The state-owned Iran newspaper reported the death of a 63 years old woman suspected of coronavirus, which would make it the first coronavirus related death in Iran.
Health Ministry officials had previously denied any cases of coronavirus in Iran.
In recent days, the media have reported several suspected cases of coronavirus in several cities including Yazd, Tehran, Qom, Tabriz, Mashhad, and Zanjan, but this is the first death reported.
Republicans Draft Bill Mandating Congressional Approval For Lifting Iran Sanctions
US Senate Republicans have drafted legislation that would prevent the Biden administration from lifting the sanctions imposed on Iran by the previous administration without the approval of Congress.
The Islamic Republic leaders have demanded the United States provide Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief and cash assets before the Islamic Republic decides to bring its growing nuclear program back in compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The new legislation would force the Biden administration go through Congress for any sanctions relief package, potentially complicating and delaying efforts by the White House to go around the Congress for negotiation with Tehran.
The legislation, filed Thursday and which Hagerty is calling the "Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2021," is co-sponsored by 21 Republicans.
The bill is just the latest effort in a broadening campaign by Republican lawmakers to stop the Biden administration from rushing into a deal that a significant portion of congressional leaders oppose.
"The United States cannot fall victim again to Tehran’s blackmail, bribery, and extortion by giving in to its demands for sanctions relief," Hagerty said in a statement, describing the Biden administration's efforts to re-engage in diplomacy with Iran as "irresponsible and dangerous."
UN Human Rights Commission Accuses Iran Of Targeting Minorities
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday accused the Islamic Republic of “persistent impunity for human rights violations” against minorities in provinces such as Sistan-Baluchistan, mostly inhabited by the Sunni Muslims.
Bachelet claimed the Islamic Republic has been targeting minority groups in a “coordinated campaign” since December in provinces such as Sistan-Baluchistan, Khuzestan, and Kurdish areas in western Iran.
“Mass arrests and enforced disappearances have been reported, as well as increasing numbers of executions, following deeply flawed processes,” Bachelet said. “Across the country, the exercise of civic freedoms and political or critical expression continue to be targeted through national security laws, criminal prosecution and intimidation.”
Protests broke out in Sistan-Baluchistan province on February 23 after security forces allegedly shot people carrying small amounts of fuel to sell across the border in Pakistan at a border crossing near the city of Saravan.
The protests have continued for several days with security forces sending reinforcements from other parts of the country to suppress the protesters. Several people have been killed and many arrested. Videos received by Iran International TV show security forces being deployed to cities of the troubled Sistan-Baluchestan province on Thursday evening and Friday.
“I am concerned at persistent impunity for human rights violations, including violations that occurred in the contexts of protests in 2018 and 2019,” the UN Human Rights High Commissioner said.
Syria Condemns 'Cowardly' US Air Strikes On Iran-Backed Militias
BAGHDAD, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Syria said U.S. air strikes against Iranian-backed militias in the east of the country on Friday were a cowardly act and urged President Joe Biden not to follow "the law of the jungle".
An Iraqi militia official close to Iran said the strikes killed one fighter and wounded four, but U.S. officials said they were limited in scope to show Biden's administration will act firmly while trying to avoid a big regional escalation.
Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran's nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared and fears of full-scale conflict grew.
"Syria condemns in the strongest terms the cowardly U.S. attack on areas in Deir al-Zor near the Syrian-Iraqi border," the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"It (the Biden administration) is supposed to stick to international legitimacy, not to the law of the jungle as (did) the previous administration."
The air strikes, early on Friday Middle Eastern time, targeted militia sites on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, where groups backed by Iran control an important crossing for weapons, personnel and goods.
Western officials and some Iraqi officials accuse Iranian-backed groups of involvement in deadly rocket attacks on U.S. sites and personnel in Iraq over the last month.
Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also criticised the U.S. strikes and called for "unconditional respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria."
Explosion Hits Israeli Ship In Gulf Of Oman, Raising Suspicions Of Iranian Attack
An Israeli ship, the MV HELIOS RAY, has been struck by an explosion Friday near the strategic mouth of the Persian Gulf, American and British military officials said.
A US defense official said the blast left holes in both sides of the vessel's hull. The cause was not immediately clear.
The vehicle-carrier ship is owned by a Tel-Aviv based company called Ray Shipping through a company registered in the Isle of Man, according to a U.N. shipping database.
The unexplained blast comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US over Tehran's nuclear program. The site of the blast, the Gulf of Oman, saw a series of mine attacks against oil tankers in 2019 that the US Navy blamed on Iran, something Tehran denied.
The Bahamas-flagged ship was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and a maritime security firm said on Friday. UKMTO, which is run by the British navy, says the crew and the vessel is safe after the explosion.
President Joe Biden ordered a retaliatory airstrike Friday on positions of Iran-backed Iraqi militia forces in Syria after recent rocket attacks on US bases in Iraq.
While the circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, said it was very possible the blast stemmed from "asymmetric activity by Iranian military," which it said would be "commensurate" with heightened regional tensions.
As Iran seeks to pressure the United States to lift sanctions and return to the 2015 atomic accord, the country may seek "to exercise forceful diplomacy through military means," the Dryad report said.
Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
Reporting by AP and Reuters
Young Political Prisoner Attempts Suicide In Iran After Being Told 'You Have No Rights'
A political prisoner in Iran who was arrested during the 2019 nationwide protests has been taken to hospital after an attempted suicide on February 24, a human rights group has announced.
Siamak Moghimi, 25, cut his wrist and abdomen in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary after the prison chief addressing the detainees of the November 2019 protests said, “You don’t have any rights”, HRANA, Human Rights Activists News Agency, an Iranian rights monitor based abroad reported, quoting its sources inside Iran.
There is no news about Moghimi's health condition in the hospital.
Nationwide anti-government protests erupted in Iran on November 15, 2019, after a sudden hike in state-controlled fuel prices, which quickly turned into a political uprising against the Islamic Republic. In less than a week, security forces killed hundreds of protesters and arrested 8,000. The faith of many prisoners is shrouded in secrecy. Those convicted were tried behind closed doors without due process of law.
Moghimi was sentenced to ten years in prison in early 2020 by a Revolutionary Court and must serve five years of his sentence. Revolutionary courts are a remnant of the post-revolution years in the 1980s when Islamists were purging the country of opponents.
Moghimi suffered from nervous breakdowns before his arrest and spent time in hospital. According to Iranian law, people with mental disorders are not held criminally responsible for their actions.
President Biden & King Salman Discuss Iran & Yemen In Their First Phone Call
In their first phone conversation on Thursday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Biden discussed human rights, bilateral relations between the two countries, Middle East security, ending the war in Yemen, and Iran’s activities in the region.
President Biden welcomed the release of women’s rights activist Loujain Alhathloul from prison and emphasized the importance of human rights and rule of law, and said he will make efforts to strengthen the relations between Washington and Riyadh. He also reiterated the US’ commitment to protecting Saudi Arabia’s borders against attacks by Iran-backed groups.
The US State Department also released a statement about the phone conversation between the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in which the two discussed ending the war in Yemen, stronger regional security, fight against terrorism, and economic development.
Last week, Pentagon also announced that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has had a phone conversation with Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Prince Mohammad bin Salman about their shared commitment to fighting against Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in and defeating fanaticism in the region.
Saudi Arabia is an opponent of the return of the US to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
France recently declared that the 2015 nuclear deal will not be enough and a more strict deal must be made that would involve Iran’s ballistic missile program and support of terrorism and that the deal must also involve Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Biden Orders Airstrike On Iran-Backed Militia In Syria
The US military launched an airstrike on facilities used by Iran-backed groups in Syria by the order of President Joe Biden, making it the first military action of his presidency. The attack was in retaliation to the February 15 rocket attack against the US military base at Erbil International Airport that killed a contractor and injured five.
“We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the [February 15] strikes,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters after the airstrike.
Austin also mentioned that he recommended the strike to President Biden.
“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”
The spokesperson for the Pentagon John Kirby said the attack destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iran-backed militia groups.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”
Kirby reported that the facilities belonged to two known Iran-backed militia groups Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
Protests Continue In Zahedan Despite Heavy Police Presence
Local sources in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan province in Iran have reported continued protests despite the heavy presence of security forces in the city. It was also reported that the killed fuel carriers in Saravan were buried on Thursday.
According to the reports, the funeral of at least 10 fuel carriers who were shot and killed by the Islamic Republic armed forces on Monday, February 22, was held in Saravan on Thursday.
On Thursday night, protesters in Karim Abad area in Zahedan continued their protest and blocked some streets.
Protests in Zahedan and other areas in Sistan and Baluchistan have continued while the cellphone internet is either shut down or disrupted in most areas of the province.
Local sources claim that Tharallah Brigade in Kerman has sent some troops to crack down on the protesters in Sistan and Baluchistan.
Videos and images from Zahedan and Iranshahr show that on the third day of protests, security forces have started shooting at the protesters from building roofs.
Baluch Activists’ Campaign reported that after the protests spread to other areas of the province, on Wednesday a number of protesters were arrested and at least two protesters, Hassan Mohammad Zehi and Mohammad Saleh Moqaddami, a teenager and a middle-aged man respectively, were killed by the security forces.
The Persian Twitter account of the US State Department has expressed deep concerns about the shutdown of the internet and the government’s violence against protesters.
Russia Urges 'Synchronized Approach' Between Iran & US On Nuclear Talks
Russia has proposed a synchronized approach including “concrete” steps by the Biden administration to break the deadlock between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States.
Top Russian negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview on Wednesday that “there’s a chance now that hasn’t existed for a long time. We have to try and use it.”
US President Joe Biden had promised to return to JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance, but since he entered the White House, the two country have been in a deadlock about who is to take the first step toward compliance. Biden has offered to participate in talks between Iran and other parties of the nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to revive the accord abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018.
However, President Biden’s European allies have changed their tunes on the deal since he came to power. France and Germany, two parties of the JCPOA both have stated that the 2015 accord will not be enough anymore, and a new stricter deal must be made in which other countries of the Middle East Including Saudi Arabia and Israel are also involved.
As a prerequisite to negotiations, Iran wants the US to lift sanctions that Trump reimposed, which heavily impacted Iran’s oil exports and the economy. Biden wants the Islamic Republic to first resume its compliance with the multilateral agreement that seeks to curb its nuclear program.
Ryabkov said the US could prove its commitment by starting to unfreeze Iranian assets and oil exports, and Iran should gradually return to compliance with the JCPOA. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had previously offered a similar solution, calling for coordination.