China: Amid COVID-19 outbreak, Iran urges int’l help

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI CHINA NEWS AGENCY ‘SHINE’)

 

Amid COVID-19 outbreak, Iran urges int’l help, Palestine enters state of emergency

Xinhua

Coronavirus Disease Outbreak
Amid COVID-19 outbreak, Iran urges int'l help, Palestine enters state of emergency

AFP

An Iranian medic treats a patient infected with the COVID-19 virus at a hospital in Tehran on March 1, 2020.

Iran on Friday called for international help for its fight against the raging epidemic caused by COVID-19. Meanwhile, a state of emergency took effect in Palestine where nine new cases of infection were reported.

The international community “has a duty” to help Iran fight the novel coronavirus outbreak, said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, noting that Iran’s efforts would only succeed if the countries in the region and around the world “shoulder their share of responsibilities and cooperate with Tehran.”

“We either win together or lose together,” Zarif was quoted by Press TV as saying.

Zarif issued the call for help as the novel coronavirus has claimed 17 more lives in Iran on Friday, bringing the death toll in the country to 124. A total of 4,747 people were confirmed with the viral infection by Friday, 1,234 more than a day ago.

The World Health Organization said on Friday that it does not endorse international flight restrictions on Iran amid the outbreak of COVID-19.

Richard Brennan, regional emergency director for WHO, was quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency as saying that although WHO recommends all countries to adopt restrictions in emergency situations, “it currently does not agree with such (flight) restrictions to be imposed on Iran.”

He made the remarks on Thursday on the sidelines of a meeting on the epidemic in Iran, which was attended by foreign diplomats and Iranian officials.

Brennan stressed that the WHO makes no recommendations about imposing restrictions on flights to and from Iran, adding that the decision by the airliners in this regard should be evaluated and endorsed by the WHO.

In Lebanon, the Rafic Hariri Hospital announced that six more people were tested positive for COVID-19 infection, bringing to 22 the total number of confirmed cases in the country.

Meanwhile, the ministerial committee appointed by the Lebanese Council of Ministers for the fight against coronavirus issued emergency measures to stop the virus’ spread.

The committee urged public and private schools to be kept closed, in addition to the closure of night clubs, sports clubs, exhibitions and theaters. It urged people to avoid crowded places and gatherings, and religious authorities to reduce the number of people visiting mosques and churches.

In Israel, the Ministry of Health announced on Friday that four more Israelis were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, as the total number of confirmed cases rose to 21.

The ministry said that all the four patients recently returned home from overseas, two from Madrid of Spain, one from Switzerland, and one from Austria.

Also on Friday, Egypt’s Health Ministry and WHO announced in a joint statement that 12 Egyptians were tested positive for COVID-19.

The 12 Egyptians were infected on a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor, said the statement on the ministry’s Facebook page.

The cases have been taken to hospital and are currently receiving necessary medical care, the statement added.

In Palestine, a 30-day state of emergency against the COVID-19 spread took effect on Friday, as nine new cases of infection were reported, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 16, only one day after the first seven cases were detected.

Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Keileh said that all the new cases were also detected in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where the first seven cases were announced on Thursday.

The first seven cases were the workers in a hotel in Bethlehem, who were believed to be infected during contacts with one of the Greek tourists who stayed in the hotel later last month.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday declared a state of emergency imposed in the West Bank for 30 days as part of the precautionary measures to contain the virus’ spread.

The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities banned the entry of tourists into the West Bank where all hotels were required to stop receiving tourists for two weeks.

For Palestine, tourism is the main artery of its economy. The holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem are estimated to attract about 3.5 million tourists and pilgrims from across the world each year.

Many are worried that the anti-coronavirus measures, including a ban on tourists, will cost the Palestinian tourism sector dearly and deal a huge blow to the struggling economy.

“If the crisis goes on for too long, the economic consequences in the city and entire Palestine will be disastrous,” said Elias el-Arja, director of the Hotels Association in the Palestinian Territories and owner of one of the hotels in Bethlehem.

Adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei Dies of Coronavirus

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME MAGAZINE)

 

A woman wears a medical mask as a precaution against coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 01, 2020 in Tehran, Iran.

A woman wears a medical mask as a precaution against coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 01, 2020 in Tehran, Iran.
Fatemeh Bahrami–Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
MARCH 2, 2020 4:02 AM EST

(TEHRAN, Iran) — A member of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader died Monday after falling sick from the new coronavirus, state radio reported, becoming the first top official to succumb to the illness that is affecting members of the Islamic Republic’s leadership.

Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi died at a Tehran hospital of the virus, state radio said. He was 71.

The council advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as settles disputes between the supreme leader and parliament.

His death comes as other top officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world after China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Those sick included include Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, better known as “Sister Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis, state media reported. Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.

Iran has reported 978 confirmed cases of the new virus with 54 deaths from the illness it causes, called COVID-19. Across the wider Mideast, there are over 1,150 cases of the new coronavirus, the majority of which are linked back to Iran.

Experts worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, around 5.5%, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than current figures show.

Trying to stem the outbreak of the new coronavirus, Iran on Monday held an online-only briefing by its Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi opened the online news conference addressing the outbreak, dismissing an offer of help for Iran by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Iran and the U.S. have seen some of the worst tensions since its 1979 Islamic Revolution in recent months, culminating in the American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and a subsequent Iranian ballistic missile counterattack against U.S. forces.

“We neither count on such help nor are we ready to accept verbal help,” Mousavi said. He added Iran has always been “suspicious” about America’s intentions and accused the U.S. government of trying to weaken Iranians’ spirits over the outbreak.

The British Embassy meanwhile has begun evacuations over the virus.

“Essential staff needed to continue critical work will remain,” the British Foreign Office said. “In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy to provide assistance to British nationals from within Iran may be limited.”

While Iran has closed schools and universities to stop the spread of the virus, major Shiite shrines have remained open despite civilian authorities calling for them to be closed. The holy cities of Mashhad and Qom in particular, both home to shrines, have been hard-hit by the virus. Shiites often touch and kiss shrines as a sign of their faith. Authorities have been cleaning the shrines with disinfectants.

Police have arrested one man who posted a video showing himself licking the metal enclosing the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, the most-important Shiite saint buried in the country, according to reports by semiofficial news agencies. In the video, the man said he licked the metal to “allow others to visit the shrine with peace of mind.”

Meanwhile Monday, the virus outbreak saw itself dragged into the yearslong boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations over a political dispute.

A prominent columnist at Dubai’s government-owned Al-Bayan newspaper on Twitter falsely described the virus as being a plot by Qatar to hurt the upcoming Expo 2020 world’s fair in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Noura al-Moteari later described the tweet as “satire” to The Associated Press after it gained widespread attention.

The Dubai Media Office similarly described the tweet as being written in a “cynical style” while distancing the Arabic-language daily from al-Moteari.

“Noura is a freelance writer and is not an employee of Al-Bayan nor does she represent the publication’s views,” it told the AP. “That being said, this has no relevance to any social media policy being practiced by the publication nor the state.”

The tweet comes after Qatar expressed disappointment Sunday that nearly all of its Gulf neighbors snubbed invitations to attend the weekend peace signing ceremony between the U.S. and the Taliban.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

CONTACT US AT [email protected].

 

 

176 killed after Ukraine International Airlines plane crashes in Tehran shortly after takeoff

176 killed after Ukraine International Airlines plane crashes in Tehran shortly after takeoff

(CNN)All 176 people on board a Ukraine International Airlines flight were killed when it crashed shortly after takeoff from Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, the country’s state-run Press TV reported.

The Boeing 737 jet took off early Wednesday morning with 167 passengers and nine crew on board, Press TV reported, citing Ali Khashani, a senior public relations official at the airport.
Earlier reports from Iranian state media had said 180 people were on board.
Emergency crews were dispatched to the crash site but could not assist because the area is currently ablaze, said Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of Iran’s Emergency Medical Services. Koulivand told state-run media outlet IRINN that the crash site is between the cities of Parand and Shahriar.
Flight-tracking service FlightRadar 24 said in a tweet that the jet had been in service for about three and a half years.
Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA reported the crash was due to technical difficulties.
A Boeing spokesperson told CNN they are “aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”
First responders are seen after the crash.

The crash takes place just days before the company’s new CEO David Calhoun will formally take the job. Calhoun replaces Dennis Muilenburg, who was ousted in December after Boeing’s disastrous year.
The American aviation giant is still reeling from the aftermath of two 737 Max crashes, which killed 346 people. The Max has been grounded worldwide since March, and the company has struggled with delays and other issues in its bid to get the planes back in the air.
This is a developing story and will be updated.

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.

Iran Marks 40th Anniversary of US Embassy Seizure

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

 

Iran Marks 40th Anniversary of US Embassy Seizure

Tuesday, 5 November, 2019 – 12:30
A woman walks in front of new murals of the former US embassy in Tehran, Iran November 2, 2019. (Reuters)
London, Tehran – Asharq Al-Awsat
Iran marked the 40th anniversary of the seizure of the mission of the US Embassy in Tehran with dozens of rallies in several cities across the country chanting against the US.

State television showed footage of crowds packed in the streets surrounding the former embassy building, dubbed the “den of spies” after Iran’s 1979 revolution. The building is currently under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

State television broadcast live footage of similar gatherings in several cities, including Mashhad, Qazvin and Tabriz in the north; Ilam, Bushehr, Ahvaz and Shiraz in the south; Isfahan in the center, as well as Zahedan in the southeast.

According to the Mehr news agency, “millions are taking part in these gatherings” across the country.

In Tehran, men, women and children waved placards in English and Farsi, reading: “Down with USA.. Death to Israel..Victory to Islam.” They carried effigies mocking US President Donald Trump.

In 1979, hard line students stormed the embassy soon after the fall of the US-backed Shah Mohammad Reza, and took 52 US citizens hostage. The protesters demanded Washington hand over the Shah for persecution inside Iran in exchange for releasing the hostages. They released them after 444 days when the Shah died in Egypt.

On Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for trying to promote talks between the United States and Iran.

“The French president, who says a meeting will end all the problems between Tehran and America, is either naive or complicit with the US,” he said in remarks reported by state television.

He warned Iranian officials against holding talks with the US unless it returns to the 2015 nuclear deal and lifts reimposed sanctions. “Those who believe that negotiations with the enemy will solve our problems are 100 percent wrong,” he said.

Meanwhile, Iran’s parliament gave initial approval to a measure requiring schoolbooks to inform students about “America’s crimes”, as lawmakers attending the session chanted “Death to America”.

Relations between the two countries have been deeply strained since President Trump abandoned in 2018 the 2015 pact between Iran and world powers under which it accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions.

The United States has reimposed sanctions aimed at halting all Iranian oil exports, saying it seeks to force it to negotiate to reach a wider deal that includes Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional activities.

Britain says Iran has seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Britain says Iran has seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

UK confirms two vessels taken, one of them British, in ‘unacceptable’ act; Iranian media says second ship released after being detained; US accuses Tehran of ‘escalatory violence’

This undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location (Stena Bulk via AP)

This undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location (Stena Bulk via AP)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, officials in London said, in a move that further raised tensions and infuriated American and British leaders.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said it had seized British oil tanker Stena Impero, claiming it “was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organization when passing through the Strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules.”

US officials told CNN there were indications that Iran had seized a second vessel, the Liberian tanker MV Mesdar. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that Masdar had been detained by Iranian forces but was released and left Iranian waters.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed that two ships had been seized, condemning the incidents as “unacceptable” and saying he was “extremely concerned” by the incidents.

UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt addresses the final Conservative Party leadership election hustings in London on July 17, 2019. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

“I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz,” he said in a statement. “These seizures are unacceptable.”

The government was to hold an emergency ministerial meeting later on Friday “to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels,” Hunt said.

Britain’s ambassador in Tehran was in contact with Iranian authorities “to resolve the situation,” he added.

Hunt later warned of “serious consequences” if the ships were not released.

“We will respond in a way is considered but robust, and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences,” he was quoted saying by Sky News.

“We’re not looking at military options, we are a looking at diplomatic way to resolve the situation,” he added.

Britain confirmed that one of the boats seized was British registered. The other was Liberian-flagged, but reported to be owned by British company Norbulk Shipping.

Fars reported the Liberian-flagged tanker was briefly detained in the Strait of Hormuz and given a notice to comply with environmental regulations before being allowed to continue on its way.

The UK is “urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a British government spokesperson said.

Asked about the latest incident as he departed the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters “We will talk to the UK. We’ll be working with the UK.”

He added: “This only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran. Trouble. Nothing but trouble. It goes to show you I was right about Iran.”

US President Donald Trump talks to the press before departing from the South Lawn of the White House on July 19, 2019, in Washington, DC (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

The US accused Iran of “escalatory violence,” with National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis saying: “The US will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior.”

The Swedish owners of the Stena Impero said the vessel had come under “attack” in the Strait of Hormuz.

Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management said in a statement that it “can confirm that… our managed vessel Stena Impero was attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter while transiting the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.”

“We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now tracking as heading north towards Iran,” it said.

UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti said the seizure of a British oil tanker by Iranian forces represents an escalation in tensions in the Persian Gulf that makes it clear more protection for merchant vessels is urgently needed.

He said the action was “in violation of international regulations which protect ships and their crews as they go about their legitimate business in international waters.”

He called on the British government to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship’s crew.

The announcement by the Guards came hours after the British territory of Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ruled that a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching sanctions by shipping oil to Syria can be detained for 30 more days.

The Grace 1 supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, was intercepted by British Royal Marines and Gibraltar’s police on July 4 as it transited through waters claimed by Gibraltar, which is located on Spain’s southern tip.

The Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Thursday he had had a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London aimed at defusing tensions around the detention of the tanker in the British territory’s waters.

Gibraltar and US officials believed the tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions.

Iran has reacted with fury to what it termed “piracy” and warned it would not let the interception go unanswered.

Last week, a British warship in the Gulf warned off armed Iranian boats that tried to stop a UK supertanker. London has since announced the deployment of two more warships to the Gulf region for the coming months.

In this file photo taken on April 30, 2019, Iranian soldiers take part in the ‘National Persian Gulf Day’ in the Strait of Hormuz. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The Gibraltar court ruling comes as tensions in the Gulf region mounted Friday after Washington said an Iranian drone was destroyed after threatening a US naval vessel at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

It was believed to be the first US military engagement with Iran following a series of increasingly serious incidents. Iran has denied losing any drones.

On Thursday the Guards said they’d seized a foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil. The vessel appeared to be a United Arab Emirates-based tanker that had disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters.

Iran’s state television did not identify the seized vessel or nationalities of the crew, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.

READ MORE:

Iran seizes two British tankers and makes a huge mistake

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER)

 

Iran seizes two British tankers and makes a huge mistake

00:0100:54

There will be furious embarrassment in the British government this evening over Iran’s seizure of two British oil tankers today. One of those tankers is British-flagged, and the other is British-owned.

Still, Iran has made a strategic miscalculation here.

Acting against the British while the U.K. and Iranian foreign ministers were seeking compromise over Britain’s recent seizure of an Iranian tanker, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have further isolated Iran on the international stage. With a multinational naval task force for tanker escorts likely to be announced next week, the Iranians are increasingly outgunned and diplomatically isolated. Losing a drone to a U.S. warship on Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is also now aware of American red lines against threats to U.S. life.

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Columnist Salena Zito on the expanded Washington Examiner magazine

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But none of that will distract from London’s embarrassment.

Britain was well aware that this kind of Iranian aggression was likely. Deploying an advanced warship to the Persian Gulf, the U.K. expected to deter Iran. That calculation has clearly failed in quite spectacular fashion. The military options to retake these tankers are also weak. While Britain’s Special Boat Service special forces unit has an advanced maritime counter-terrorism capability, recovering tankers now in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps port would be an extraordinary challenge.

That said, Iran’s action here presents two problems for Tehran.

First, it will encourage Britain to support the U.S. sanctions pressure campaign against Iran. With a new British prime minister entering office next week, the U.K. will want to regain the initiative here against appearing weak. But Iran’s action also makes it likelier that France and Germany will adopt a tougher stance against it. Those nations have pursued an appeasement strategy until now, but they will view Iran’s escalated endangerment of global energy supplies as intolerable.

Ultimately, then, Iran is heading for more economic damage. These seizures might make the hard-liners feel good, but they’ve made a big mistake.

Iran’s President Decries US Policy Of Maximum Pressure

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

 

Iran’s Rouhani Decries US Policy of Maximum Pressure

Wednesday, 1 May, 2019 – 09:15
Rouhani speaks during a ceremony marking national Workers’ Week in Tehran, Iran April 30, 2019. (Reuters)
London – Asharq Al-Awsat
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivered Tuesday a vocal defiance to Washington’s latest measure to bring Iranian oil exports to zero.

“We will bring the US to its knees,” said Rouhani two days ahead of US decision to end waivers for country’s buying Iranian oil goes into effect.

Rouhani’s bellicose words followed an even tougher speech delivered by Qassem Soleimani, who commands the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.

“Enemies are looking to harm us through coercion, sanctions and threatening the country’s stability,” Soleimani said, while stressing that the US is going full-throttle in its attempt to trigger regime change in Tehran.

Last week, Washington announced it will no longer exempt eight countries that mainly import oil from Iran from economic sanctions. The move is set to place maximum pressure on Tehran so that it returns to negotiations and complies with 12 demands which include ending its support for regional militias, as well as freezing its development of ballistic missiles.

Since then, Rouhani and Iran’s top diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have signaled willingness to reopen negotiation channels.

But Soleimani blasted any talks under the pressure of economic sanctions as “degrading, capitulation and surrender.”

The country’s ultra-conservative Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, for his part, deemed returning to the roundtable a “strategic blunder.”

“America’s decision that Iranian oil exports should reach zero is wrong and incorrect, and we will not allow this decision to be implemented,” Rouhani said.

“In the coming months, the Americans themselves will see that we will continue our oil exports,” Rouhani said, taking pride in Tehran having “six methods” to circumvent US sanctions.

Rouhani and Iranian officials have threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if Washington tries to halt Iranian oil exports.

The Strait of Hormuz links the crude-producing countries of the Middle East and markets in Asia and the Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond, and a third of the world’s sea-transported oil passes through it every day.

Iran has also threatened to pull out of the nuclear deal itself if European powers do not succeed in ensuring Tehran’s economic benefits.

European countries have said they would help companies keep their operations with Iran as long as they are committed to the deal, but Tehran has criticized what it sees as a slow pace of progress in the implementation of a payment mechanism for trade settlement between Iran and Europe.