Archive for September 23, 2020

Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals

September 23, 2020

Ha ha ha, this just gets better and better.

'There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,' Maliki said [File: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters]

Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.

Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.

Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.

Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.

“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.

In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.

The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.

Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.

In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.

Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.

Explosion rocks alleged Hezbollah arms cache in Lebanon, casualties reported

September 23, 2020

Military declares site in Ain Qana a closed zone, amid reports blast was in a weapons depot belonging to the terror group

By AARON BOXERMAN22 September 2020, 4:13 pmUpdated at 6:55 pm  4Smoke billows in the Lebanese village of Ain Qana after an unexplained explosion, September 22, 2020. (Twitter screen capture)

A Hezbollah weapons cache exploded in a small town in southern Lebanon on Monday, sending up billowing clouds of black smoke, causing widespread damage and several casualties, according to unconfirmed reports.

While there was no immediate confirmation by officials as to the cause of the explosion in the small town of Ain Qana, an unnamed source told Reuters the site was an arms depot.

UAE-based Al-Hadath, citing security sources, also reported that the explosion took place at a Hezbollah weapons storehouse. Another channel, Lebanon’s MTV, reported several injured.

A Hezbollah official confirmed there was an explosion but declined to give further details. Hezbollah security forces deployed in the area and prevented journalists from investigating on the scene.

Residents said ambulances had carried away several of the wounded, while the National News Agency reported only limited material damage. However, sources in Hezbollah told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International TV news channel that no one was injured in the blast.

Ain Qana is in the hilly Iqleem al-Tuffah region. A prominent Hezbollah tourist site that draws thousands of visitors a year lies on a neighboring hilltop just a ten-minute drive away.

The Lebanese Army said in a statement that its forces were at the scene to conduct an investigation into the cause of the explosion.

Lebanese state media implied that Israel may have been involved in the explosion, but emphasized that the causes “are not known.”

“The explosion that occurred in a house in the town of Ain Qana…coincided with the intensive flight of hostile Israeli military and espionage aircraft, which had not left the airspace of Nabatiyeh and Iqlim al-Tuffah since the morning,” the Lebanese National News Agency reported.

Sources in Hezbollah told LCBI that the explosion was not part of a targeted attack on senior officials in the Lebanese terror group.

Every blast in Lebanon since August’s devastating Beirut port explosion has gone viral on social media, with thousands waiting with bated breath to see whether or not a tire fire or gas blaze would turn into the next Lebanese catastrophe. Most Lebanese TV networks gave the explosion in Ein Qana wall-to-wall coverage, with experts and analysis on call to speculate about its source.

Viewers of official Hezbollah TV or one of its affiliates, however, may not have heard of the blast at all until hours later. Official Hezbollah al-Manar TV continued to broadcast reruns about its community projects and features about holy sites in south Lebanon; pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen ran a story on Lebanon’s financial crisis instead.

In its nightly news broadcast, an al-Manar newscaster delivered the semi-official Hezbollah line: that a house in Ain Qara had exploded due to unspecified “damages.”

“As usual, the media got up and began theorizing and pontificating and analyzing. They were so exceptional that they even beat the security services to finding out the root cause of the incident,” she said sarcastically.

The Beirut port explosion — which killed over 180 and rendered 300,000 homeless overnight — was caused by ammonium nitrate of unknown provenience. While many corrupt officials allowed the explosive material to remain in the port until the day it unleashed a firestorm in Beirut’s downtown, some evidence suggests that Hezbollah could have been involved in bringing it to Lebanon.

The explosion raised new questions about the placement of Hezbollah weapons caches in civilian areas. Hezbollah has long defended what it considers its right to possess arms as part of its “resistance” to Israel.

“Everyone knows where the weapons are. The issue of these weapons in villages and cities is now an issue of life and death. It is neither justifiable nor acceptable for Hezbollah to consider to store its weapons in such places,” Ali al-Amin, a journalist covering south Lebanon, told UAE-based al-Hadath TV.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

At UN, Rouhani says next US leader will ‘surrender to the resilience of Iran’

September 23, 2020

Defiant president slams Trump’s new sanctions, implies rebuke for Arab nations warming ties with Israel: ‘We never made a deal over the Holy Quds’

By AGENCIES22 September 2020, 10:43 pm  2Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaking in a pre-recorded message played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at UN headquarters in New York, September 22, 2020. (UNTV via AP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani vowed Tuesday that the next US leader must accept Tehran’s demands, ruling out compromise as Donald Trump vies for reelection.

“We are not a bargaining chip in US elections and domestic policy,” Rouhani said in a virtual address to the UN General Assembly. “Any US administration after the upcoming elections will have no choice but to surrender to the resilience of the Iranian nation.”

Tensions have soared between Iran and the United States under Trump, who pulled out of a nuclear accord negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama and slapped sweeping sanctions on the country.

Joe Biden, Trump’s rival in November 3 elections, staunchly backed the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani delivered a defiant and fiery speech even as his nation grapples with the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak and a weakened economy.

He spoke in a pre-recorded speech to the virtual summit just days after Iran’s currency plunged to its lowest levels ever to the US dollar due to crippling US sanctions imposed by Trump, who pulled the US out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. The accord had been signed by the Obama administration. The sanctions effectively bar Iran from selling its oil globally.

“The United States can impose neither negotiations nor war on us,” Rouhani said, before adding: “Life is hard under sanctions. However, harder is life without independence.”

Rouhani also compared his country’s plight with that of George Floyd, the Black American who died after a white police officer in Minneapolis pinned him to the ground by pressing a knee into his neck. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests in support of Black lives.

Calling it “reminiscent of our own experience,” he said: “We instantly recognize the feet kneeling on the neck as the feet of arrogance on the neck of independent nations.”

Rouhani said Iran “has paid a similar high price” in its quest for freedom and liberation from domination. He insisted his nation “does not deserve sanctions” and described the US as “a terrorist and interventionist outsider” before referring to the 1953 US-backed coup that cemented the control of the shah in Iran, which ultimately pushed the country toward its Islamic Revolution and hostility with the West.

This week, the White House doubled down on its maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic with an executive order to enforce all United Nations sanctions on Iran because Tehran is not complying with the nuclear deal — a move that most of the rest of the world rejects as illegal. Few UN member states believe the US has the legal standing to restore the sanctions because Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement.

Rouhani accused the US of creating Islamic State, and said US claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons were “without any foundation.”

He also hailed Iran’s role in standing “with the people and government of Lebanon against Zionist occupiers, domestic warmongers and foreign plotters” and said it his regime “never ignored occupation, genocide, forced displacement and racism in Palestine.”

In an implied rebuke of Arab countries warming their ties with Israel — including the UAE and Bahrain, which last week signed the Abraham Accords at the White House — he said Iran “never made a deal over the Holy Quds and the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.”French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, September 21, 2020. (Michel Euler/AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that Europe would not compromise with the US over Washington’s move to reactivate sanctions on Iran, warning the snapback could undermine the UN Security Council and increase Middle East tensions.

Macron assailed the “maximum pressure” policy, saying it had failed to curb Tehran’s interference in the region or ensure it would not acquire a nuclear weapon.

“We will not compromise on the activation of a mechanism that the United States is not in a position to activate on its own after leaving the agreement,” Macron told the UN General Assembly’s 75th session by video from Paris.

“This would undermine the unity of the Security Council and the integrity of its decisions, and it would run the risk of further aggravating tensions in the region,” he warned.

In a nod to Washington, Macron said additional frameworks were needed for effectively dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, adding there needed to be a “capacity to complete” the 2015 accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

These would ensure that “we will provide responses to Iran’s ballistic activity, but also to its destabilization in the region.”

Macron insisted that France, along with its European allies Britain and Germany, would keep up its demand for “full implementation” of the Iran nuclear deal.Screen capture from video shows Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei openly weeping as he leads a prayer over the coffin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Iran Press TV via AP)

He added that they would “not accept the violations committed by Iran,” which has ramped up its nuclear activity in response to the US withdrawal.

Tensions have run dangerously high this year between Tehran and Washington following a US strike in January that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, prompting Tehran to retaliate with a ballistic missile strike on Iraqi bases housing American troops. The powerful commander was close to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who openly wept at his funeral.

Rouhani mentioned the commander briefly in his speech, referring to him as an “assassinated hero.”

Trump, who faces a stiff reelection battle in November, has ramped up pressure on Iran since taking office and has increased US military presence in the Gulf as a centerpiece of his Mideast foreign policy.

“We are not a bargaining chip in US elections and domestic policy,” Rouhani said.

In his speech earlier Tuesday at the General Assembly, Trump called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and underlined the US killing of Soleimani, boasting, “We withdrew from the terrible Iran nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.”