Iran Sends Missiles to Iraqi Hezbollah in East Syria

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
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Iran Sends Missiles to Iraqi Hezbollah in East Syria

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Short and medium range surface-to-surface Iranian missiles were delivered Friday to the Iraqi Hezbollah near the regime-controlled town of Al-Tabani in the western countryside of Syria’s Deir Ezzor province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 56 missiles were delivered to the Hezbollah sites in civilian trucks via unofficial crossings between Syria and Iraq.

Earlier this month, SOHR activists had monitored the Afghan Fatimiyoun Brigade unloading a weapons shipment from four large trucks used for transporting vegetables and fruits.

The trucks were loaded with Iranian-made missiles, coming from Iraq. The shipments were stored in commercial warehouses rented from civilians in the area of Kua Ibn Aswad, located between Al-Mayadeen city and Mahakan town in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor.

Iranian militias and their supporters are based in positions in Deir Ezzor’s countryside, but they make redeployments from time to time over fear of Israeli airstrikes and unidentified US-led coalition aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Cultural Center won Friday a bid to invest in Al-Nour private hospital in Deir Ezzor city, which belongs to a doctor who has sought asylum in a European country.

The Syrian regime had confiscated the hospital and the doctor’s properties. The center won the bid to operate the hospital in return for 15 million Syrian pounds a year. It has started rehabilitating for reopening.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Hezbollah started recruiting new volunteers at its base in the rural development department building of Deir Ezzor’s Harabish neighborhood. The Party announced that it would give the new recruits monthly salaries of $150 each, exploiting the economic hardship and dire living conditions.

A large number of volunteers applied to join Hezbollah's ranks, seeing the offer as a good deal compared to the wages of regime soldiers and other loyalists, the Observatory said.



Iran Executed 834 People Last Year, Highest Since 2015, Say Rights Groups 

General view of the traffic in Tehran, Iran, 04 March 2024. (EPA)
General view of the traffic in Tehran, Iran, 04 March 2024. (EPA)
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Iran Executed 834 People Last Year, Highest Since 2015, Say Rights Groups 

General view of the traffic in Tehran, Iran, 04 March 2024. (EPA)
General view of the traffic in Tehran, Iran, 04 March 2024. (EPA)

Iran executed a "staggering" total of at least 834 people last year, the highest number since 2015 as capital punishment surged in the country, two rights groups said Tuesday.

The number of executions, which Iran has carried out by hanging in recent years, was up some 43 percent in 2022.

It marked only the second time in two decades that over 800 executions were recorded in a year, after 972 executions in 2015, Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty said in the joint report.

The groups accused Iran of using the death penalty to spread fear throughout society in the wake of the protests sparked by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini that shook the authorities.

"Instilling societal fear is the regime's only way to hold on to power, and the death penalty is its most important instrument," said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam in the report, which described the figure of 834 as a "staggering total".

Iran has executed nine men in cases linked to attacks on security forces during the 2022 protests -- two in 2022, six in 2023 and one so far in 2024 -- according to the rights groups.

But executions have been stepped up on other charges, notably in drug-related cases, which had until recent years seen a fall.

"Of particular concern is the dramatic escalation in the number of drug-related executions in 2023, which rose to 471 people, more than 18 times higher than the figures recorded in 2020," said the report.

Members of ethnic minorities, notably the Baluch from the southeast of Iran, are "grossly overrepresented amongst those executed" on drug-related charges, it said.

At least 167 members of the Baluch minority were executed in total, accounting for 20 percent of the total executions in 2023, even though the minority accounts for only around five percent of Iran's population.

Most hangings in Iran are carried out within the confines of prison but the report said that in 2023 the number of hangings carried out in public in Iran tripled from 2022, with seven people hanged in public spaces.

At least 22 women were executed, marking the highest number in the past decade, the report said.

Fifteen of them were hanged on murder charges and NGOs have long warned that women who kill an abusive partner or relative risk being hanged.

In 2023, only 15 percent of the recorded executions were announced by official Iranian media, with IHR confirming the other executions with its own sources.


Ukraine Claims it Has Sunk another Russian Warship in the Black Sea Using High-tech Sea Drones

FILE PHOTO: Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine's coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine's coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo/File Photo
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Ukraine Claims it Has Sunk another Russian Warship in the Black Sea Using High-tech Sea Drones

FILE PHOTO: Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine's coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine's coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo/File Photo

Ukraine claimed Tuesday it has sunk another Russian warship in the Black Sea using high-tech sea drones as Kyiv’s forces continue to take aim at targets deep behind the war’s front line. Russian authorities did not confirm the claim, The Associated Press said on Tuesday.
The Ukrainian military intelligence agency said a special operations unit destroyed the large patrol ship Sergey Kotov overnight with Magura V5 uncrewed vessels that are designed and built in Ukraine and laden with explosives. The patrol ship, which Ukraine said was hit near the Kerch Strait, reportedly can carry cruise missiles and around 60 crew.
The Ukrainian claim could not immediately be independently verified, and disinformation has been a feature of the fighting that broke out after Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.
Kyiv's forces are struggling to keep the better-provisioned Russian army at bay at some points along the largely static 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) front line, but are also taking aim at targets deep beyond the battlefield.
Last month, Ukraine claimed it twice sank Russian warships using drones. On Feb. 1, it claimed to have sunk the Russian missile-armed corvette Ivanovets, and on Feb. 14 it said it destroyed the Caesar Kunikov landing ship. Russian officials did not confirm those claims.
Kyiv officials say some 20% of Russian missile attacks on Ukraine are launched from the Black Sea, and hitting Russian ships there is embarrassing for Moscow.
Almost a year ago, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva guided-missile cruiser, sank after it was heavily damaged in a missile attack.


Türkiye Detains Seven Suspected of Selling Information to Israel’s Mossad, Anadolu Says 

A food street seller grills fishes as he waits for customers next to the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Türkiye, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP)
A food street seller grills fishes as he waits for customers next to the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Türkiye, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP)
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Türkiye Detains Seven Suspected of Selling Information to Israel’s Mossad, Anadolu Says 

A food street seller grills fishes as he waits for customers next to the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Türkiye, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP)
A food street seller grills fishes as he waits for customers next to the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Türkiye, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP)

Turkish police have detained seven people, including a private detective, suspected of selling information to Israel's Mossad intelligence service, state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Tuesday.

Anadolu cited security sources as saying the private detective, a former public servant, was suspected of gathering information on Middle Eastern companies and individuals in Türkiye, placing tracking devices and engaging in surveillance.

The sources said the detentions were part of an operation carried out by Türkiye’s national intelligence agency MIT and Istanbul counter-terror police.

Ankara made no official statement on the operation. Israel did not immediately comment on the Anadolu report.

The Turkish detective was trained by Mossad in the Serbian capital Belgrade and received payments in cryptocurrency that did not appear in official records, the sources said.

A Turkish court in January ordered the arrest of 15 people and the deportation of eight others suspected of having links to Mossad and targeting Palestinians living in Türkiye. In February, Türkiye detained seven suspected of selling information to Mossad.

Turkish and Israeli leaders have traded public barbs since Israel's war with the Palestinian group Hamas began last October. Ankara has warned Israel of "serious consequences" if it tries to hunt down Hamas members living outside the Palestinian territories, including in Türkiye.


Moscow: Western Ambassadors Are Meddling in Russia's Affairs

A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
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Moscow: Western Ambassadors Are Meddling in Russia's Affairs

A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
A person throws flowers towards the grave of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny while standing in front of a closed entrance to the Borisovskoye cemetery, in Moscow, Russia, March 3, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday accused Western ambassadors in Moscow of meddling in Russia's internal affairs and said their behavior raised questions about the point of such envoys.
The war in Ukraine has triggered the deepest crisis in Russia's relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and President Vladimir Putin has warned the West that it risks provoking a nuclear war if Western troops are sent to fight in Ukraine.
Russia was dismayed by what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 4 was a refusal by European Union ambassadors to meet him for a conversation ahead of Russia's March 15-17 presidential election.
There was no immediate reaction to Lavrov's statement from the Western ambassadors.
Asked by Russian state television anchor Vladimir Solovyov if the EU ambassadors understood their function, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said their refusal to meet Lavrov raised questions about their role.
"The question indeed arises among everyone: what are they doing, and why, how do they interpret their conduct on the territory of our country if they do not perform their most important function?" Reuters quoted Zakharova as saying.
Solovyov noted that EU ambassadors attended the March 1 funeral of opposition politician Alexei Navalny, whom he cast as their agent. Navalny, whose death at an Arctic prison colony was announced on Feb. 16, always denied he was a Western agent.
Zakharova said such behavior showed Western ambassadors in Moscow were meddling in Russia's affairs and putting on "performances" rather than doing their diplomatic work.
The banner headline on Solovyov's television show read: "Should the EU ambassadors be sent out?"

The West is grappling with what support it will give to Kyiv after Russian forces regained the initiative on the battlefield after a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive last year.
Russian media last week published an audio recording
of a meeting of senior German military officials held by Webex discussing weapons for Ukraine and a potential strike by Kyiv on a bridge in Crimea.
Russia summoned Germany's ambassador to the foreign ministry on Monday, demanding clarification of the conversations and the assistance given to Ukraine to strike Russian targets.
The ambassador, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, was also scolded over what Moscow said were attempts by Berlin to restrict the activities of Russian journalists in Germany, according to the Russian foreign ministry.
"If they touch Russian correspondents and bring their plans to conclusion, German journalists will leave Russia," Zakharova said.


North Korea Threatens to Take Military Moves in Response to US-South Korean Drills 

05 March 2024, South Korea, Pyeongtaek: Apache choppers take off at Camp Humphreys, to join the Freedom Shield 2024 exercise. (dpa)
05 March 2024, South Korea, Pyeongtaek: Apache choppers take off at Camp Humphreys, to join the Freedom Shield 2024 exercise. (dpa)
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North Korea Threatens to Take Military Moves in Response to US-South Korean Drills 

05 March 2024, South Korea, Pyeongtaek: Apache choppers take off at Camp Humphreys, to join the Freedom Shield 2024 exercise. (dpa)
05 March 2024, South Korea, Pyeongtaek: Apache choppers take off at Camp Humphreys, to join the Freedom Shield 2024 exercise. (dpa)

North Korea called the ongoing South Korean-US military drills a plot to invade the country, as it threatened Tuesday to take unspecified “responsible” military steps in response.

The North's warning came a day after the South Korean and US forces kicked off their annual computer-simulated command post training and a variety of field exercises for an 11-day run. This year’s drills were to involve 48 field exercises, twice the number conducted last year.

In a statement carried by state media, the North’s Defense Ministry said it “strongly denounces the reckless military drills of the US and (South Korea) for getting more undisguised in their military threat to a sovereign state and attempt for invading it.”

An unidentified ministry spokesperson said North Korea’s military will “continue to watch the adventurist acts of the enemies and conduct responsible military activities to strongly control the unstable security environment on the Korean Peninsula.”

The spokesperson didn't say what measures North Korea would take, but observers say North Korea will likely carry out missile tests or other steps to bolster its war capability.

North Korea views its rivals' major military drills as invasion rehearsals, though South Korean and US officials have repeatedly said their training are defensive in nature. North Korea has previously reacted to South Korean-US exercises with launches of a barrage of missiles into the sea.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said last week that this year's military drills with the United States were designed to neutralize North Korean nuclear threats and would involve live-firing, bombing, air assault and missile interception drills.

Concerns about North Korea's nuclear program have grown in the past two years, as the North has test-launched missiles at a record pace and openly threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively. The US and South Korea have expanded their military exercises and increased the deployment of powerful US military assets like aircraft carriers and nuclear-capable bombers in response.

This year, North Korea performed six rounds of missile tests and artillery firing drills. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also declared his country won't seek reconciliation with South Korea and vowed to scrap the country's long-running goal of peaceful unification with South Korea. Kim said North Korea would take a more aggressive military posture along the disputed sea boundary with South Korea.

Experts say North Korea could believe a bigger weapons arsenal would provide it with a greater leverage in future diplomacy with the United States. They say North Korea is desperate to win an international recognition as a nuclear state, a status that it would think helps it win relief of US-led economic sanctions.

North Korea is expected to further dial up tensions with more missile tests and warlike rhetoric this year as the US and South Korea head into major elections. North Korea may stage limited provocation near the tense border with South Korea this year, experts say.


5 Killed after Small Airplane Crashes in Nashville

A handout photo made available by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) shows debris at the site of a small plane crash alongside Interstate 40 in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, 04 March 2024. EPA/METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT HANDOUT
A handout photo made available by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) shows debris at the site of a small plane crash alongside Interstate 40 in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, 04 March 2024. EPA/METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT HANDOUT
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5 Killed after Small Airplane Crashes in Nashville

A handout photo made available by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) shows debris at the site of a small plane crash alongside Interstate 40 in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, 04 March 2024. EPA/METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT HANDOUT
A handout photo made available by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD) shows debris at the site of a small plane crash alongside Interstate 40 in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, 04 March 2024. EPA/METROPOLITAN NASHVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT HANDOUT

Five people died after a single-engine airplane crashed near an interstate highway in Nashville, shutting down multiple lanes, the US city's metro police department said early on Tuesday.

The plane crashed off the eastbound lanes past the Charlotte Pike exit, police said in a post on social media platform X.

The control tower at Nashville's John Tune airport received a message from a pilot at about 7:40 p.m. ET on Monday (0040 GMT on Tuesday) saying their aircraft was experiencing engine and power failure and needed permission to land, a police spokesperson told reporters on Monday night, according to ABC News.

A spokesperson for the Nashville Fire Department told the television network the plane imploded on impact. The "impact was catastrophic and did not leave any survivors," the representative said.


Philippine and Chinese Boats Collide in their Latest Confrontation over a South China Sea Shoal

This handout photo taken on February 22, 2024 and received on February 25, 2024 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows a China Coast Guard vessel sailing near the BRP Datu Sanday during their mission to bring supplies to fishermen near the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) / AFP)
This handout photo taken on February 22, 2024 and received on February 25, 2024 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows a China Coast Guard vessel sailing near the BRP Datu Sanday during their mission to bring supplies to fishermen near the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) / AFP)
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Philippine and Chinese Boats Collide in their Latest Confrontation over a South China Sea Shoal

This handout photo taken on February 22, 2024 and received on February 25, 2024 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows a China Coast Guard vessel sailing near the BRP Datu Sanday during their mission to bring supplies to fishermen near the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) / AFP)
This handout photo taken on February 22, 2024 and received on February 25, 2024 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows a China Coast Guard vessel sailing near the BRP Datu Sanday during their mission to bring supplies to fishermen near the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal in the disputed South China Sea. (Photo by Handout / Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) / AFP)

Chinese and Philippine coast guard vessels collided in the South China Sea on Tuesday in the two nations’ latest confrontation over the disputed waters, as Southeast Asian leaders gathered for a summit in Australia where alarm over Beijing’s aggression at sea was expected to be raised.
The Chinese coast guard ships and accompanying vessels blocked the Philippine vessels off a disputed shoal and executed dangerous maneuvers that resulted in the minor collision between a Chinese coast guard ship and one of two Philippine coast guard vessels, Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said. The BRP Sindangan had minor structural damage, Tarriela said without providing other details.
Tarriela's post on the X platform did not say where the confrontation took place, but the military earlier said the navy was delivering supplies and fresh personnel to the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, the site of several tense skirmishes between Chinese and Philippine coast guard ships and accompanying vessels last year, The Associated Press said.
The Philippine coast guard ships were escorting navy personnel who were aboard two civilian supply boats, one of which was hit by water cannon blast by the Chinese, Philippine military spokesperson Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said, adding it was not immediately clear if any crew member was injured or if the boat was damaged.
“Throughout the operation, the Philippine coast guard vessels faced dangerous maneuvers and blocking from Chinese coast guard vessels and Chinese maritime militia,” Tarriela said. “Their reckless and illegal actions led to a collision."
The Chinese coast guard said in a statement that "it took control measures in accordance with the law against Philippine ships that illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to Ren'ai Reef,” the name Beijing uses for Second Thomas Shoal.
A Chinese coast guard spokesperson said a Philippine ship deliberately rammed a Chinese coast guard vessel, causing a minor scratch.
The long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea are expected to be discussed at a summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their Australian counterpart in Melbourne.
Ahead of Wednesday’s summit, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said in a forum in the Australian city that his administration “will do whatever it takes” to manage any threat to his country’s territory but stressed that Manila would continue “to tread the path of dialogue and diplomacy” in resolving disputes with China.
Philippine security officials have accused the Chinese coast guard and suspected militia ships of blocking Philippine vessels and using water cannons and a military-grade laser that temporarily blinded some Filipino crewmen in a series of high-seas confrontations last year.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila accused the Philippines of frequent provocative moves in the South China Sea and said China acted "in accordance with law to defend its own sovereignty, rights and interests."
The confrontations have sparked fears of a larger conflict that could involve the United States.
Chinese and Philippine officials met in Shanghai in January and agreed to take steps to lower tensions but their latest confrontation at sea underscores the difficulty of doing so.
The United States has warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea. China has warned the US to stop meddling in what it calls a purely Asian dispute.
Brunei, Malaysia Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the strategic waterway, a major global trade route which is also believed to be sitting atop rich undersea deposits of oil and gas.


Police: Suspect in Stabbing of Jewish Man in Zurich Expressed Solidarity with ISIS

Police officers stand guard at the Synagoge Agudas Achim in Zurich, on March 3, 2024, after an Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed, late on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ARND WIEGMANN / AFP)
Police officers stand guard at the Synagoge Agudas Achim in Zurich, on March 3, 2024, after an Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed, late on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ARND WIEGMANN / AFP)
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Police: Suspect in Stabbing of Jewish Man in Zurich Expressed Solidarity with ISIS

Police officers stand guard at the Synagoge Agudas Achim in Zurich, on March 3, 2024, after an Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed, late on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ARND WIEGMANN / AFP)
Police officers stand guard at the Synagoge Agudas Achim in Zurich, on March 3, 2024, after an Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed, late on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ARND WIEGMANN / AFP)

Swiss police say the 15-year-old suspect in the stabbing of an Orthodox Jewish man in Zurich over the weekend had appeared in a video expressing solidarity with ISIS, and called himself a “soldier” in its self-described “caliphate.”

Zurich cantonal police security chief Mario Fehr told reporters Monday that authorities were investigating whether the teen, who was not identified, had acted alone or as part of a group. Officials said the suspect was a Swiss national.

“He refers to ISIS, describes himself as a soldier of the caliphate,” Fehr said of the video that authorities had authenticated. He denounced the stabbing Saturday as a “terrorist” and “antisemitic” attack. The suspect was arrested at the scene.

Authorities said the 50-year-old victim was critically injured but his life was no longer in danger.

Police have stepped up security measures at Jewish sites in Zurich ever since the attack.

The extra security was put in place for "specific locations with a Jewish connection," police said, following discussions with local Jewish organizations.

Jonathan Kreutner, general secretary of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG), told Swiss television that physical attacks on Jewish people in the country were rare.

"A case like this is really a new dimension," he said.


West Avoids Seriously Confronting Iran as IAEA Meets

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi holds a press conference on the opening day of a quarterly meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Lisa Leutner
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi holds a press conference on the opening day of a quarterly meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Lisa Leutner
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West Avoids Seriously Confronting Iran as IAEA Meets

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi holds a press conference on the opening day of a quarterly meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Lisa Leutner
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi holds a press conference on the opening day of a quarterly meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Lisa Leutner

A quarterly meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog's main policy-making body began on Monday with Western powers again choosing not to seriously confront Iran over its failure to cooperate with the agency on a range of issues, diplomats said.
It is more than a year since the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation Board of Governors passed a resolution ordering Iran to cooperate with a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium particles found at undeclared sites, saying it was "essential and urgent" for Iran to explain the traces.
Since then the number of undeclared sites being investigated has shrunk to two from three but the list of problems between the IAEA and Iran has only grown. Iran failed to fully honor an agreement to re-install IAEA cameras at some sites and in September barred some of the agency's most valued inspectors.
"I ... deeply regret that Iran has yet to reverse its decision to withdraw the designations for several experienced Agency inspectors," director general Rafael Grossi told the Board meeting.
"Only through constructive and meaningful engagement can all of these concerns be addressed and once again I call upon Iran to cooperate fully and unambiguously with the Agency."
With Israel's military offensive in Gaza continuing in response to Hamas's Oct. 7 attacks, heightening tensions across the Middle East, the United States did not want to risk further diplomatic escalation with Iran by pushing for a resolution against it at the IAEA, diplomats said.
"If you did do an (IAEA Board) resolution right now ... it's too dangerous to do anything that could be construed as a wrong signal that could trigger a miscalculation," a Western diplomat said, citing various factors.
"The region is in this heightened state, you don't have a ceasefire or resolution of any sort in Gaza, we don't have the prospects of any kind of nuclear solution, and ... the US is going into presidential elections," they said.
Diplomats had said before the Board meeting that the three European powers that proposed the last resolution jointly with the United States and generally act in coordination with Washington - Britain, France, and Germany, known as the 'E3' - were pushing for a resolution and had drafted a text.
Washington, however, has opposed seeking a resolution against Iran for months, at least in part because of the impending US presidential election in November, diplomats have said, and again it was the most reluctant of the four powers.
The United States and E3 have been vocal in criticizing Iran on these and other issues, such as its growing stockpile of enriched uranium that would be enough, if enriched further, to fuel several nuclear bombs. Iran says it has no such intention.


US Condemns Sentencing of Iranian Singer Shervin Hajipour

FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
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US Condemns Sentencing of Iranian Singer Shervin Hajipour

FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

The United States on Monday condemned the sentencing of an Iranian singer who won a Grammy award in 2023 for a song that became an anthem for mass Iranian protests after the death of Mahsa Amin while in the custody of the morality police.

Iranian singer and songwriter Shervin Hajipour said on his Instagram account last week that he had been sentenced to more than three years in prison. He was convicted for incitement and provocation of people to disturb national security through his music, local rights advocates noted.
Hajipour, 26, wrote and published the song "Baraye" following the death in police custody of Amini.
US first lady Jill Biden described the song as a "powerful and poetic call for freedom and women's rights" when she presented him last year with the first-ever song for social change Grammy award for "Baraye." A song "can ultimately change the world," she said at the time.

"We condemn the years long prison sentence for Shervin Hajipour," US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters in a press briefing on Monday.

"The Iranian government's actions are just another signal of their intent to crackdown on freedom of expression and repress voices inside their own society whenever possible."

Amini, 22, was arrested in Tehran in 2022 for "unsuitable attire" by the morality police. Her death in police custody sparked huge protests in Iran and by Iranians in other parts of the world.