces shut their doors, according to the syndicate’s secretary-general Odai Essawi.

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“During the official strike, we saw 100 percent adherence at most schools across Baghdad and the south,” he told Al Jazeera.

Essawi claimed that when the education ministry tried to end the strike by threatening to blame the syndicate for any measures it takes against striking teachers, the body fought back.

“We warned the ministry of education that we would stand up to it. Protesting and expressing our opinions are human rights,” he told Al Jazeera.

Despite the challenges, Essawi says 50 to 75 percent of school students in Baghdad and the south were on partial strike or attended protests after school hours.

The ministry of higher education has warned that if university students continue to strike it may cancel spring break, while the army has warned it would detain administrators who keep schools shut as part of its fight against “terror”.

The threat forced many schools to resume classes, while some set exam schedules in an attempt to force students to return to class.

Omar al-Mukhtar High School in Baghdad, which took part in the strike for more than a week, officially resumed classes after security forces visited the school.

“The whole school, teachers and students, were on strike. Many of us would even go to Tahrir together,” Abbas Tamimi, the school’s headteacher, told Al Jazeera.

“But intelligence staff threatened to take measures if we don’t resume classes,” said Tamimi, adding that 80 percent of students attended classes after he set an exam schedule.

Iraq education story
Headteacher Abbas al-Tamimi says the government has taken measures against schools to ensure that teachers and students attend classes [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Ali, an 18-year-old student at the school told Al Jazeera that while he had not prepared for the exams, he decided to end his boycott to avoid possible repercussions.

“I boycotted classes for a whole month to show my support for those who died for us,” Ali told Al Jazeera.

“But I had to come back when exams were set. I was worried my name would be sent to the ministry or that I’d be suspended from school altogether,” he added.

Tamimi said that while he has to enforce some rules, he remains lenient towards students who don’t show up.

“We won’t take any measures against students who don’t attend. But people [from the intelligence] do come asking for the register, so we have to maintain some level of adherence,” explained Tamimi.

“But as soon as we finish school hours, students and teachers go to Tahrir hand in hand,” he added.

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SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

Russia: Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria a ‘wrong move’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia: Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria a ‘wrong move’

Moscow, which is allied with Assad regime, says reprisal attack after rockets launched at Israel is in ‘stark contrast’ with international law; IDF said it coordinated with Kremlin

Russia's deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, speaks with journalists after meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Beirut, Lebanon, December 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, speaks with journalists after meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Beirut, Lebanon, December 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Russia on Wednesday condemned Israel for striking Iranian targets in Syria overnight, saying the operation was in contravention of international law.

In the predawn hours, the Israeli Air Force launched a large airstrike operation, targeting dozens of Iranian and Syrian military sites in Syria in response to a rocket attack on northern Israel the day before.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that at least 11 people were killed, including seven “foreigners” who were likely Iranian, and that others were injured during the overnight strikes.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the strikes were a “wrong move” that is in “stark contrast” to international law, Interfax reported.

He added that Moscow had reached out to its allies regarding the incident, the report said.

Russia backs the government of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and has criticized previous Israeli attempts to prevent an Iranian entrenchment near Israel’s northern border.

Photo taken on October 18, 2017 shows an Israeli flag fluttering above the wreckage of an Israeli tank sitting on a hill in the Golan Heights and overlooking the border with Syria. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The IDF had said it coordinated its aerial campaign with Moscow through the deconfliction mechanism the two countries established in light of Russia’s significant military presence in Syria.

Israel has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and that it will retaliate for any attack on the Jewish state from there.

Israel’s leaders issued fresh threats to Iran after the operation, with the defense minister saying even Tehran’s leaders were “not immune.”

“The rules have changed: Whoever fires at Israel during the day will not sleep at night. That was the case last week and it is the case this week,” said newly installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, also referring to last week’s targeted killing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror chief Baha Abu al-Ata in his home in Gaza, which sparked a two-day conflagration.

“Our message to the leaders of Iran is simple: You are not immune anymore. Wherever you send your octopus tentacles, we will hack them off,” Bennett added.

A senior defense official told reporters Israel believes it killed and injured a number of Iranians in the strike. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, reiterated the image of an octopus as a metaphor for Iran’s actions in Syria, as well as the implicit threat to attack Iranian leaders.

“Iran is an octopus with its head in Tehran that sends its tentacles to wrap around us. We have not yet threatened Tehran, but we are beginning to get close to the head of the octopus. We struck a building staffed by Iranians at the Damascus airport. We assess that there are Iranians killed and injured,” the official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

The official said that Israel destroyed six Syrian air defense batteries, as well as multiple buildings on Syrian military bases that are controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the strike: “I have made clear that anyone who attacks us, we will attack them. That is what we did tonight toward military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets in Syria.”

The IDF said it was girding for several possible Iranian responses, from total calm to a full-scale attack.

“We are preparing for defense and attack, and we will respond to any attempt to retaliate,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters Wednesday morning.

“We are ready for three scenarios: no response, a minor response, and a more significant response,” he said.

Video footage from Syria appeared to show a Syrian air defense missile crashing to the ground in a heavily populated area shortly after launching, which could account for the casualties.

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Zilberman said the targets of its strikes were all located within 80 kilometers of Israel’s border and were focused around Damascus and the Syrian Golan Heights.

The Quds Force is a part of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for extraterritorial operations, and is a key actor in Syria — both against rebels and in Tehran’s efforts to entrench itself along Israel’s border and threaten the Jewish state from there.

AFP contributed to this report.

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The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

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23 killed as Israeli strikes in Syria, 16 of them likely Iranian

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

23 killed as Israeli strikes in Syria, 16 of them likely Iranian – war monitor

Identities of foreigners killed in attacks not immediately confirmed; Russia denounces Israeli strikes, calling them a ‘wrong move’

An Israeli M109 self-propelled howitzer is stationed near the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on November 19, 2019, after Israeli air defenses intercepted four rockets fired from neighboring Syria. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

An Israeli M109 self-propelled howitzer is stationed near the border with Syria in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on November 19, 2019, after Israeli air defenses intercepted four rockets fired from neighboring Syria. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

At least 23 “fighters” were killed in Israel’s predawn airstrikes in Syria Wednesday, 16 of them likely Iranians, according to a Syrian war monitor.

The Israel Defense Forces launched the strikes against Iranian and Syrian targets around the capital of Damascus and on the Syrian Golan Heights in response to a Tuesday morning rocket attack.

The military said it targeted dozens of sites connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, including a facility at the Damascus International Airport, which Israel says was used to coordinate the transport of military hardware from Iran to Syria and on to other countries in the region.

“We struck a building staffed by Iranians at the Damascus airport. We assess that there are Iranians killed and injured,” a Israeli senior defense official said Wednesday, on condition of anonymity.

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, a damaged building targeted by Israeli missile strikes is seen in Qudsaya suburb, western the capital Damascus, Syria, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (SANA via AP)

Israel also targeted a number of Quds Force facilities on Syrian military bases. When Syrian air defenses fired on Israeli jets, the IDF also targeted those batteries, the army said.

A large explosion is seen over the Damascus skyline in footage purportedly taken on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, November 20, 2019 (video screenshot)

Israel has repeatedly warned Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to not intervene during IDF strikes on Iranian targets in his country or else his military will also be targeted, as was the case Wednesday.

According to the Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 23 people were killed in the strike, and 16 of them were foreigners. Though presumed to be Iranian, that could not be immediately confirmed by SOHR.

Four civilians were wounded, the monitor said.

Video footage from Syria appeared to show a Syrian air defense missile crashing to the ground in a heavily populated area shortly after launching, which may account for some of the casualties.

Russia on Wednesday condemned Israel for the strikes. Moscow backs the Assad government and has criticized previous Israeli strikes in the country, especially those that target Syrian military bases in addition to Iranian facilities.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the strikes were a “wrong move” that is in “stark contrast” to international law, Interfax reported.

He added that Moscow had reached out to its allies regarding the incident, the report said.

On Wednesday morning, the IDF said it had coordinated its airstrikes with Russia.

Following its reprisal raids, the Israeli military said it was preparing for a potential Iranian retaliation.

“We are preparing for defense and attack, and we will respond to any attempt to retaliate,” IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman told reporters first thing Wednesday morning.

“We are ready for three scenarios: no response, a minor response, and a more significant response,” he said.

Israel has repeatedly said that it will not accept Iranian military entrenchment in Syria and that it will retaliate for any attack on the Jewish state from Syria.

Zilberman said the military targeted both “the host, Syria, and the guest, Iran.”

“Our message to the leaders of Iranian is simple: You are not immune anymore. Wherever you send your octopus arms — we will hack them off,” said newly installed Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the strike: “I have made clear that any who attack us, we will attack them. That is what we did tonight toward military targets of the Iranian Quds Force and Syrian military targets.”

Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. (YouTube screenshot)

The Quds Force, led by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, is a part of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for extraterritorial operations, and is a key actor in Syria — both against rebels and in Tehran’s efforts to entrench itself along Israel’s border and threaten the Jewish state from there.

Early Tuesday morning Israel’s anti-missile defense system intercepted four rockets fired from Syria toward the Golan Heights.

The rockets triggered sirens in the northern Golan Heights and Galilee region at 4:52 a.m., sending residents rushing to bomb shelters.

Last week Syrian state media reported that an Israeli strike hit the home of a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist in Damascus, Akram al-Ajouri, killing his son and another person. Islamic Jihad accused Israel of being behind the strike in Damascus. The Israeli army refused to comment.

On the same day, an Israeli airstrike killed Islamic Jihad military commander Baha Abu Al-Ata, whom Israel blamed for recent rocket fire into its territory, in a strike on his home in Gaza City. Around 450 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the military operation against Abu Al-Ata, according to the Israeli army, as the military struck back at Islamic Jihad targets. A ceasefire between Israel and Islamic Jihad was reached after 50 hours of clashes.

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets over the last several years, but does not generally comment on specific attacks. Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor, and supports Hezbollah and Gaza terrorists.

In August, in a rare announcement, the IDF said it had targeted sites in the town of Aqrabah, southeast of Damascus, near the city’s airport to foil what it said was an imminent armed drone attack on Israel by Iran-backed fighters.

In January Israel was said to have conducted a daylight missile attack on Iranian targets at the airport. Iran responded by firing a surface-to-surface missile at the northern Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Mount Hermon ski resort, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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A MESSAGE FROM THE EDITOR OF TIMES OF ISRAEL
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The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.

We’ve achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.

Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.

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IRGC, Muslim Brotherhood Held Secret Summit to Join Forces Against Saudi Arabia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Report: IRGC, Muslim Brotherhood Held Secret Summit to Join Forces Against Saudi Arabia

Monday, 18 November, 2019 – 13:00
Former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meet in Tehran in 2012. AFP file photo
Asharq Al-Awsat
The Intercept revealed on Monday that the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) held a summit with the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey in 2014 in an attempt to join forces against Saudi Arabia.

The disclosure that two sides held a summit is included in a leaked archive of secret Iranian intelligence reports obtained by the American news organization.

One of the most important things the two sides shared was considering Saudi Arabia “the common enemy” of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, said The Intercept.

The Muslim Brotherhood was represented in the meeting by three of its most prominent leaders in exile: Ibrahim Munir Mustafa, Mahmoud El-Abiary, and Youssef Moustafa Nada, according to the document.

What neither side knew was that there was a spy in the summit. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, MOIS, a rival of the Revolutionary Guards within the Iranian national security apparatus, secretly had an agent in the meeting who reported everything that was discussed.

The Muslim Brotherhood delegation opened the meeting with a boast, pointing out that the outfit “has organizations in 85 countries in the world.”

“Differences between Iran as a symbol and representative of the Shiite world and the Muslim Brotherhood as a representative of the Sunni world are indisputable,” the Brotherhood members noted, according to the MOIS cable. But they emphasized that there “should be a focus on joint grounds for cooperation.”

Perhaps, the Brotherhood delegation said, the two sides could join forces against the Saudis. The best place to do that was in Yemen.

“In Yemen, with the influence of Iran on Houthis and the influence of the Brotherhood on the armed tribal Sunni factions, there should be a joint effort to decrease the conflict between Houthis and Sunni tribes to be able to use their strength against Saudi Arabia,” the Brotherhood delegation argued.

There were public meetings and contacts between Iranian and Egyptian officials while Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi was president of Egypt from 2012 to 2013, said The Intercept.

The Iranian intelligence cable about the 2014 meeting provides an intriguing glimpse at a secret effort by the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian officials to maintain contact — and determine whether they could still work together — after Morsi was removed from power.

Iran’s top leader warns ‘thugs’ as protests reach 100 cities

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO NEWS)

 

Iran’s top leader warns ‘thugs’ as protests reach 100 cities

The government recently raised gasoline prices by 50 percent.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s supreme leader on Sunday cautiously backed the government’s decision to raise gasoline prices by 50% after days of widespread protests, calling those who attacked public property during demonstrations “thugs” and signaling that a potential crackdown loomed.

The government shut down internet access across the nation of 80 million people to staunch demonstrations that took place in a reported 100 cities and towns. That made it increasingly difficult to gauge whether unrest continued. Images published by state and semiofficial media showed the scale of the damage in images of burned gas stations and banks, torched vehicles and roadways littered with debris.

Since the price hike, demonstrators have abandoned cars along major highways and joined mass protests in the capital, Tehran, and elsewhere. Some protests turned violent, with demonstrators setting fires as gunfire rang out.

It remains to be seen how many people were arrested, injured or killed. Videos from the protests have shown people gravely wounded.

Iranian authorities on Sunday raised the official death toll in the violence to at least three. Attackers targeting a police station in the western city of Kermanshah on Saturday killed an officer, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Sunday. A lawmaker said another person was killed in a suburb of Tehran. Earlier, one man was reported killed Friday in Sirjan, a city some 500 miles southeast of Tehran.

In an address aired Sunday by state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said “some lost their lives and some places were destroyed,” without elaborating. He called the protesters “thugs” who had been pushed into violence by counterrevolutionaries and foreign enemies of Iran.

Khamenei specifically named those aligned with the family of Iran’s late shah, ousted 40 years ago, and an exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. The MEK calls for the overthrow of Iran’s government and enjoys the support of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

“Setting a bank on fire is not an act done by the people. This is what thugs do,” Khamenei said.

The supreme leader carefully backed the decision of Iran’s relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani and others to raise gasoline prices. While Khamenei dictates the country’s nuclear policy amid tensions with the U.S. over its unraveling 2015 accord with world powers, he made a point to say he wasn’t an “expert” on the gasoline subsidies.

Khamenei ordered security forces “to implement their tasks” and for Iran’s citizens to keep clear of violent demonstrators. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said the “key perpetrators of the past two days’ riot have been identified and proper action is ongoing.”

That seemed to indicate a crackdown could be looming. Economic protests in late 2017 into 2018, as well as those surrounding its disputed 2009 presidential election, were met with a heavy reaction by the police and the Basij, the all-volunteer force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The semiofficial Fars news agency, close to the Guard, put the total number of protesters at over 87,000, saying demonstrators ransacked some 100 banks and stores in the country. Authorities arrested some 1,000 people, Fars reported, citing unnamed security officials for the information.

The protests have put renewed pressure on Iran’s government as it struggles to overcome the U.S. sanctions that have strangled the economy since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal over a year ago.

While representing a political risk for Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, the demonstrations also show widespread anger among the Iranian people, who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the collapse of the national currency, the rial.

Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Gasoline in the country remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping 50% to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. costs $2.60 by comparison.

Iranian internet access saw disruptions and outages Friday night into Saturday, according to the group NetBlocks, which monitors worldwide internet access. By Saturday night, connectivity had fallen to just 7% of ordinary levels. It was mostly unchanged on Sunday.

NetBlocks called it the most severe shutdown the group had tracked in any country “in terms of its technical complexity and breadth.” On Twitter, NetBlocks said the disruption constituted “a severe violation” of Iranians’ “basic rights and liberties.”

The internet firm Oracle called it “the largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran.”

The semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Sunday that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council ordered a “restriction of access” to the internet nationwide, without elaborating.

In a statement issued Sunday, the Trump administration condemned “the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators.”

“Tehran has fanatically pursued nuclear weapons and missile programs, and supported terrorism, turning a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power and riches,” the White House statement said.

In Dubai, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates told The Associated Press that America was “not advocating regime change. We are going to let the Iranian people decide for themselves their future.”

“They are frustrated. They want freedom,” Ambassador John Rakolta said at the Dubai Airshow. “These developments that you see right now are their own people telling them, ‘We need change and to sit down with the American government.’”

Iran: Heavy Snow Snarls Traffic, Shuts Schools in Iran Capital

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Heavy Snow Snarls Traffic, Shuts Schools in Iran Capital

Saturday, 16 November, 2019 – 11:30
Tehran spreads up the southern slopes of the Elburz mountains and heavy snowfalls often create challenging driving conditions. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Heavy snowfall blanketed the streets of north Tehran on Saturday, causing traffic chaos and forcing the closure of schools, authorities in the Iranian capital said.

Crews of municipal workers were battling to clear roads and pavements in parts of the capital, where snow began falling at the start of the morning rush hour and continued through the day.

“Snow started at a time when there is usually high traffic and now as you can imagine that snow has intensified this traffic,” Hamid Mousavi, mayor of Tehran’s first district, told the ISNA news agency.

The backed-up traffic prevented the use of snow plows and forced the municipality to deploy staff to clear the snow by hand, he said.

One commuter said his journey to work from east Tehran took him twice as long as usual as traffic was backed up on major roads leading to northern districts.

There were only a few accidents, despite the driving conditions and the fact that many vehicles lacked tire chains, a city official said, according to state television’s website.

Schools in some districts were ordered closed in the afternoon.

“Due to the coldness of the weather, snow and forecast of continuing snowfall, all schools will be closed this afternoon in districts one to five and district 22 of Tehran,” deputy governor Mohammad Taghizadeh said, quoted by ISNA.

“Also all schools in Shemiranat county will be closed in the afternoon shift.”

Iran: Petrol rationing and price hikes take Iranians by surprise

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-JAZEERA NEWS)

 

Petrol rationing and price hikes take Iranians by surprise

Drivers in Iran were caught off-guard by snap plan that includes a steep increase in the cost of motor fuel.

by

Iranians queued at petrol stations after fuel rationing and price hikes were announced [File: Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA/Reuters]
Iranians queued at petrol stations after fuel rationing and price hikes were announced [File: Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran  When 37-year-old apparel retailer Farshad was getting ready to go to sleep just after midnight on Friday, his phone alerts suddenly blew up with social media posts reacting to a government policy that many figured was in the pipeline, but that had still struck without warning.

The government in Iran had announced that – effective immediately – petrol would be rationed and prices would triple.

“I guess we all knew this was happening one way or another, since the government has been reintroducing fuel cards for rationing,” said Farshad, who asked Al Jazeera to withhold his surname to protect his privacy. “But a midnight announcement and this price hike came out of nowhere.”

In the early hours of Friday morning, Iranian state television broad cast a statement by the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company saying petrol will now be rationed across the country using smart fuel cards.

Vehicles for private use are to be restricted to 60 litres (16gal) of fuel monthly, while the price of petrol will jump 50 percent to 15,000 Iranian rials ($0.13 at open market rates) per litre. Any fuel purchases in excess of allotted rations will incur an additional charge of 30,000 rials ($0.26) per litre.

‘We’re all drowning’

In early May, after hardline Iranian news websites reported that fuel rationing was imminent, long queues formed at petrol stations all over the country.

Friday’s news was not telegraphed in advance, but people still started queueing at petrol stations. Though the price hike was immediate, any unused monthly ration quotas can be saved for up to six months.

Petrol in Iran – the world’s number five oil producer – is cheaper than in most countries. That could bolster justifications for a price hike, given the beating that Iran’s budget has sustained since the administration of United States President Donald Trump started applying its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions on Iran over a year ago.

Still, as many Iranians pointed out on social media, average incomes are too low to comfortably absorb the fuel price hike.

“I wish economic austerity wasn’t only for average people. That way this would hurt less,” wrote a journalist on her Instagram account. “We’re all drowning, it’s only a matter of time.”

Iranians, especially those getting by on low- and middle-income wages, have taken a massive hit due to a currency crisis and an inflationary wave that formed on the back of US sanctions imposed after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

‘At the expense of the people’

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has tried to reassure the general public that the initiative is meant to help improve peoples’ quality of life.

Mohammad Baqer Nobakht, head of the Plan and Budget Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran, announced that the revenues from the initiative will be distributed among 18 million households – about 60 million people – in the form of monthly cash handouts.

A family of five or more will receive 2.05 million rials (around $18). This is separate from the 445,000 rials ($3.90) that each household member is eligible to receive under Iran’s long-running monthly state cash subsidies plan.

According to the Rouhani administration, not a single rial yielded from the rationing initiative will go to government coffers.

“The government is doing it differently this time, but it still feels like they’re trying to make up for their deficits at the expense of the people,” said Saeed, a 48-year-old architect who asked Al Jazeera to withhold his surname.

“And whenever gasoline prices go up, prices of other goods go up, too, so I doubt the cash handouts will be able to make up for it,” he told Al Jazeera.

‘Can afford less fuel’

The populist administration of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2007 rationed gasoline and increased prices, but that move failed to curb rampant fuel smuggling or decrease consumption.

Some Iranians on social media have pointed to the irony of a 2015 tweet by President Rouhani, in which he said, “Gasoline offered at two prices created corruption, so we unified the prices”.

Iran has some of the largest energy reserves in the world, but due to limited refining capacity – and sanctions that limited the supply of spare parts for plant maintenance – it has for years faced an uphill battle in meeting its domestic fuel needs.

Despite the public dissatisfaction and anger, some Iranians still hold out hope that a silver lining may emerge from the rationing scheme if fewer people are driving. Tehran has been battling smog and air pollution for the past week that led to the closure of schools.

“People are under so much pressure,” said 27-year-old Tehran resident Anahid, who asked that his surname be withheld. “But there’s no denying this pollution and traffic either, so maybe more people will turn to public transport if they literally can afford less fuel.”

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

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Iran’s Khamenei defines Iran’s goal of ‘wiping out Israel’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

‘Not anti-Semitic’: Khamenei defines Iran’s goal of ‘wiping out Israel’

Belying Tehran’s relentless threats to ensure ‘nothing left’ of Jewish state, ‘raze’ Tel Aviv and Haifa, leader says aim is to abolish ‘regime,’ get rid of ‘thugs’ like Netanyahu

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with thousands of students in Tehran, Iran, November 3, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with thousands of students in Tehran, Iran, November 3, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

When Iran speaks of wiping Israel off the map, it doesn’t mean the mass slaughter of the country’s Jews but rather eliminating the Jewish state’s “imposed regime,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday.

“The disappearance of Israel does not mean the disappearance of the Jewish people, because we have nothing against [Jews],” Khamenei said, speaking alongside senior Iranian officials at the so-called 33rd International Islamic Unity Conference.

“Wiping out Israel means that the Palestinian people, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, should be able to determine their fate and get rid of thugs such as [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Khamenei continued, according to Iranian media.

Khamenei further argued that “had the Islamic world been committed to unity, there would have been no tragedy in Palestine.” He lamented that Muslims couldn’t even adhere to what he called the lowest level of unity — non-aggression between Muslims.

“We are not anti-Semitic. Jews are living in utmost safety in our country. We only support the people of Palestine and their independence,” he said.

“Our position on the case of Palestine is definitive,” he said. “Early after the victory of the [1979 Islamic] revolution, the Islamic Republic gave the Zionists’ center in Tehran to the Palestinians. We helped the Palestinians, and we will continue to do so. The entire Muslim world should do so.”

A Shahab-3 surface-to-surface missile is on display next to a portrait of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at an exhibition by Iran’s army and paramilitary Revolutionary Guard celebrating “Sacred Defense Week” marking the 39th anniversary of the start of 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, at Baharestan Square in downtown Tehran, Iran, September 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran regularly threatens to annihilate Israel, viewing the country as a powerful enemy allied with the United States and Sunni countries in the region against Tehran and its nuclear ambitions.

Contrary to Khamenei’s claims, those threats commonly refer to the physical destruction of Israeli cities, rather than of just the regime.

In September, Abbas Nilforoushan, the deputy commander of operations of the IRGC, threatened that if Israel attacks Iran, it will have to collect “bits and pieces of Tel Aviv from the lower depths of the Mediterranean Sea.”

“Iran has encircled Israel from all four sides. Nothing will be left of Israel,” said Nilforoushan in an interview with the Iranian news agency Tasnim.

“Israel is not in a position to threaten Iran,” he said according to a translation published by Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Iranian senior cleric Ahmad Khatami delivers his sermon during Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran, on January 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Last year, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a key leader of weekly Muslim prayers in Iran, reacted to reports that Israel viewed a war with Iran-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah as likely by saying: “If you want Haifa and Tel Aviv to be razed to the ground, you can take your chance.”

In September, the commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said that destroying Israel was now an “achievable goal.”

Four decades on from Iran’s Islamic revolution, “we have managed to obtain the capacity to destroy the impostor Zionist regime,” Major General Hossein Salami was quoted saying by the IRGC’s Sepah news site.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami speaks at Tehran’s Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense museum, during the unveiling of an exhibition of what Iran says are US and other drones captured in its territory, on September 21, 2019. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

“This sinister regime must be wiped off the map and this is no longer … a dream [but] it is an achievable goal,” Salami said.

Iran has lately been on edge, fearing an attack on the country over a drone-and-missile strike on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in September attributed to Tehran. Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed the attack, but the US and others allege Iran was behind it.

The attack in Saudi Arabia was the latest incident following the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, over a year after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew his country from the accord. The nuclear deal was meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons — something Iran denies it wants to do — in exchange for economic incentives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a sharp critic of the nuclear deal negotiated under the administration of former US president Barack Obama, and welcomed Washington’s pull-back from the accord, urging further pressure on Iran.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Iran: Air Pollution Shuts Schools in Iran’s Capital

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Air Pollution Shuts Schools in Iran’s Capital

Wednesday, 13 November, 2019 – 12:30
In the Nov. 14, 2016, Tehran is shrouded in a blanket of brown-white smog as the first of the winter’s heavy pollution hit the city. (Getty Images)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Schools in Tehran were ordered to be closed on Wednesday after the Iranian capital was cloaked in dangerously high levels of air pollution, authorities said.

Governor Anoushiravan Mohseni-Bandpey said kindergartens, preschools and primary schools would be shut in the city and the counties of Gharchak, Pishva and Varamin.

“The air quality index for the city of Tehran still has not passed the unhealthy status for sensitive groups,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

Average concentrations of hazardous airborne particles hit 133 micrograms per cubic meter in the city and were as high as 150 for 10 districts, he said.

That is far above the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum of 25 micro-grams per cubic meter on average over a 24-hour period.

Warnings were issued for children, pregnant women, the elderly and people suffering from cardio-vascular or respiratory diseases to stay indoors.

Many people were seen wearing face masks to avoid fumes as they waited for buses on the sides of traffic-choked streets of southern Tehran during morning rush-hour.

A layer of thick smog covered Tehran on Tuesday, but it appeared to dissipate in northern areas on Wednesday morning with fewer school buses on the roads.

Air pollution was the cause of nearly 30,000 deaths per year in Iranian cities, IRNA reported earlier this year, citing a health ministry official.

Each winter, Iran’s sprawling capital suffers some of the worst pollution in the world through thermal inversion — a phenomenon that traps hazardous air over the city.

According to a World Bank report last year, most of the pollution in the city of eight million inhabitants is caused by heavy duty vehicles, motorbikes, refineries and power plants.

Saudi Arabia Slams Iran’s Ongoing Deception over Nuclear Program

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Saudi Arabia Slams Iran’s Ongoing Deception over Nuclear Program

Tuesday, 12 November, 2019 – 12:45
King Salman bin Abdulaziz chairs a cabinet meeting in Riyadh. (SPA)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The Saudi government slammed on Tuesday Iran’s ongoing deception related to its nuclear program.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz chaired the cabinet meeting that was held in Riyadh.

The cabinet hailed the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in monitoring the program, condemning Tehran for its stalling and maneuvering in providing necessary information to the watchdog.

Iran must cooperate fully with the agency and respect IAEA inspectors, stressed the cabinet.

Turning to Yemen, it praised the signing of the Riyadh agreement last week between the legitimate government and Southern Transitional Council. King Salman sponsored the deal and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, presided over the signing ceremony that was held in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia continues to support all efforts to achieve the security and stability of Yemen, lauding the parties for prioritizing their nation’s and people’s interests.

The cabinet highlighted Crown Prince Mohammed’s remarks at the signing ceremony in which he said the Kingdom has been keen on aiding the Yemeni people since the eruption of their country’s crisis.

It continues to seek a political solution to the conflict according to the three references and it seeks an end to foreign meddling in its internal affairs and an end to the Iran-backed Houthi coup.

The Riyadh agreement is a major step forward in resolving the conflict, Information Minister Turki al-Shabanah said after the cabinet meeting.

King Salman also briefed the ministers on the telephone call he held with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the message he received from Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah.

The cabinet hailed the signing of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the World Economic Forum to establish a Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Kingdom.

“The center will provide space for the development of the mechanisms, plans and applications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Kingdom and will contribute to the adoption of technology and best practices in the region and the world,” read a statement after the inking of the deal.