Iran/United States – The United States and Iran on the 17 Nov 16 clashed openly at the UN atomic watchdog for the first time since they signed a landmark nuclear deal last year, differing over Tehran’s repeated testing of one of the deal’s less strictly defined limits. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is policing the deal, said Iran’s overstepping of the limit on its stock of a sensitive material for the second time this year risked undermining countries’ support for the agreement. The victory of Donald Trump - a vocal critic of the deal - in the US presidential election also raised the question of whether his country would continue to support the accord, which restricts Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. “Iran must strictly adhere to all commitments and technical measures for their duration,” US ambassador to the IAEA Laura Holgate said in a statement to the agency’s quarterly Board of Governors meeting. The dispute centres on the part of the deal between Tehran and six major powers that limits Iran’s stock of heavy water, a material used as a moderator in reactors like the unfinished one it has at Arak that has been put out of use. In contrast to strict limits elsewhere in the deal on materials including enriched uranium, the text says Iran should not have more heavy water than it needs, adding that those needs are estimated to be 130 tonnes. Western countries see it as a hard limit, and Iran argues it is not. “We note with concern Iran’s accumulation of heavy water in excess of the limit set forth in the JCPOA of 130 metric tonnes,” Holgate said, using the abbreviation for the deal’s full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The IAEA said Iran was preparing to ship some heavy water out of the country to come back under the 130-tonne limit, but Holgate said Iran would not be in compliance until it had been delivered to a foreign buyer as the deal requires. “Simply notifying states that this heavy water is for sale without removing it from Iran does not fulfil this JCPOA commitment,” she said. Iran said the issue was not that clear-cut. “Where is (the) limit?” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, told reporters on the sidelines of the board meeting, adding that the country was preparing to export more than the 5 tonnes of heavy water it originally informed the IAEA of. “The JCPOA is very clear,” he added. “It says that the needs of Iran are estimated (to be) 130 tonnes. Who is the native English speaker to tell me what estimated means?”
Iran – Iran will ship about 11 metric tons (12.12 tons) of heavy water out of the country in the next couple of days, the Wall Street Journal reported on the 19 Nov 16 citing sources familiar with the plans. News of Iran shipping heavy water - a material used as a moderator in nuclear reactors - will diffuse tensions between Iran and Western powers, especially the US. Iran’s nuclear deal between Tehran and the six major powers limits Iran’s stock of heavy wear. In contrast to strict limits elsewhere in the deal on materials including enriched uranium, the text says Iran should not have more heavy water than it needs, adding that those needs are estimated to be 130 metric tons. Western countries see it as a hard limit, and Iran argues it is not. The sources also said Iran has already sent 11 metric tons of heavy water to one of its ports as per the deal with the IAEA, the United Nations atomic agency which is overseeing implementation of the nuclear deal. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said earlier on the 17 Nov 16 that Iran must “maintain international confidence” by keeping below the threshold laid out in the agreement. Amano also expressed concerns that Iran had for the second time exceeded the 130-metric-ton threshold for its heavy-water stockpile. After shipping the material most likely through Oman to the international market, Iran’s stockpile of heavy water will fall to about 120 metric tons, keeping it under the agreed threshold for some months, one of the officials told WSJ.
Iraq/Da’esh – At least 40 people have been killed and more than 60 injured after a suicide car bomb attack targeted a police officer's wedding in Amiriyat al-Fallujah in Iraq, police sources said on the 18 Nov 16. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the explosion on Thursday, but police said they believed that the Da’esh group was responsible for the attack. Amiriyat al-Fallujah, 35km south of Fallujah, is home to pro-government Sunni tribal fighters, who fought ISIL for more than two years and repelled many attacks on their town before the armed group was pushed out of Fallujah in Jun 16.
Iraq/Da’esh – At least 80 people have been killed as a massive bomb blast ripped through a petrol station south of Iraq's capital Baghdad, according to security sources. The target of the attack on the 24 Nov 16 near the town of Hilla appeared to be Shia Muslim pilgrims returning from the Arbaeen pilgrimage in the holy city of Karbala. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant armed group claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack involved a rigged gas tanker which was parked near a petrol station with an adjacent restaurant popular with travellers. When the gas tanker blew, up it also torched several buses and minivans that were carrying the pilgrims. The head of the security [of Babil province] says the death toll so far is 80 people, but that is likely to rise as there were several more in critical condition. It is believed that among them are not only Iraqis, but some Iranians too, while some unconfirmed reports also say that there could be some Bahrainis among the victims. ISIL has intensified attacks over the past month in areas out of its control in efforts to weaken a large-scale military offensive launched last month to retake Mosul.
Iraq/Muqtada al Sadr – In step 24 hours after Iraqi Parliament passed a bill recognizing Popular Mobilization militias as a government entity, Muqtada al Sadr, head of al Sadrist movement, proposed reforms to regulate and organize the Shiite militia fighters it was reported on the 28 Nov 16. A delegation from al Sadrist movement handed over the reform manuscript to Iraqi president, Fuad Masum and the Speaker of the Parliament, Salem al Jabouri, on the 27 Nov 16. According the Sadrist, the proposal, which was introduced by them as a reformist mechanism to instigate the law, aim to overcome all impediments that may hinder the objectives for which the militias units were formed. On the other hand, Al Jabouri emphasized the magnitude of unification of all Iraqi parties in order to accomplish a comprehensive national reconciliation that will contribute to the stabilization of their country. On the 26 Nov 16 the Iraqi parliament has passed the bill recognizing the Popular Mobilization Forces as a government body operation alongside the military, amid the opposition of some Sunni lawmakers, who said the law would intensify the division and the rift within the Iraqi society particularly following the violations attributed to these militias in some areas of Iraq.
Israel/Iran/Hezbollah – Iran is smuggling weapons to the terrorist group Hezbollah inside commercial flights to Lebanon, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations has charged in a letter to the UN Security Council. Such actions would violate several Security Council resolutions and reported on the 23 Nov 16 by Homeland Security. Citing reports from Israel’s intelligence agencies, Ambassador Danny Danon wrote that “the Iranian Al-Quds Force packs weapons, ammunition and missile technology to Hezbollah in suitcases and puts them on Mahan Air flights.” The transfer of arms to Hezbollah violates Security Council resolutions 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, and 2231, which implemented last year’s nuclear deal with Iran. The arms were either shipped directly to Hezbollah on commercial flights to Lebanon, or flown to Damascus, Syria, and then shipped to the terror group over land, Danon wrote. Danon’s accusations echo those made by Emanuele Ottolenghi, a researcher for the Foundation for Defence of Democracies who has tracked Iranian air traffic to Damascus. Ottolenghi noted in February that the United States government had repeatedly pledged to take action against Mahan Air—which is on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list for supporting terrorism—but has failed to do so. The airline notably acquired rights to fly commercial routes to European and Asian cities despite objections from Washington, the Associated Press reported in November. Hassan Nasrallah, the general secretary of Hezbollah, said in June that “We are open about the fact that Hezbollah’s budget, its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets, are from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” And earlier this month, Maj. Gen. ohammad Hossein Baqeri, the chief of staff of Iran’s army, bragged that Iran had provided Hezbollah with the rocket technology it needed to target Israeli civilians. Secretary of State John Kerry last year that the U.S. would ensure that Iran could not arm Hezbollah, despite the lifting of nuclear sanctions against Tehran. “Our primary embargo is still in place,” Kerry said at a Senate hearing last year. “We are still sanctioning them. And, I might add, for those things that we may want to deal with because of their behaviour, for instance, Hezbollah, there is a UN resolution, 1701, the prevents the transfer of any weapons to Hezbollah. That will continue and what we need to do is make sure that we’re enforcing it.” However, when Danon’s predecessor, Ron Prosor, asked the Security Council in January 2015 to condemn a Hezbollah attack on Israeli soldiers, the Security Council failed to act.
This article is published courtesy of The Tower
Israel/Da’esh – Israeli forces killed four gunmen belonging to an ISIS affiliate in Syria who had opened fire on soldiers in the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, a military spokesman said on the 27 Nov 16. Spokesman Peter Lerner said the Israeli soldiers were targeted with machinegun fire and mortars and replied with fire, before the air force bombed the vehicle carrying the gunmen identified as members of “Shuhada al-Yarmouk, an ISIS affiliate.”
Israel/Fires – As the security services try to unravel how many of the ongoing fires are the result of terrorism, it is worth asking whether acts of arson could be considered environmental war crimes by the International Criminal Court. The ICC prosecution is examining possible war crimes by Israel and the Palestinian Authority since June 2014. Its Rome Statute includes war crimes for destroying the environment, even if no one is killed. In mid-September, the ICC prosecution issued a policy directive stating that it would place a special priority on prosecuting war crimes against the environment. To date, the international tribunal has not prosecuted such a crime. This could be an attractive idea, since many acts of arson cause great environmental damage and terror, but without killing anyone. However, any arson which does kill someone could be considered a homicide, and possibly a war crime. But there are many barriers to applying the war crime model to the current situation. First, the Fire and Rescue Authority and security forces have said some of the fires were driven by the current dry spell and fierce winds and caused by negligence. None of those would qualify. Second, some of those suspected of arson are Israeli Arabs and would be tried in Israeli courts if caught. Israel cannot involve the ICC in prosecuting its own citizens. Third, if there are individual Palestinians who are not connected to Hamas or other terrorist groups and who perpetrate arson, they might just be prosecuted as individuals by Israel in the IDF West Bank Courts. The ICC would not be able to go after them as part of the Palestinian side of an armed conflict with Israel. But if there are Palestinians linked to Hamas or other groups who are perpetrating arson as part of an armed conflict with Israel, it would seem that the ICC could potentially go after them for war crimes against the environment even if no Israelis are killed. Israel would prefer the ICC never get involved. But if it dives deeper into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in addition to pursuing Palestinians for firing rockets at civilians, this is another card that Israel could play against the Palestinian side. (http://m.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Analysis-Will-the-International-Criminal-Court-view-Israels-fires-as-terrorism-473842#article=6024ODQ3RTg4NTFCOUZBNDBBMzA0MEY2MUQ2QkM1NEUwREE=)
Israel/Syria/Hezbollah – Israeli jets fired two missiles from Lebanese airspace toward the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus early on the 30 Nov 16 the official Syrian news agency said, in a strike on an unknown target that caused loud explosions. State news agency SANA said the missiles struck the Al-Sabboura area, west of Damascus, and did not cause any casualties. Citing an unnamed military source, SANA did not specify what the missiles struck, but Damascus residents reported on social media hearing loud blasts around 0200 hrs. "In a move aimed at diverting the attention on the victories of the Syrian army and to raise the morale of the terrorist gangs, Israeli warplanes fired two rockets from the Lebanese aerial space into the Sabboura area," SANA said, quoting a military source. The Israeli military declined to comment, but Tel Aviv is widely believed to have carried out a number of air strikes in Syria in the past few years that have targeted advanced weapons systems, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles. The arms are believed to have been destined for the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah group, a close ally of the Syrian government and a fierce enemy of Israel. While the target of Wednesday's air strikes is not yet known, the government-held town of Sabboura is close to the Damascus-Beirut highway and is often used by Hezbollah.
Palestine – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas re-elected as Fateh Party leader on the 29 Nov 16 as the movement opened its first congress since 2009 with talk mounting of who will eventually succeed the 81-year-old. Abbas was re-elected by consensus, party spokesman Mahmoud Abu Al Hija said. The election of members of Fateh's parliament and its central committee over the five-day conference will signal the direction the oldest Palestinian party will take at a time when Abbas is weakened by his own unpopularity and internal dissent. While the ageing leader has said he has no intention of stepping aside anytime soon, talk of who will eventually succeed him as Palestinian president has intensified. He has not publicly designated a successor. Some analysts see the congress as an attempt by Abbas to marginalise political opponents, including long-time rival Mohammed Dahlan, currently in exile in the United Arab Emirates. Observers have seen the reduced number of officials to vote — down from more than 2,000 in 2009 — as part of a move to exclude Dahlan supporters. Dimitri Diliani, elected to Fateh’s revolutionary council, or parliament, in 2009, said he was not invited to the congress like dozens of others because “we bring a different voice”. He said a press conference set for a refugee camp near Ramallah with those recently dismissed from the party had been called off after threats “from the security services”, including death threats. Jibril Rajoub, a former intelligence chief, current head of the Palestinian Football Association and Fateh central committee member, acknowledged “opponents and dissidents” had not been invited, but said “the priority is to hold the congress”. Rajoub also said the gathering will provide an opportunity to update the party’s structures. “The system from the 1960s no longer works in 2016,” he said. “We have to take into account the current circumstances. The current system was created when we were in the diaspora and we are now on national soil. It was put in place at a revolutionary stage. Now we have a state.” Saeb Erekat, Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general and Fateh central committee member said the congress will allow the party to “choose leaders for the next stage”. But the congress also comes at a difficult time for the push to create a Palestinian state, with the cause overshadowed by other crises in the region. The incoming Donald Trump administration in the United States has signalled its policies will be far more favourable to Israel. Peace efforts have been at a standstill since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014. Israel is concerned that US President Barack Obama may take action related to the conflict before he leaves office in Jan 17 but his intentions remain unclear. In an op-ed published in the New York Times former US president Jimmy Carter called on Obama to recognise a Palestinian state before his term is up. The congress also comes with Fateh and its Islamist rival Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, still deeply divided. Fateh dominates the Palestinian Authority, which runs the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel has prevented dozens of Fateh members in Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade, from attending the conference, said Party Spokesman Mahmud Abu Al Hija. Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Israel controls all borders of the Palestinian territories apart from the Gaza-Egypt frontier. Abu Al Hija, the Fateh spokesman, said an objective of the congress is to determine how to act in the face of stalled peace negotiations. Peace initiatives being promoted by France and Arab nations will be discussed, as will the possibility of a UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Fateh is the main component of the PLO, created in 1964 in Jerusalem, which brought together the main Palestinian nationalist movements of that time.
Saudi Arabia/Iran – Saudi security forces recently apprehended two Iranians accused of terrorism and crimes against the State, local daily Al-Watan reported on the 16 Nov 16 quoting informed security sources. With the two new suspects, the number of Iranians being held has risen to six. One was already tried but has appealed the verdict. The case file of one of the Iranian suspects is currently being investigated by the Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution (BIP) while the other four are still under interrogation. Since the beginning of the year, the security forces arrested 30 Syrians raising the number of Syrian terror suspects in intelligence prisons to 214. As many as 15 Yemenis were recently arrested, raising the number of suspected Yemenis in Saudi prisons to 352. Ten Pakistanis accused of terrorism were also arrested, raising the number of Pakistani detainees to 62.
Syria/United Nations/Russia – The United Nations Security Council approved on the 18 Nov 16 a one-year extension of an international inquiry to determine blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria, paving the way for a showdown over how to punish those responsible. Russia had said it wanted the inquiry to be broadened to look more at the “terrorist chemical threat” within the region, and the resolution to renew the mandate included language to reflect that request. The 15-member council unanimously adopted the US-drafted resolution.
Also read: Russia accuses Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons
The inquiry by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, set up by the council a year ago, has already found that Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that ISIS militants had used mustard gas. Syria’s government has denied its forces had used chemical weapons during the country’s nearly six-year-old civil war. Last week, the OCPW’s executive body voted to condemn the use of banned toxic agents by the Syrian government and ISIS militants.
Also read: Russia rejects UN Syria chemical attacks probe
Chlorine’s use as a weapon is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns to hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in the resulting body fluids.
Syria/Aleppo – Some of the heaviest bombardment so far on Aleppo has left rebel-held parts of the Syrian city virtually without medical facilities, observers said on the 19 Nov 16. The World Health Organization said all makeshift hospitals there were out of service, after five days of air and artillery strikes by government forces. Other reports suggest some that hospitals are operational but people are too frightened to use them. The Syria Civil Defence, a volunteer group also known as the White Helmets, said that 61 civilians had been killed in air strikes on the 19 Nov 16 on rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The government-led assault on the area resumed on the 15 Nov 16 after a three-week moratorium. Medics have in the past been able to bring field hospitals back into operation after strikes, but the lack of supplies is now so severe that this is becoming harder, Reuters news agency reported. The recent bombardment has left streets deserted, with people trying to shelter in their homes. The SOHR says the strikes have been so massive that residents are frightened to use medical facilities. Reuters quotes the WHO's representative in Syria, Elizabeth Hoff, as saying on the 19 Nov 16 that NGOs based over the border in Turkey "confirmed today that all hospitals in eastern Aleppo are out of service". On the 18 Nov 16 the UN envoy for Syria's humanitarian adviser, Jan Egeland, said eastern Aleppo faced a "bleak moment" with supplies low and winter coming."My understanding is that virtually all warehouses are now empty and tens of thousands of families are running out of food," he told Reuters. Also on the 18 Nov 16 a volunteer with the White Helmets Civil Defence force told agency AFP news agency that he had "never heard such intense artillery bombardments". His team had been unable to respond to an emergency call because "the shells are falling on the street", he said. Aleppo, once Syria's commercial and industrial hub, has been divided roughly in two since 2012, with the government controlling the west and rebels the east. On 22 Sep 16 two weeks after encircling the east and reimposing a siege on its estimated 275,000 residents, the army launched an all-out assault to take full control of the city with the help of Iranian-backed militias and the Russian air force. By the end of Oct 16 the strikes had killed more than 700 civilians in the east, while rocket fire had left scores dead in the west, according to the UN. Russia says its air force is active in other parts of Syria, but not operating over Aleppo. A statement by White House national security adviser Susan Rice condemned what she called "heinous actions". "The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia in particular, bear responsibility for the immediate and long-term consequences these actions have caused in Syria and beyond," she said. UK International Development Secretary Priti Patel said the assault was part of "a systematic campaign to remove even the most basic of services left in the city" that left hundreds of thousands of people without access to healthcare.
Syria/United Nations/United States – US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, named 13 Syrian military commanders she said had been involved in killing and injuring civilians since 2011 through air and ground assaults, and detaining and torturing civilians it was reported on the 22 Nov 16. "The United States will not let those who have commanded units involved in these actions hide anonymously behind the facade of the Assad regime," Power told the council. "Those behind such attacks must know that we and the international community are watching their actions, documenting their abuses, and one day, they will be held accountable," she said. However, Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov accused Power of being hypocritical by not naming militants for killing civilians, and criticized her for naming the Syrian military commanders. "You forgot even about your own golden standard of the presumption of innocence," Safronkov told the Security Council. "This is something that can only be decided by legal proceedings. This is something that is elementary." Among the names are Brigadier General Suhail al-Hassan, aka al-Nimr (the tiger), Major General Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate and his aide Qusay Mayhoub. The list also includes Major General Rafiq Shahadah, former head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Major General Adib Salama, the Syrian regime's security commander in Aleppo and Hafez Makhlouf, the former head of intelligence at the General Security Directorate's Damascus branch and the Syrian president's maternal cousin. Power also named brigadier generals Jawdat Mawas and Abdelsalam Fajr Mahmoud and major generals Taher Khalil, Adnan Holwa, Ibrahim Nahla and Salah Shafiq Masaad. Among the names are Brigadier General Suhail al-Hassan, aka al-Nimr (the tiger), Major General Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate and his aide Qusay Mayhoub. The list also includes Major General Rafiq Shahadah, former head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Major General Adib Salama, the Syrian regime's security commander in Aleppo and Hafez Makhlouf, the former head of intelligence at the General Security Directorate's Damascus branch and the Syrian president's maternal cousin. Power also named brigadier generals Jawdat Mawas and Abdelsalam Fajr Mahmoud and major generals Taher Khalil, Adnan Holwa, Ibrahim Nahla and Salah Shafiq Masaad.
Syria/Da’esh – A rocket attack by ISIS militants in northern Syria caused symptoms of “chemical gas” in 22 Syrian rebels, state media cited the Turkish armed forces as saying on the 27 Nov 16. The attack targeted Turkey-backed rebels who have been besieging the ISIS-controlled town of al-Bab for days. Al-Bab is a major target in the “Euphrates Shield” operation to push the extremists away from the Syrian side of the Turkish border. The Turkish military said the rocket attack was in Syria’s Haliliye area, according to state-run Anadolu agency. It did not specify when the attack occurred. Media reports said Turkish AFAD emergency relief teams had conducted various tests on the affected rebels for traces of chemical materials at a hospital in Turkey’s border province of Kilis.