Iran Dissidents File New Lawsuit against Raisi in US

In this file photo taken on July 19, 2022, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes part in a joint press conference with his Russian and Turkish counterparts following their summit in Tehran. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on July 19, 2022, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes part in a joint press conference with his Russian and Turkish counterparts following their summit in Tehran. (AFP)
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Iran Dissidents File New Lawsuit against Raisi in US

In this file photo taken on July 19, 2022, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes part in a joint press conference with his Russian and Turkish counterparts following their summit in Tehran. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on July 19, 2022, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes part in a joint press conference with his Russian and Turkish counterparts following their summit in Tehran. (AFP)

Iranian dissidents and ex-prisoners including a Western academic on Tuesday announced the filing of a civil suit in New York against Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi as he attended the UN General Assembly.

The republic's hardline president is the target of the complaint for his role as a judge in the 1980s when thousands of people were sentenced to death in the country, according to the advocacy group National Union for Democracy in Iran.

The suit had yet to be made public Tuesday evening by a US federal court in Manhattan, said AFP.

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, an Australian-British academic imprisoned in Iran from September 2018 to November 2020 for espionage, appeared by video at a New York press conference and painted a harrowing picture of her ordeal behind bars, including a year of solitary confinement.

"I was subjected to a range of different psychological and physical tortures and was routinely subjected to cruel and degrading and humiliating mistreatment," Moore-Gilbert said.
The litigation "is a step towards justice and an attempt to help victims regain their dignity," former prisoner Navid Mohebbi told reporters.

"I have seen the very worst of what this regime and Raisi have done to my compatriots," Mohebbi added.

The civil suit invokes US legislation protecting victims of torture.

NUFDI political director Cameron Khansarinia said "the plaintiffs in this case, Iranian dissidents, former Iranian hostages, former Western hostages, are coming together in an unprecedented fashion to take a step forward for justice."

He said that the dissidents and former prisoners were "echoing the cries we hear today on the streets of Iran," a reference to a deadly crackdown against protests that erupted after the death of young Iranian woman Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by morality police who enforce restrictions on women's dress.

The complaint is not the first against Raisi on American soil.

In August in New York a civil lawsuit filed by a separate exile group challenged US authorities to take action against Raisi ahead of his UN appearance.

According to that filing, Raisi in 1988 was a member of the so-called "death commission," four judges who directly ordered thousands of executions as well as torture of members of the armed opposition People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, known as the MEK.

Raisi, elected in August 2021, is due to address the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday he met in New York with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he discussed Tehran's nuclear program and "respect for women's rights" after the demonstrations in several Iranian cities.



Lula Meets Blinken after Gaza Comments Spark Diplomatic Rift

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
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Lula Meets Blinken after Gaza Comments Spark Diplomatic Rift

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) receives US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, 21 February 2024. (EPA)

US top diplomat Antony Blinken met President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday, as the Brazilian leader was in the middle of a diplomatic spat with Israel over comments in which Lula likened that country's war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two.

In brief remarks in front of reporters as they met at Brasilia's presidential palace, Lula remarked that US presidential elections are coming up in November.

Secretary of State Blinken responded that politics in the US were "so polarized" and the election would come down to six or seven battleground states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada.

"There are fewer and fewer undecided voters," Blinken said. "There's a battle for a very thin segment of the electorate."

In a statement after the meeting, which lasted almost two hours, the Brazilian presidential office said that Lula and Blinken had discussed several topics ranging from the G20 summit to peace efforts in Gaza and Ukraine.

"President Lula reaffirmed his wish for peace and an end to the conflicts in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip," the Brazilian government said. "Both agreed on the need for the creation of a Palestinian State."

US officials had previously said they expected Lula and Blinken to have a robust conversation on issues of global security, including the conflict in Gaza sparked by attacks in southern Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

Israel said on Monday that Lula is not welcome in Israel until he takes back the comments.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday that Washington disagreed with Lula's comments, but declined to preview what Blinken would say in the meeting on the issue.

Lula's comments came after he visited the Middle East last week and just ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro as part of Brazil's presidency of the G20 group of advanced economies.

Washington, which provides Israel with military and diplomatic support, has urged Israel to protect civilians but defended Israel's right to target Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

Ahead of Blinken's travel to South America, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols told reporters that sharing ideas on the conflict in Gaza would be "crucial to the conversation" between Lula and Blinken.


Czechs Extradite Suspect in Iran-Backed Murder Plot to United States 

Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Czechs Extradite Suspect in Iran-Backed Murder Plot to United States 

Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)
Farmers drive tractors during a protest against European Union agricultural policies, grievances shared by farmers across Europe, in Prague, Czech Republic, February 19, 2024. (Reuters)

The Czech Republic on Wednesday extradited a man facing charges in the United States for plotting the murder of a prominent critic of Iran's government, the Czech Justice Ministry said.

The ministry said Polad Omarov was handed to representatives of US authorities at the Prague Vaclav Havel Airport on Wednesday morning after the suspect had exhausted all options of appeal.

Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic in January 2023.

The ministry said the justice minister had ruled in July last year in favor of extradition, but the action was delayed by the suspect's complaint with the constitutional court, which was rejected.

Omarov, along with Rafat Amirov and Khalid Mehdiyev, were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their roles in the thwarted Tehran-backed assassination attempt of a critic of Iran's government who is a US citizen and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

The US did not name the alleged victim when it detailed charges in January 2023, but Mehdiyev was arrested in 2022 in New York for having a rifle outside the Brooklyn home of journalist Masih Alinejad. A longtime critic of Iran's head-covering laws has promoted videos of women violating those laws to her millions of social media followers.

US prosecutors in 2021 also charged four Iranians alleged to be intelligence operatives for Tehran with plotting to kidnap a New York-based journalist and activist. While the target of that plot was not named, Reuters confirmed it was Alinejad.

US prosecutors have said Omarov was a resident of the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The Czech Justice Ministry said on Wednesday he was a citizen of Georgia.


Russia’s Top General Visits Troops in Ukraine to Discuss Next Steps 

Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
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Russia’s Top General Visits Troops in Ukraine to Discuss Next Steps 

Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov meets with service members who, according to the Defense Ministry, participated in taking Avdiivka, at a Russian military command center in a location given as Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image taken from video released February 21, 2024. (Russian Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)

Russia's top general, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, visited troops fighting in the war in Ukraine to discuss the next steps after the taking the town of Avdiivka, state media reported on Wednesday.

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russian troops would push further into Ukraine to build on their success on the battlefield after the fall of the town of Avdiivka where he said Ukrainian troops had been forced to flee in chaos.

Gerasimov was shown awarding medals to Russian troops involved in taking Avdiivka and he was given a report by the commander in charge of the Russian assault on Avdiivka, Colonel-General Andrei Mordvichev, state media said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN that Avdiivka would not have fallen had Kyiv received weapons held up by the US Congress' failure to approve a large aid package.

After the failure of Ukraine to pierce Russian front lines in the east and south last year, Moscow has been trying to grind down Ukrainian forces just as Kyiv ponders a major new mobilization.


Alexei Navalny’s Mother Files Lawsuit with Russian Court Demanding Release of Her Son’s Body 

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)
Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Alexei Navalny’s Mother Files Lawsuit with Russian Court Demanding Release of Her Son’s Body 

Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)
Flowers are seen placed around portraits of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in a Russian Arctic prison, at a makeshift memorial in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, on February 20, 2024. (AFP)

The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has filed a lawsuit at a court in the Arctic city of Salekhard contesting officials’ refusal to release her son’s body, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported Wednesday.

A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for March 4, the report said, quoting court officials.

Lyudmila Navalnaya has been trying to retrieve her son’s body since Saturday, following his death in a penal colony in Russia’s far north a day earlier. She has been unable to find out where his body is being held, Navalny’s team reported.

Navalnaya appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday to release her son’s remains so that she could bury him with dignity.

“For the fifth day, I have been unable to see him. They wouldn’t release his body to me. And they’re not even telling me where he is,” a black-clad Navalnaya, 69, said in the video, with the barbed wire of Penal Colony No. 3 in Kharp, about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

“I’m reaching out to you, Vladimir Putin. The resolution of this matter depends solely on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei’s body is released immediately, so that I can bury him like a human being,” she said in the video, which was posted to social media by Navalny’s team.

Russian authorities have said the cause of Navalny’s death is still unknown and refused to release his body for the next two weeks as the preliminary inquest continues, members of Navalny's team said.

They accused the government of stalling to try to hide evidence. On Monday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia, released a video accusing Putin of killing her husband and alleged the refusal to release his body was part of a cover-up.

“They are cowardly and meanly hiding his body, refusing to give it to his mother and lying miserably,” she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegations of a cover-up, telling reporters that “these are absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state.”

Navalny’s death has deprived the Russian opposition of its best-known and inspiring politician less than a month before an election that is all but certain to give Putin another six years in power.

Since Navalny’s death, about 400 people have been detained across in Russia as they tried to pay tribute to him with flowers and candles, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests.

Authorities cordoned off some of the memorials to victims of Soviet repression across the country that were being used as sites to leave makeshift tributes to Navalny. Police removed the flowers at night, but more keep appearing.

Peskov said police were acting “in accordance with the law” by detaining people paying tribute to Navalny.

Over 60,000 people have submitted requests to the government asking for Navalny’s remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said.


Britain's Nuclear Deterrent Missile System Misfires during Test

Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo
Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo
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Britain's Nuclear Deterrent Missile System Misfires during Test

Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo
Crew from HMS Vengeance, a British Royal Navy Vanguard class Trident Ballistic Missile Submarine, stand on their vessel as they return along the Clyde river to the Faslane naval base near Glasgow, Scotland December 4, 2006. REUTERS/David Moir/File Photo

Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent system misfired during a test last month, when a missile crashed into the ocean off the Florida coast near the submarine that launched it, The Sun newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The Sun said the first-stage boosters on the missile, which was equipped with dummy warheads, did not ignite during the Jan. 30 test, Reuters said.
The Ministry of Defense said an anomaly occurred during the test but that the failure had no implications for the wider system.
"As a matter of national security, we cannot provide further information on this, however we are confident that the anomaly was event specific, and therefore there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile," the MoD statement said.
"The UK's nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective," it added.
The failures of the Trident tests are likely to exacerbate concerns over the readiness of Britain's navy in the event it is drawn into a full blown conflict.
Britain's nuclear deterrent is provided by a fleet of four nuclear-powered submarines which are equipped with the Trident ballistic missile system, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
According to the Royal Navy website, there has always been a British ballistic missile submarine at sea since 1969, and that "a credible nuclear deterrent depends on the ability to threaten an assured and effective response to aggression."
The nuclear deterrent system costs around 3 billion pounds ($3.79 billion) per year to operate - equivalent to roughly 6% of the UK's overall defense budget. Parliament voted in 2016 to approve building a new class of submarines, due to enter service in the 2030s, at a cost last estimated at 31 billion pounds.
A previous test of the system in 2016 also ended in failure when the missile was reported to have veered off course.
Earlier this month, the MoD's Royal Navy warfare force had to withdraw its HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier from the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War after routine checks identified an issue with a coupling on the carrier's starboard propeller shaft.


Iran Dismisses Plan by UN Nuclear Watchdog Head to Visit Next Month 

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)
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Iran Dismisses Plan by UN Nuclear Watchdog Head to Visit Next Month 

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency speaks at the panel session during the second day of the World Government Summit in Dubai on February 13, 2024. (AFP)

Iran's nuclear chief on Wednesday dismissed a suggestion that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi would visit Iran next month but instead invited Grossi to a conference in Tehran in May.

Grossi said this week Iran was continuing to enrich uranium well beyond the needs for commercial nuclear use and said he planned to visit Tehran next month to tackle "drifting apart" relations between the IAEA and the country.

But Mohammad Eslami said a visit next month was unlikely due to a "busy schedule" without giving further clarification. "Iran's interactions with the IAEA continue as normal and discussions are held to resolve ambiguities and develop cooperation," he said at a weekly press conference in Tehran.

Eslami said Grossi had been invited to attend Iran's first international nuclear energy conference in May.

Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Grossi said while the pace of uranium enrichment had slowed slightly since the end of last year, Iran was still enriching at an elevated rate of around 7 kg of uranium per month to 60% purity.

Enrichment to 60% brings uranium close to weapons grade, and is not necessary for commercial use in nuclear power production. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.

Under a defunct 2015 agreement with world powers, Iran can enrich uranium only to 3.67%. After then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of that deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, Iran breached and moved well beyond the deal's nuclear restrictions.

The UN nuclear watchdog said the 2015 nuclear deal "is all but disintegrated."


Türkiye Arrests ISIS Members, Including Foreigners, in 2 Security Operations 

Police forensic experts examine the area after a shooting outside the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul, Türkiye February 6, 2024. (Reuters)
Police forensic experts examine the area after a shooting outside the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul, Türkiye February 6, 2024. (Reuters)
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Türkiye Arrests ISIS Members, Including Foreigners, in 2 Security Operations 

Police forensic experts examine the area after a shooting outside the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul, Türkiye February 6, 2024. (Reuters)
Police forensic experts examine the area after a shooting outside the Caglayan courthouse in Istanbul, Türkiye February 6, 2024. (Reuters)

Turkish counter-terrorism forces arrested 30 ISIS members during security operations in Istanbul, the southern Hatay province and several other areas.

The operations are part of Ankara’s ongoing efforts to curb the activities of the terror group, most notably in wake an the attack on an Istanbul church early this month that left one Turkish national dead.

Counter-terrorism forces in Istanbul arrested on Tuesday 18 ISIS members out of 19 wanted persons identified by the Anti-Terrorism and Organized Crime Office. The manhunt for the last member is still ongoing.

On Monday, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said police detained at least 12 suspected ISIS members in Istanbul and Hatay.

Five suspects were foreign nationals, he said, without specifying their nationalities.

Yerlikaya stressed that the security services will firmly deal with the terrorists and will continue their efforts to combat terrorism.

Authorities have detained 147 people suspected of having ties to ISIS in operations across 33 provinces.

Last month, ISIS renewed its activities in the country after a pause of seven years. Early in February, one Turkish citizen was killed by two ISIS gunmen at the Italian Santa Maria Catholic Church in Istanbul.

Authorities have already announced the arrest of 25 suspects in connection with the shooting.

Among the 25 remanded in custody were the two suspected gunmen, previously captured by police, who are believed to be tied to ISIS. The first one is Amirjon Khliqov from Tajikistan and the other David Tanduev from Russia.

They were charged with being members of an illegal organization and aggravated intentional homicide. Another nine suspects were released pending trial.

Türkiye has also detained 17 members of the ISIS Khorasan Province in an operation in Istanbul. Investigations revealed that they were involved in the attack on the Santa Maria Catholic Church, and of planning to establish a cell to train ISIS fighters and send them to Middle Eastern countries.


Bagheri Says Iranian Elections Will Show ‘True Democracy’ to the World

A woman casts her vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran (File photo: Reuters)
A woman casts her vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran (File photo: Reuters)
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Bagheri Says Iranian Elections Will Show ‘True Democracy’ to the World

A woman casts her vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran (File photo: Reuters)
A woman casts her vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Tehran (File photo: Reuters)

Ten days ahead of Iran's legislative elections, Iranian Chief of Staff General Mohammad Bagheri said on Tuesday that the upcoming polls in his country will showcase to the world the face of “true democracy.”
Electoral campaigns for the parliamentary elections kick off across Iran next Thursday in the absence of any signs showing that political forces were capable of increasing the people’s motivation to head to the polling stations.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is among the Iranian officials who have appealed for voter turnout in the upcoming elections, the first since the September 2022 protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by Iranian authorities for improper hijab.
Amini died in custody, sparking nationwide demonstrations, but Iran blamed Western powers for fueling the protests.
Last week, candidates running for seats in the Assembly of Experts in charge of appointing the country's supreme leader, already began their election campaigns.
The 88-member assembly is tasked with electing, supervising and, if necessary, dismissing the supreme leader, who has the final say in all matters of state in Iran.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, now 85, has held the post since 1989.
The elections for the assembly, which are held every eight years, will take place on March 1 along with the parliamentary elections.
On two consecutive stages, the Guardian Council and the Interior Ministry has confirmed the approval of more than 15,000 candidates for Iran's upcoming parliamentary elections from nearly 45,000 people who filed paperwork seeking to run for polls.
Iran’s Guardian Council is responsible for vetting the candidates for any election. However, reformist and moderate parties criticized the council for disqualifying their main candidates.
On Tuesday, Bagheri said: “On March 1, we will show the world the face of true democracy.”
He described the parliamentary elections during the Shah's reign, before the 1979 revolution, as “a façade,” adding, “Today we, as citizens, decide who is entitled to join parliament and the Assembly of Experts.”
Meanwhile, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said on Tuesday that 15,200 candidates or 75 percent of the total hopefuls seeking to run for polls, were qualified for the upcoming elections in the country.
He explained that all political currents and groups are represented in the elections, which he said, “constitute a precious opportunity for the Iranian people to determine their own fate.”
Former Iranian reformist president Mohammad Khatami, Prominent Iranian reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, who is currently imprisoned at Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, and deputy head of the Reform Front, Mohsen Armin, had sharply criticized the course of the electoral process in their country.
The Reform Front had also criticized a statement published by 110 reform activists last week, describing them as a “minority,” as reported by a reformist channel on Telegram.
In the statement, which was widely republished by government media, the activists called for participation in the elections to “open a window” in the conservatives’ dominance of Parliament.

Deputy head of the Reform Front, Mohsen Armin warned of divisions among reformists, saying: “Participation in the elections does not end with any result that guarantees the public good.”
On Tuesday, former Iranian reformist president Mohammad Khatami told political activists that his country is “far from free and competitive elections.”
Earlier, the son of his ally, Mehdi Karroubi said that his father, who has been under house arrest since 2011, will remain silent regarding the upcoming elections.
From the Evin prison, Tajzadeh said he will abstain from voting in the forthcoming parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections. He then lashed out at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, saying he has “closed his eyes” to the “disastrous facts of Iran” and does not listen to the protests of millions of citizens.
Meanwhile, some parties of the reformist and moderate movement talk about supporting independent candidates to confront the conservative majority. Those are represented by Ali Motahari, the former deputy speaker of parliament and Ali Larijani’s son-in-law.
Motahari has obtained approval, four years after he was prevented from running in the parliamentary race.
On Tuesday, Assadullah Badamchian, Secretary General of the Islamic Coalition Party, the most prominent conservative current that includes Tehran bazaar merchants, said conservatives have several electoral lists in Tehran, which has a share of 30 seats in parliament.
In the 2019 presidential and local elections, turnout in Iran's capital had registered its lowest record. The figures were repeated in 2021 with between 24 and 26 percent of voters turnout.

 

 


Iran Accuses Israel of Sabotage Attack that Saw Explosions Strike Natural Gas Pipeline

Two men look at flames after a natural gas pipeline explodes outside the city of Boroujen in the western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, Iran, in early Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Reza Kamali Dehkordi/Fars News Agency via AP)
Two men look at flames after a natural gas pipeline explodes outside the city of Boroujen in the western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, Iran, in early Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Reza Kamali Dehkordi/Fars News Agency via AP)
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Iran Accuses Israel of Sabotage Attack that Saw Explosions Strike Natural Gas Pipeline

Two men look at flames after a natural gas pipeline explodes outside the city of Boroujen in the western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, Iran, in early Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Reza Kamali Dehkordi/Fars News Agency via AP)
Two men look at flames after a natural gas pipeline explodes outside the city of Boroujen in the western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, Iran, in early Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. (Reza Kamali Dehkordi/Fars News Agency via AP)

An Israeli sabotage attack on an Iranian natural gas pipeline last week caused multiple explosions on the line, Iran's oil minister alleged Wednesday, further raising tensions between the regional archenemies against the backdrop of Israel's war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The accusations by Iran’s Oil Minister Javad Owji come as Israel has been blamed for a series of attacks targeting Tehran's nuclear program.

The “explosion of the gas pipeline was an Israeli plot,” Owji said, according to Iran's state-run IRNA news agency. “The enemy intended to disturb gas service in the provinces and put people’s gas distribution at risk.”

“The evil action and plot by the enemy was properly managed,” Owji added, without providing any evidence to support his claims.

Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the attack, though it rarely claims its espionage missions abroad. The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime foe of Iran, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Feb. 14 blasts hit a natural gas pipeline running from Iran’s western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province up north to cities on the Caspian Sea. The roughly 1,270-kilometer (790-mile) -long pipeline begins in Asaluyeh, a hub for Iran’s offshore South Pars gas field.

Owji earlier compared the attack to a series of mysterious and unclaimed assaults on gas pipelines in 2011 — including around the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution. Tehran marked the 45th anniversary of the revolution just days before the pipeline blasts.

Israel has carried out attacks in Iran that have predominantly targeted its nuclear program. Last week, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog warned that Iran is “not entirely transparent” regarding its atomic program, particularly after an official who once led Tehran’s program announced the country has all the pieces for a weapon “in our hands.”

Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program comes as groups that Tehran is arming in the region — Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi militias — have launched attacks targeting Israel over the war in Gaza. The Houthis continue to attack commercial shipping in the region, sparking repeated airstrikes from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Despite a month of US-led airstrikes, the Houthis remain capable of launching significant attacks. This week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.

On Wednesday, ships in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held port city of Hodeidah in Yemen reported seeing an explosion, though all vessels in the area were said to be safe, according to the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations centers. The UKMTO earlier reported heavy drone activity in the area.

Meanwhile, a suspected Israeli strike killed two people a neighborhood in Syria's capital, Damascus, on Wednesday, an area where other likely Israeli strikes have targeted members of Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.


Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Says Foreign Aid Delays Are Making Life ‘Very Difficult’ on the Front Line

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. (AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. (AP)
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Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Says Foreign Aid Delays Are Making Life ‘Very Difficult’ on the Front Line

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. (AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. (AP)

Delays in weapons deliveries from Western allies to Ukraine are opening a door for Russian battlefield advances, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says, making the fight “very difficult” along parts of the front line where the Kremlin’s forces captured a strategic city last weekend ahead of the war’s second anniversary.

Zelenskyy and other officials have often expressed frustration at the slowness of promised aid deliveries, especially since signs of war fatigue have emerged. European countries are struggling to find enough stocks to send to Kyiv, and US help worth $60 billion is stalled over political differences. That appears to be playing into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Even so, more help is heading Ukraine’s way, as Sweden announced Tuesday its biggest aid package so far and Canada said it was expediting the delivery of more than 800 drones.

Zelenskyy, in his daily video address late Monday, said Russia has built up troops at some points along the 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) front line, apparently aiming to pounce on any perceived defensive weaknesses.

“They (the Russians) are taking advantage of delays in aid to Ukraine,” he said after visiting the command post in the area of Kupiansk, in the northeastern Kharkiv region, on Monday.

He said Ukrainian troops keenly felt a shortage of artillery, air defense systems and long-range weapons.

Ukrainian forces withdrew from the strategic eastern city of Avdiivka during the weekend, where they had battled a fierce Russian assault for four months despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned.

Putin on Tuesday congratulated his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on capturing Avdiivka and urged him to press Russia’s advantage.

Shoigu said the military launched up to 460 strikes on Avdiivka per day, equivalent to about 200 metric tons of explosives. “We got the enemy in such a state that it was forced to flee the unbearable conditions,” Shoigu said.

But Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said that while the situation on the battlefield is hard, especially due to a lack of ammunition, the situation on the eastern front is not catastrophic.

“We fight and will continue to fight,” he told news outlet Ukrainska Pravda. “We have only one request to our partners: to help with weapons, with ammunition, and with air defense.”

He claimed that Russia racked up heavy losses of troops and equipment in the fight for bombed-out Avdiivka. His claim could not be independently verified.

Analysts predicted a lull in Russian attacks in the Avdiivka area. The Kremlin's forces will require time to “rest and refit,” the UK Ministry of Defense said in an assessment Tuesday. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, also expected an “operational pause” by Russia in the area.

Zelenskyy said talks with foreign partners are focusing on how to “resume and extend" support.

Sweden, which is poised to join NATO, said Tuesday it will donate military aid to Ukraine worth 7.1 billion kronor ($681 million). That includes 30 boats, some of which are fast and powerful military assault craft, and underwater weapons.

The deal also includes artillery ammunition, Leopard tanks, shoulder-borne anti-aircraft defense systems, anti-tank missiles, grenade launchers, hand grenades and medical transport vehicles, as well as underwater drones and diving equipment.

“By supporting Ukraine, we are also investing in our own security,” Defense Minister Pål Jonson told a news conference in Stockholm. “If Russia were to win this terrible war, we would have significantly greater security problems than we have today.”

The Canadian government said Monday it will dispatch more than 800 drones to Ukraine starting as early as this spring. They are part of a previously announced 500 million Canadian dollars ($370 million) in military help for Ukraine.

Ukraine last year received $42.5 billion from foreign partners, of which $11.6 billion was in non-repayable grant aid, Ukraine’s Ministry of Finance said Tuesday.

The grant assistance was provided by the US, Japan, Norway, Germany, Spain, Finland, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, and Iceland, it said. The US provided the biggest amount of non-repayable grant aid, with $11 billion.

Long-term concessional financing amounted to $30.9 billion, which included loans from the European Union ($19.5 billion), the International Monetary Fund ($4.5 billion), Japan ($3.4 billion), Canada ($1.8 billion), the U.K. ($1 billion), the World Bank ($660 million) and Spain ($50 million).

Meanwhile, a Russian Lancet drone struck a house in Ukraine’s northern Sumy region Tuesday, killing five members of the same family, the regional administration said.

A mother, her two sons and two other relatives who were visiting died as a result of the strike in Nova Sloboda, a village bordering Russia.

Ukraine shot down all 23 Shahed drones that Russia launched on Monday night over various regions of the country, the country’s air force said.

Air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said Russian aircraft activity had dropped off after Ukraine recently shot down a number of enemy warplanes.

The air force commander, Mykola Oleschuk, said on Monday that his troops destroyed Su-34 and Su-35 bomber jets. Over the weekend he said that other Russian jets were shot down.