Archive for June 19, 2020

Iran says virus cases top 200,000, death toll nears 10,000

June 19, 2020

Source: Iran says virus cases top 200,000, death toll nears 10,000 | The Times of Israel

Official figures have shown an upward trajectory in new confirmed COVID-19 cases since early May, Tehran letting each region decide on its own precautions

In this Tuesday, June 16, 2020, photo, nurses prepare medicines for COVID-19 patients at the Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In this Tuesday, June 16, 2020, photo, nurses prepare medicines for COVID-19 patients at the Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said its novel coronavirus caseload passed the 200,000 mark on Friday, as authorities gave provinces the power to reimpose measures aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.

Official figures have shown an upward trajectory in new confirmed COVID-19 cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in recorded infections.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said on state television that another 2,615 people in Iran had tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours.

That brought to 200,262 the total number of confirmed cases since the country’s outbreak emerged four months ago.

The new cases were “a reflection of (the Iranian people’s) cooperation in the past two to four weeks,” said Lari, who again urged citizens to observe health protocols and social distancing.

She added that 120 fatalities in the past day had taken the overall toll to 9,392.

There has been skepticism at home and abroad about Iran’s official figures, with concerns the real toll could be much higher.

Six of Iran’s 31 provinces — Bushehr, Hormozgan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Sistan and Baluchistan, and West Azerbaijan — are currently “red”, the highest level on the country’s colour-coded risk scale.

The number was five on Thursday.

Deputy Health Minister Hossein Erfani told state television on Friday that Iran had implemented what it calls “dynamic social distancing”.

The measure enabled “each province to decide for itself” regarding restrictive measures.

Iran reported its first cases on February 19 and started implementing measures such as shutting down non-essential businesses and busy Shiite shrines to contain the virus.

But the government progressively lifted the restrictions from April in order to reopen the sanctions-hit economy.

The recent upsurge in infections — which the government insists is due to increased testing rather than a worsening outbreak — and the new powers have prompted some provinces to reimpose restrictive measures.


Gantz: Iran’s ‘blatant’ nuclear violations threaten Israel and global stability 

June 19, 2020

Source: Gantz: Iran’s ‘blatant’ nuclear violationthreaten Israel and global stability | The Times of Israel

Defense minister hails IAEA resolion criticizing Tehran for blocking inspector’s access to suspect sites; vows Iran will never get atomic weapons

Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday hailed the UN nuclear watchdog’s passing of a resolution criticizing Iran for not granting access to suspicious sites, saying that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions threatened Israel and global stability.

The resolution passed by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, the first of its kind since 2012, calls on Iran to grant inspectors access to two sites to determine whether undeclared nuclear activity took place there in the early 2000s.

In a statement applauding the move, Gantz accused Iran of violating the 2015 agreement between Tehran and world powers that curbed its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

“We’ve known for years that Iran is concealing blatant violations of the nuclear deal with the intention of threatening both Israel and global stability,” Gantz said in a statement. “Israel will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear capability and the international community is doing the right thing by insisting on effective inspections.”

The Foreign Ministry said the resolution “corroborates all of Israel’s claims regarding Iran’s continued covert nuclear activity.” It also noted the IAEA move came on the heels of a United Nations report saying Iran may have violated an arms embargo imposed on it as part of the UN Security Council anchoring the 2015 nuclear deal.

“Iran continues to systematically violate all international commitments it has signed and is working effortlessly to hide evidence and disrupt investigations in order to deceive the international community,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

It added: “The world must set a clear red line for Iran.”

Top Israeli officials have long accused Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, a charge denied by Iranian leaders, who insist their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran has been blocking access to the sites flagged by the IAEA for months, prompting a growing diplomatic row.

Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Gharib Abadi, waits for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, November 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

The resolution was carried by 25 votes in favor versus two against, with seven abstentions. Russia and China, both of which had spoken out against the prospect of a resolution earlier this week, voted against.

It had been put forward by France, Germany and Britain and supported by the United States, even though the American ambassador to the UN in Vienna had said “the text could be strengthened.”

Iran’s Ambassador to the UN in Vienna Kazem Gharib Abadi told Friday’s meeting that the resolution will not “encourage Iran to grant access to the Agency based on fabricated and unfounded allegations.”

“Iran categorically deplores this resolution and will take appropriate action in response, the repercussions of which would be upon the sponsors of this resolution,” he added.

Even though the sites in question are not thought to be directly relevant to Iran’s current nuclear program, the agency says it needs to know if activities going back almost two decades have been properly declared and all materials accounted for.

Despite the row over the two sites, the IAEA says it still has the access it needs to inspect Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, as per its mandate under the 2015 nuclear accord.

However, the latest dispute comes as that deal further unravels, with Iran continuing to breach its limits on nuclear activity in retaliation to a US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and renewed sanctions.

Iran has previously hinted that a resolution along the lines of the one passed Friday could cause “complication and difficulties” for the future of the 2015 accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

In his statement, Gharib Abadi warned the IAEA against actions that could lead to “the destruction of the JCPOA.”

Director-general of International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, speaks before the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Speaking to reporters after the resolution was passed, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said it would be “absolutely unacceptable” if an example were to be set that states can be selective in their implementation of agreements with the UN agency.

“There are no exceptions. There is no Additional Protocol a la carte,” Grossi said, referring to the agreement under which the IAEA requested access to the sites.

“I intend to sit down with Iran very soon and to try to solve this as soon as possible,” he said, adding that Gharib Abadi would be his first port of call.

Iran this week argued that the IAEA’s access requests were based on allegations from Israel, which has flagged at least one site as a “secret atomic warehouse” and pressed the IAEA to investigate.

Additional information provided by the IAEA to back up its requests “were merely some commercial satellite imageries that contained no convincing underlying reason” to provide access, Tehran argued.

Also on Friday, the British Foreign Office said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would be meeting French and German counterparts in Berlin to discuss “a diplomatic solution to Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East.”