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According to the Israeli military, one of its F-16 fighter jet has crashed amid Syrian anti-aircraft fire after an offensive against Iranian targets in Syria.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted: “Moments ago, IAF aircraft, targeted the Syrian Aerial Defense System & Iranian targets in Syria. 12 targets, including 3 aerial defense batteries & 4 Iranian military targets, were attacked. Anti-aircraft missiles were fired towards Israel, triggering alarms in northern Israel.”

Red alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

Israel was carrying out strikes after the launch of an Iranian drone into Israel. The drone was intercepted.

Syria accused Israel of “aggression”, as Israel then launched more strikes.

Image source Wikimedia

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In a statement, the Israeli military said “a combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It said the drone was identified quickly and was “under surveillance until the interception”.

The drone went down on Israeli territory and was “in our possession”, IDF spokesperson Brig Gen Ronen Manelis said.

The military said that in response the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”. It said the mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed.

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.

It was not clear whether the F-16 jet was hit by anti-aircraft fire or went down near Harduf for other reasons.

Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defenses opened fire in response to an Israeli act of “aggression” against a military base on February 10, hitting “more than one plane”.

Meanwhile, Iran, Russia and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – dismissed as “lies” Israeli claims that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace, news wires report.

According to new reports, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of an act of “direct military aggression” by supplying missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

This “may be considered an act of war”, Saudi Arabia state media quoted the crown prince as telling UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in a phone conversation.

On November 4, a ballistic missile was intercepted near Riyadh.

Iran has denied arming the Houthi movement, which is fighting a Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government.

On November 6, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Saudi Arabia’s “wars of aggression” and “regional bullying” were threatening the Middle East.

Image source Wikimedia

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Houthi-aligned media reported that the rebels had fired a Burkan H2 ballistic missile at King Khaled International Airport, which is about 530 miles from the Yemeni border and 7 miles north-east of Riyadh, on November 4.

Saudi media reported that missile defenses intercepted the missile in flight, but that some missile fragments fell inside the airport area. No casualties were reported.

Human Rights Watch said the launch of an indiscriminate missile at a predominantly civilian airport was an apparent war crime.

On November 7, the official Saudi Press Agency (SAP) reported that in his telephone call with Prince Mohammed, Boris Johnson had “expressed his condemnation of launching a ballistic missile by Houthi coup militias” and affirmed “Britain’s stand with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in confronting security threats”.

“For his part, the crown prince stressed that the involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war against the kingdom,” it added.

On November 6, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, an Iranian proxy, was also involved.

“It was an Iranian missile launched by Hezbollah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen,” he said.

Iran has rejected “unfounded accusations” by Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister citing Tehran’s “grip” on his country and threats to his life.

It says the surprise resignation of Lebanese prime minister is part of a plot to stoke tensions in the region.

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei accused the United States and Saudi Arabia of being behind the move.

Saad al-Hariri announced his resignation in a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia, accusing Iran of sowing “fear and destruction” in several countries, including Lebanon.

He said he was stepping down because he feared for his life.

Saad al-Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.

Image source Wikimedia

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Correspondents say Saad al-Hariri’s sudden departure plunges Lebanon into a new political crisis and raises fears that it may be at the forefront of the regional rivalry between Shia power Iran and Sunni stronghold Saudi Arabia.

Following the statement on November 4, Iranian politicians lined up to denounce Saad al-Hariri’s assertions.

Hussein Sheikh al-Islam, adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei, said: “Hariri’s resignation was done with planning by [President] Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi, quoted by the official Irna news agency, said Saad al-Hariri’s departure was aimed at creating tension in Lebanon and the region.

Bahram Qasemi said Saad al-Hariri had repeated “unrealistic and unfounded accusations” and had aligned himself with “those who want ill for the region”, singling out Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US.

Saad al-Hariri, whose family is close to Saudi Arabia, has been prime minister since December 2016, after previously holding the position between 2009 and 2011.

His father, Rafik al-Hariri was killed by a bomb in 2005 in an attack widely blamed on the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s PM Saad al-Hariri has announced his resignation in a TV broadcast from Saudi Arabia.

Saad al-Hariri also said that he feared for his life, while fiercely criticizing Iran.

He accused Iran of sowing “fear and destruction” in several countries, including Lebanon.

Saad al-Hariri’s father, former PM Rafik al-Hariri, was assassinated in 2005.

The Hariri family is close to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional competitor.

Saad al- Hariri has been prime minister since December 2016, after previously holding the position between 2009 and 2011.

“We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri,” he said in the broadcast from Riyadh.

“I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life.”

Image source Wikimedia

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Saad al-Hariri also attacked the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah, which wields considerable power in Lebanon.

Addressing “Iran and its followers”, the prime minister said Lebanon would “cut off the hands that wickedly extend into it”.

Iran said the resignation would create regional tensions and rejected Saad al-Hariri’s accusations as “unfounded”.

Saad al-Hariri has made several visits in the past few days to Saudi Arabia, whose leadership is strongly opposed to Iran.

His announcement came a day after a meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei.

Taking up the prime minister’s office in 2016, Saad al- Hariri promised a “new era for Lebanon” after two years of political deadlock.

The coalition government Saad al-Hariri led brought together almost all of the main political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah.

His father, Rafik al-Hariri, was killed by a bomb in 2005 in an attack widely blamed on Hezbollah.

The threat of terrorism and nuclear attacks are a concern for most of us. If you did a survey now, most people would probably rate terrorism as one of their biggest fears. None of us want to live in a world where we feel unsafe. But if you watch the news on a daily basis, you’ll find that it offers little reassurance. In 2015, a deal was reached with Iran, but what does it really mean and are we safe?

President Barack Obama delivering an address : Free Stock Photo

Image from http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/14713

About the nuclear program deal

In 2015, a deal to shut down Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade was hailed as one of the most important political feats of recent times. But what does it mean, and what are the politicians hiding?

The US could have pushed for more

This is an opinion held widely by people in the know. Among them is Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The fact that both President Obama and Javad Zarif, the foreign minister in Iran, celebrated the deal supports this notion. To reach a satisfactory deal, one party would have to leave the table feeling a little disappointed. As a dominant world force, the US could have gone further and pinned more stringent restrictions on Iran. It may have taken a little more negotiation, but the thought is that more could have been achieved.

Was the time frame right?

When world leaders emerged from prolonged, intensive negotiations, a 5-15 year time frame seemed reasonable. But there is concern about the long-term intentions of the Iranian nuclear program. For now, production may be limited, but what happens when this agreed monitoring period elapses? Is there a possibility that Iran could already be plotting years ahead?

How watertight is the deal?

If you delve deeper into the small print of the nuclear deal, you may stumble across some alarming sentences. There is an agreement that sanctions can be reimposed in the event of Iran violating the terms. However, if you read on, you’ll discover that Iran can walk away from the deal if sanctions are reimposed. A written statement also suggests that EU countries and the US are not permitted to disturb economic agreements with Iran.

US-European relations

There’s a worry that the nuclear deal could cause ructions between the USA and European nations. There may be disagreements about the terms of the deal and wider implications for concerns such as terrorism. Disagreements are likely to weaken the allied group and strengthen Iran’s position.

Iran Talks Vienna 14 July 2015 (19067069963).jpg

Image credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Comprehensive_Plan_of_Action

When you read news reports, it’s easy to glance at the main points and think no more about it. There’s also the issue of rhetoric. Even if you only read a couple of newspapers, you’re likely to get a different version of events. Often, you read what you want to read and ignore everything else. On the surface, a deal may appear to be a fantastic step forward. But it’s always important to read the small print. Often, it’s impossible to get the full story from a short report about such a complex and convoluted deal.

Iran, Flag, National Flag, Nation, Country, Ensign

Image taken from https://pixabay.com/en/iran-flag-national-flag-nation-162321/

 

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-American prisoners have been released in Iran as it anticipates the lifting of international sanctions.

Jason Rezaian, 39, was convicted of espionage in Iran in 2015.

Iranian state TV named the other three as Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Nosratollah Khosravi.

Iran said they were being swapped for seven Iranians held in American prisons but there was no immediate US confirmation.

The Iranian state news agency listed the seven as Nader Modanlo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghani, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboun.

In addition, Iranian state TV said 14 Iranians sought by the US would be removed from an Interpol wanted list.

News of the releases came after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif predicted that international sanctions against his country would be lifted on January 16.

Javad Zarif is in Vienna for talks with Secretary of State John Kerry over Iran’s nuclear deal.

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

The international nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, is expected to confirm that Iran has scaled back its atomic activities in line with the agreement.

Billions of dollars of frozen Iranian assets are expected to be released and the sale of Iranian oil on the world market will again be permitted.

Lifting sanctions would unfreeze billions of dollars of assets and allow Iranian oil to be sold internationally.

Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post‘s Tehran correspondent, had been detained in Iran for more than a year before his sentencing last November. The WP has dismissed the charges as absurd.

Saeed Abedini, 35, is a Christian pastor who had been imprisoned since July 2012 for organizing churches in people’s houses.

Amir Hekmati, 32, is a former Marine who spent more than four years in prison on spying charges following his arrest in August 2011 during a visit to see his grandmother.

The detention of Khosrawi had not been previously released.

The Associated Press news agency had named the fourth prisoner known to be held in Iran as Siamak Namazi, a businessman and the son of a politician from the shah’s era.

The news agency added that a former FBI agent, Robert Levinson, had disappeared in Iran in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission.

The Washington Post said in a report that there had been no official US confirmation of the release.

Ten US Navy sailors held in Iran on January 12 for entering its territorial waters have been released on January 13.

The US expressed its gratitude to Iran for swiftly resolving the issue.

The sailors were detained on January 12 when one of their two vessels broke down while training in the Gulf.

It comes at a sensitive time, amid reports that a deal on Iran’s nuclear activities is just days away from implementation.

Iranian state media said the sailors were released into international waters after they apologized. However, White House officials said the US administration had not issued an apology to Iran.

The incursion was “unintentional”, a statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards quoted by state media said.

Earlier, the naval commander of the Guards, General Ali Fadavi, said investigations found a navigational failure was to blame.

“We have concluded that passage of Americans in our territorial waters was not a hostile passage or for espionage or similar acts,” he told Iranian television.US Navy sailors held in Iran

The US is investigating how the sailors entered Iranian waters.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he wanted to “express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their co-operation in swiftly resolving this matter”.

“That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong,” John Kerry said in a statement.

John Kerry called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shortly after the incident. The pair developed a personal rapport during the nuclear talks.

Those detained – nine men and one woman – were taken to Farsi Island, in the middle of the Gulf, where Iran has a naval base.

Pictures published on the Revolutionary Guards’ website showed the group sitting on a Persian rug, with the one female member wearing a headscarf.

Conservatives in both countries have opposed the nuclear deal, under which Iran will limit its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

In the US, Republican presidential candidates were among those expressing outrage at the sailors’ detention.

Iran’s deputy nuclear chief has meanwhile denied a report the Arak heavy-water reactor had been decommissioned, which would be a final step towards implementation of the nuclear deal.

Kuwait has recalled its ambassador to Iran as a regional row over the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia deepens.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran was ransacked and set alight on January 2, after it executed Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others.

The kingdom severed diplomatic ties with Iran in response, followed on January 4 by its allies Bahrain and Sudan.

The UN, United States and Turkey are among those calling for calm in the region.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are major rivals for power in the Middle East and back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia insists peace efforts should not be affected by the dispute but has criticized Iran’s contribution to the process.

Iran has reiterated its condemnation of Saudi Arabia, with President Hassan Rouhani saying it cannot “hide its crime of beheading a religious leader by severing political relations with Iran”.

The Kuwaiti government said it was recalling its ambassador from the Iranian capital, describing the attacks as a “flagrant breach of international norms”.

Kuwait did not expel Tehran’s ambassador or downgrade diplomatic ties.

Saudi Arabia’s unexpected decision to carry out the executions – following convictions over terror offences – prompted an expression of “deep dismay” from the UN secretary general, while the US accused Saudi Arabia of exacerbating tensions “at a time when they urgently need to be reduced”.Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr execution Kuwait Recalls Ambassador to Iran

Since then, Saudi Arabia has gained support from some allies in its response to the attacks on its missions in Tehran and the Iranian city of Mashhad.

Saudi authorities on January 3 severed diplomatic relations with Iran. They said that all commercial and air traffic links were being cut and that Saudi citizens were banned from travelling to Iran.

As well as the moves by Bahrain, Sudan and Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has downgraded its diplomatic team in Iran.

On January 4, the UN Security Council issued a strongly worded statement condemning the attack on the Saudi embassy – making no mention of the execution of the cleric.

However, several of the smaller Gulf Arab states have good working relationships with Iran, and two of them, Oman and Qatar, have yet to take any action at all.

Protests against Saudi Arabia have erupted outside Iran, including in Shia-majority Bahrain, where nonetheless Sunni authorities moved to express solidarity with Saudi, clamping down on demonstrations.

Iran has responded angrily to the diplomatic moves, insisting it had no hand in the violent protests that followed the execution.

Earlier, in New York, Saudi UN ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi accused Iran of “interfering in the affairs of other countries, including our own”, and “taking provocative and negative positions”.

The UN’s special international envoy for peace in Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is holding talks in both countries and will be hoping the storm will blow over before a major peace conference on Syria is held towards the end of the month.

Saudi Arabia has decided to break off diplomatic ties with Iran, amid a row over the execution of Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in the Sunni Muslim kingdom, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has announced.

Adel al-Jubeir was speaking after demonstrators had stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others were executed on January 2 after being convicted of terror-related offences.

Adel al-Jubeir said that all Iranian diplomats must leave Saudi Arabia within 48 hours.

Saudi Arabia was recalling its diplomats from Tehran, he said.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would not let Iran undermine its security, accusing it of having “distributed weapons and planted terrorist cells in the region”.

“Iran’s history is full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues, and it is always accompanied by destruction,” he told a news conference.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said: “We will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions.”

“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential,” he said.

Earlier on January 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Saudi Arabia would face “divine revenge” for the execution – an act which also angered Shia Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr a “martyr” who had acted peacefully.

Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 2, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police. The Saudi foreign ministry said none of its diplomats had been harmed in the incident.

Iran is Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival – they back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Relations between the countries have been strained over various issues in recent decades, including Iran’s nuclear program and deaths of Iranians at the Hajj pilgrimage in 1987 and again in 2015.

Most of the 47 people executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks over the last decade.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was involved in anti-government protests that erupted in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Arab Spring, up to his arrest in 2012.

The execution sparked new demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims complain of marginalization, as well as in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.

The top Shia cleric in Iraq, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani denounced the execution as an “unjust aggression”.

The leader of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, launched his sharpest attack yet on the Saudi ruling family on January 3, accusing them of seeking to ignite a Shia-Sunni civil war across the world.

Hassan Nasrallah said the blood of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr would “plague the Al Saud [family] until the Day of Resurrection”, prompting cries of “Death to the Al Saud!” among an audience watching his address.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that Saudi Arabia will face “divine revenge” for its execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a “martyr” who acted peacefully.

Protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 2, setting fire to the building before being driven back by police.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was one of 47 people executed for terrorism offences.

Ayatollah Khamenei said Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been executed for his opposition to Saudi Arabia’s Sunni rulers.Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemns Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr execution

The ayatollah tweeted: “This oppressed scholar had neither invited people to armed movement, nor was involved in covert plots.”

“The only act of #SheikhNimr was outspoken criticism,” he added, saying the “unfairly-spilled blood of oppressed martyr #SheikhNimr will affect rapidly & Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians”.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr had been a figurehead in the anti-government protests that erupted in the wake of the Arab Spring up to his arrest in 2012.

Iran – Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival – has led condemnation among Shia communities over the execution.

The foreign ministry in Tehran said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in protest.

Some of the protesters at the Saudi embassy in Tehran hurled petrol bombs and rocks. Forty people have been arrested, officials said.

There have also been demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, where Shia Muslims complain of marginalization, as well as in Iraq, Bahrain and several other countries.

For its part, Saudi Arabia complained to the Iranian envoy in Riyadh about what it called “blatant interference” in its internal affairs.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s execution has worsened long-running tensions between the two Middle Eastern nations, which support opposite sides in the Syrian and Yemen conflicts.

The US and UN have both called for restraint.

In a statement after the executions, State Department spokesman John Kirby appealed to Saudi Arabia’s government to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings.

John Kirby also urged the Saudi government to permit peaceful expression of dissent and, along with other leaders in the region, to redouble efforts to reduce regional tensions.

Most of the 47 executed by Saudi Arabia were Sunnis convicted of involvement in al-Qaeda-linked terror attacks last decade.

Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.

The execution of Saudi Arabia’s prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr has sparked anger and protests in Shia communities across the region.

Shia-led Iran, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, has led the official condemnation of the execution.

Protests have taken place in Saudi Arabia’s Shia-majority Eastern Province, in Bahrain and several other countries.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a vocal supporter of mass protests in the province in 2011.

He was a prominent, outspoken cleric who articulated the feelings of those in Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority who feel marginalized and discriminated against.Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr execution protests

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 people put to death on January 2 after being convicted of terrorism offences.

In the early hours of January 3, unconfirmed reports from Tehran said that the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital had come under attack from protesters.

Iranian officials have been strident in their condemnation of the execution. The foreign ministry said the Sunni kingdom would pay a high price for its action, and it has summoned the Saudi charge d’affaires in Tehran in protest.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said a “harsh revenge” would be exacted for the execution, Iranian news agencies report.

Saudi Arabia in turn summoned the Iranian envoy “and handed him a strong-worded protest note on the aggressive Iranian statements”, a foreign ministry statement said.

The website of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei posted a picture suggesting the execution was comparable to the actions of ISIS.

As the Shia power in the region, Iran takes huge interest in the affairs of Shia minorities in the Middle East.

However, one of the principal concerns of the Saudis is what they see as the growing influence of Iran in places like Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

At least one protest march was held in Qatif, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, defying a ban on public protests.

Protesters shouted the slogans “The people want the fall of the regime”, and “Down with the al-Saud family”, reminiscent of the 2011 protests in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s arrest in 2012, during which he was shot, triggered days of protests in Eastern Province in which three people were killed.

January 2 executions were carried out simultaneously in 12 locations across Saudi Arabia. Of the 47 executed, one was a Chadian national while another was Egyptian. The rest were Saudis.

The international rights group Amnesty International said the 47 executions demonstrated the Saudi authorities’ “utter disregard for human rights and life” and called Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s trial “political and grossly unfair”.

Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr ‘s family said he had been found guilty, among other charges, of seeking “foreign meddling” in the kingdom but his supporters say he advocated only peaceful demonstrations and eschewed all violent opposition to the government.

Saudi authorities deny discriminating against Shia Muslims and blame Iran for stirring up discontent.

Saudi Arabia carried out more than 150 executions in 2015, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for 20 years.

American journalist Jason Rezaian has been sentenced to an unspecified prison term in Iran, the country’s judiciary has said.

The sentence follows the Washington Post reporter’s conviction last month on charges that include espionage.

Iranian officials did not give details about the sentence but said in a statement it included jail time.

Jason Rezaian, 39, has been detained in Iran for more than a year. The Post has dismissed the charges as absurd.

“In brief, it is a prison sentence,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said in a statement on Iranian state TV.

Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei added that the verdict is “not finalized” – referring to an expected appeal.Jason Rezaian detained in Iran

Jason Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told the Associated Press news agency she had not been informed of the verdict or the details of the sentence.

The foreign editor of the Washington Post, Douglas Jehl, said in a statement that Jason Rezaian’s “trial and sentence are a sham, and he should be released immediately”. He added that the journalist had already spent 487 days in prison.

Jason Rezaian, his wife, who is also a journalist, and two photojournalists were arrested in July 2014 in Iran. Jason Rezaian was the only one of the group not to be released.

The Washington Post‘s Tehran bureau chief since 2012, Jason Rezaian was charged with espionage and distributing propaganda against the Islamic Republic.

Jason Rezaian is a dual Iranian-American citizen and was tried in four hearings behind closed doors. He was convicted in October.

Earlier reports said Jason Rezaian could face 10 to 20 years in prison.

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Deutsche Bank has been fined $258 million by the New York State Department of Financial Services and the Federal Reserve for working with Syria and Iran.

Employees who worked on the illegal transactions must not work with the bank again, the Federal Reserve said.

Deutsche Bank also violated various New York state laws and is paying the two agencies separately.

“The company did not have sufficient policies and procedures to ensure that activities conducted at its offices outside of the United States complied with US sanctions laws,” an official from the Federal Reserve said.Deutsche Bank fined in US

The Fed is requiring Deutsche Bank to create an “enhanced” program to “ensure global compliance” with US sanctions, characterizing its transactions with Syria and Iran “unsafe and unsound”.

Deutsche Bank said in a statement that the conduct had stopped several years ago, adding: “Since then we have terminated all business with parties from the countries involved.”

Two French banks, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole, received higher fines from the US for working with US-sanctioned countries.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian’s trial has begun in Tehran, Iran, behind closed doors.

Jason Rezaian, a US-Iranian citizen, was detained in Iran for almost 10 months on charges that include “espionage”.

He has been accused of passing information to “hostile governments”.

Washington Post‘s editor Martin Baron described the trial as “shameful” and criticized the decision to hold it in private.

Jason Rezaian could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Iran has not recently commented on the case, but the Washington Post has spoken out forcefully.

“The shameful acts of injustice continue without end in the treatment of [Jason] Rezaian,” a statement by the newspaper’s Executive Editor Martin Baron says.

“Now we learn his trial will be closed to the world. And so it will be closed to the scrutiny it fully deserves.

“There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance.”Jason Rezaian and wife Yeganeh Salehi Iran trial

The newspaper points out that Jason Rezaian was arrested without charge and imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison – placed in isolation for many months and denied medical care he needed.

It says that Jason Rezaian was given only an hour-and-a-half to meet a lawyer approved by the court and “no evidence has ever been produced by prosecutors or the court to support these absurd charges”.

US officials have repeatedly raised Jason Rezaian’s case during months of nuclear negotiations with Iran, but have declined to link the two.

Jason Rezaian’s family has taken heart from recent comments by President Barack Obama, who said that the White House would not rest until the journalist was brought home safely.

The case is all the more sensitive because it has unfolded during nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West.

Some analysts have suggested the arrest was related to internal power struggles in Iran over the outcome of the nuclear talks.

Iran and six major world powers, including the US, have set a June 30 deadline for a conclusive nuclear deal to end a 10-year impasse.

Jason Rezaian had been the Washington Post‘s Tehran bureau chief since 2012.

The journalist’s wife, Yeganeh Salehi, who was arrested alongside him in July but later bailed, and a third person have also been summoned to appear in court.

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In some parts of the world like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia or Indonesia, celebrating Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates or a glass of wine could result in severe punishment.

While Valentine’s Day is celebrated by many Indonesians, officials and Muslim clerics are less happy about the holiday.

In recent years there have been protests from conservative Indonesians, saying Valentine’s Day is un-Islamic.

They argue it promotes casual s** and the drinking of alcohol.

India

A number of political parties in India have criticized Valentine’s Day, arguing it promotes Western values and is unwelcome in India.

India used to be part of the British Empire until it declared independence on August 15, 1947.

In 2015, the Indian Hindu nationalist party Mahasabha said that they would encourage couples spotted out together on Valentine’s Day to get married, and will actually have a religious leader on standby to perform marriages.

Other groups have said that celebrating romance would encourage teenage pregnancy and instead pushed for Indians to ditch the idea of romance between boys and girls and replace Valentine’s Day with a celebration of the love between parents and children, a “Parent’s Worship Day”.

The idea began on religious leader Asaram Bapu’s website.

Indonesia

The Asian country has the world’s largest Muslim population, but is a secular nation, meaning that the government says it is neutral and neither supports nor disagrees with religion.

However, in the province of Aceh, the only place with Islamic rule, celebrations are banned as is the sale of gifts.

Photo Getty Images

Photo Getty Images

Iran

While giving chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day is increasingly popular in Iran, in the past authorities have sought to crack down on celebrations, calling the day a “decedent Western custom”.

Despite this restaurants in Tehran reported being fully booked last year and many shops could be seen selling teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates.

This was in spite of being threatened with prosecution if they sold traditional Valentine’s Day gifts.

According to the Economist, shops simply used lookouts to tell them if inspectors were coming on a Valentine’s Day patrol.

Malaysia

Last year, 80 Muslims were arrested by the Islamic morality police for celebrating Valentine’s Day.

They think Valentine’s Day encourages immoral activities.

Officers raided budget hotels in the central state of Selangor and capital, Kuala Lumpur, detaining unmarried Muslim couples who were sharing rooms.

The anti-Valentine’s Day campaign by the country’s Islamic authorities goes back to a fatwa (religious ruling) issued in 2005.

However, many Malaysians still celebrate the day and other faiths are not affected by the Valentine’s Day boycott in the country.

Additionally not all Malaysian Muslims agreed with the campaign, with some saying Valentine’s Day is harmless.

Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of the 28 million-population.

Pakistan

In 2014, there were clashes at a university in Peshawar over Valentine’s Day.

Liberal students were celebrating with red balloons and cake while another group felt such a show was un-Islamic.

Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire.

Three students were injured and stones were thrown at police.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, Valentine’s Day is banned by the kingdom’s religious police.

Women and men sit separately in restaurants and public displays of affection are taboo.

However, some shops continue to sell red roses and other traditional Valentine’s presents.

One shop owner described how Valentine’s Day orders are placed over the telephone to avoid detection and flowers are hidden in the back of the store.

Last August, the decision to sentence five Saudis to a total of 39 years in prison, as well as 4,500 lashes between them, was upheld.

The men had been found dancing with six women they were unrelated to on Valentine’s Day. Alcohol and red roses were also seized.

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Argentine prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita has asked a federal judge to investigate President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner over allegations she helped cover up Iranian links to a deadly 1994 bombing.

Gerardo Pollicita inherited the case from Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in mysterious circumstances.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner denies the allegations, with the government calling the probe an “anti-democratic attack”.

The attack on a Jewish centre killed 85 people. Iran also denies involvement.Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner Amia attack probe

Gerardo Pollicita’s move mean the judge will have to decide whether to authorize new investigations to prove the president’s alleged involvement.

If the prosecutor and the judge agree that there are enough elements to prove Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner committed a crime, she could face prosecution and be charged.

Before his death, Alberto Nisman had published a report on the attack on the Amia Jewish centre.

He alleged that the president and others had conspired to protect Iranian suspects in the bombing case in exchange for favorable deals on oil and other goods.

Alberto Nisman was found shot in the head in January, hours before he was due to give evidence to Congress.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich, accused the courts of trying to stage a “judicial coup” by pursuing the investigation, the AFP reported.

An Iranian court has ordered the closure of Mardom e-Emruz (Today’s People) newspaper after publishing a picture of George Clooney wearing a badge backing French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was attacked last week.

The Mardom e-Emruz newspaper ran a picture of the actor headlined “I’m Charlie too”.

Conservative elements in Teheran were incensed by a catchphrase they regard as “anti-Islamic”.

Charlie Hebdo has published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which many Muslims see as an offensive act.Mardom e-Emruz George Clooney Je suis Charlie

The cover of Charlie Hebdo‘s latest edition, published after the attack in which 12 people were killed, featured a cartoon of the Prophet weeping while holding a sign saying “I am Charlie”.

Seven million copies of the edition are being printed in view of extraordinary demand, distributors announced on January 17.

“The court in charge of cultural affairs and the media imposed the ban on the newspaper for publishing a headline and a picture which it deemed insulting,” Mardom-e Emrouz director Ahmad Sattari told the Irna news agency.

The newspaper was only in its first month of publication, but that its political position was seen as close to that of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

The court’s ruling is pending a final decision due later, but is unlikely to be overturned.

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Man Haron Monis – the gunman behind Sydney café siege – was wanted in Iran since 14 years ago, but Australia refused to hand him over.

The head of Iran’s police, General Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam, told reporters that Man Haron Monis was wanted for fraud at the time.

He said Man Haron Monis had fled to Australia via Malaysia in the late 1990s.

Man Haron Monis and two hostages were shot dead on Tuesday morning, when commandos stormed the Sydney cafe where he had been holding captives for 16 hours.

Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said Man Haron Monis was known in Iran as “Manteqi”.

“In 1996, he was the manager of a travel agency and committed fraud,” the general told reporters.Man Haron Monis wanted Iran

“He then fled to Malaysia and from there, to Australia under a fake name.”

He added that “since we did not have an agreement on the extradition of criminals with Australia, the Australian police refused to extradite him”.

Man Haron Monis applied for political asylum to obtain refugee status in Australia, Gen. Ismail Ahmadi Moghaddam said, describing the incident as “a play”.

Meanwhile the Australian government has announced it is investigating why Man Haron Monis was released on bail on separate charges.

He had a history of religiously inspired activism, but officials say there is as yet no evidence his actions were linked to international Islamist movements.

In 2008, Man Haron Monis he was convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of fallen Australian soldiers in 2009.

In 2013, he was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, and given bail.

Man Haron Monis also faced more than 40 s**ual and indecent assault charges.

New reports claim that President Barack Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, describing a shared interest in fighting Islamic State (ISIS).

The letter, reported by the Wall Street Journal, urges Ayatollah Ali Khamenei toward a nuclear agreement.

Barack Obama stresses any co-operation on fighting ISIS is contingent on Iran reaching such an agreement by a November 24 diplomatic deadline.

The White House has declined to comment on Barack Obama’s “private correspondence”.

The letter, sent last month, is at least the fourth time Barack Obama has written to the Iranian leader since taking office in 2009 and underscores his view that Iran is important in an emerging campaign against ISIS.

President Barack Obama is said to have written a secret letter to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

President Barack Obama is said to have written a secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Officials with the Obama administration have, in recent days, placed the chances for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program at only 50-50, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to begin negotiations on the issue with Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif this weekend in Oman.

World powers suspect Iran of trying to make a nuclear bomb, a claim it denies.

An interim deal agreed late last year gave Iran some relief from sanctions in return for curbs on nuclear activity.

However, talks later stalled on the extent of uranium enrichment Iran would be allowed and on the timetable for sanctions to be lifted.

On November 6, White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment directly on the secret letter.

“I can tell you that the policy that the president and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged,” he said in response to questions.

Also on November 6, Republican speaker of the House John Boehner said he did not trust Iran’s leaders and said they should not be brought into the fight against ISIS.

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The head of Iran’s chief clerical body, Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, has died at the age of 83.

Iran’s clerical body is in charged with choosing or dismissing the country’s supreme leader.

Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, a former acting prime minister and interior minister in the 80s, had been in a coma since June

Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, a former acting prime minister and interior minister in the 80s, had been in a coma since June

Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani was the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a body of 86 senior clerics that monitors the supreme leader and picks a successor after his death, making it one of the most powerful institutions in Iran, though it doesn’t involve itself in daily affairs of state.

He held the post since March 2011, after his predecessor, Iran’s influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was forced out following a dispute with several hard-line clerics.

Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, a former acting prime minister and interior minister in the 80s, had been in a coma since June. He was considered a moderate conservative.

A small plane crashed at Mehrabad airport, near Tehran, killing more than 40 passengers, Iranian state media report.

The aircraft went down at Mehrabad airport, in the west of the city, on Sunday morning, state media said.

here have been more than 200 accidents involving Iranian planes in the past 25 years, leading to more than 2,000 deaths

here have been more than 200 accidents involving Iranian planes in the past 25 years, leading to more than 2,000 deaths (photo Wikipedia)

The plane was reportedly heading to the eastern city of Tabas when it crashed at 04:48 GMT.

Iran has suffered a series of plane crashes, blamed on its ageing aircraft and poor maintenance record.

There have been more than 200 accidents involving Iranian planes in the past 25 years, leading to more than 2,000 deaths.

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According to the UN nuclear agency, Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms.

The conversion of its stock of 20%-enriched uranium was part of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

The US said last week it would unblock $2.8 billion in frozen Iranian funds in return for Iran’s compliance.

A four-month extension to talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions was agreed on Friday between Iran and world powers.

The talks are aimed at persuading Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms

Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms

The six world powers involved in the talks – the US, France, China, Russia, Germany and the UK – suspect Iran seeks atomic weapons, which Iran denies.

The country insists that it is enriching uranium for use in nuclear power stations and for medical purposes.

Correspondents say Iran’s completion of eliminating its most worrying uranium stockpile is a promising sign that its leaders do not want to derail the diplomatic process.

A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Iran is observing all of its other commitments as well.

Iran had more than 200 kg of 20%-enriched uranium when the preliminary agreement to convert it was reached last November.

At 20%, enriched uranium can be converted quickly to arm a nuclear weapon and experts said 200kg was enough to make one nuclear warhead.

Negotiations between the six powers and Iran are set to resume in September, with the deadline for an agreement on November 24.

The parties have been unable to reach agreement on imposing long-term restrictions over Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium production – processes that could yield material for nuclear warheads.

In a joint statement after last week’s talks, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “There are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort.”

A deal could see the lifting of oil and trade sanctions on Iran.

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BNP Paribas has agreed to a record $9 billion settlement with US prosecutors over allegations of sanctions violations.

As part of the deal, France’s largest bank will plead guilty to two criminal charges of breaking US sanctions against trade with Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

The bank will also be prevented from clearing certain transactions in US dollars for one year from the start of 2015.

The settlement is the largest for such a case in US history.

“Between 2004 and 2012, BNP engaged in a complex and pervasive scheme to illegally move billions through the US financial system,” said US Attorney General Eric Holder in a press conference.

In doing so, BNP Paribas “deliberately and repeatedly violated longstanding US sanctions”, he said.

Eric Holder added that he hoped the settlement would serve as a warning to other companies that did business with the US that “illegal conduct will simply not be tolerated”.

BNP Paribas has agreed to a record $9 billion settlement with US prosecutors over allegations of sanctions violations

BNP Paribas has agreed to a record $9 billion settlement with US prosecutors over allegations of sanctions violations (photo Euronews)

As part of its agreement with US authorities, BNP agreed to fire and not re-hire 13 individuals who were associated with the sanctions violations.

BNP said as a result of the fine it would take an “exceptional charge” of 5.8 billion euros ($7.8 billion) in the second quarter of this year.

It said this was on top of the $1.1 billion it had already set aside to cover the cost of the US penalties.

However it said it expected “no impact on its operational or business capabilities”, and said it would post “solid results” for the second quarter.

BNP chief executive Jean-Laurent Bonnafe said resolving the issue was “an important step forward” for the bank.

“We deeply regret the past misconduct that led to this settlement,” he added.

In a conference call on Tuesday morning, Jean-Laurent Bonnafe explained that during the year in which the bank was banned from dollar clearing – converting payments from foreign currencies into US dollars – it would engage a third party to carry out the transactions.

Jean-Laurent Bonnafe added that as part of the settlement BNP Paribas would be able to keep its license to operate in the US.

The Swiss financial regulator, FINMA, also announced that it had closed its investigation into BNP Paribas operations in the country, following the US authorities’ decision.

FINMA said in a statement that BNP Paribas had “persistently and seriously violated its duty to identify, limit and monitor the inherent risks” relating to foreign transactions.

Shares in BNP Paribas rose more than 3% in morning trading, following assurances that the bank could weather the $9 billion fine.

France has been pressing the US over the size of the fine, which almost equals BNP’s entire 2013 pre-tax income of about 8.2 billion euros ($11.2 billion).

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French banking giant BNP Paribas has agreed to pay an $8.9 billion fine for allegedly violating US sanctions rules, reports suggest.

The bank will also, unusually, admit guilt, Financial Times and The New York Times reported.

According to the Wall Street Journal, BNP plans to slash its dividends and issue billions of euros of bonds to pay the fine.

The bank is accused of breaking sanctions against Iran, Sudan and Cuba.

This is alleged to have taken place between 2002 and 2009.

BNP Paribas has agreed to pay an $8.9 billion fine for allegedly violating US sanctions rules

BNP Paribas has agreed to pay an $8.9 billion fine for allegedly violating US sanctions rules

The reported size of the fine could almost wipe out BNP’s entire 2013 pre-tax income of about $11.2 billion.

In April, BNP Paribas said it had set aside $1.1 billion to cover the cost of US penalties, but warned that the “amount of the fines could be far in excess of the amount of the provision”.

Earlier this month, one of the EU’s top officials intervened in the controversy.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s internal markets commissioner, said any penalty on the giant French bank must be “fair and objective”. Reports at the time suggested the fine would be in the region of $10 billion.

France’s President Francois Hollande has raised the matter with President Barack Obama, while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently warned that such a fine could hurt EU-US trade treaty talks.

As part of the deal with US authorities, BNP may be suspended from converting foreign currencies into dollars, reports suggest, which would hit its ability to operate in international wholesale banking markets.

US authorities are keen to make an announcement on the settlement on Monday afternoon.

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Divorce parties gain popularity in Iran’s major cities as more marriages meet a premature end.

According to the conservative Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper, the parties sometimes require extravagant preparations, complete with black roses and huge cakes.

“You go to a florist to order a bouquet of black roses. Next you come to us to order invitation cards,” one card shop owner tells the publication.

Divorce parties gain popularity in Iran's major cities as more marriages meet a premature end

Divorce parties gain popularity in Iran’s major cities as more marriages meet a premature end

“I don’t miss you at all,” says one invitation, quoting the lyrics of a Persian pop hit.

“I swear I will not fall in love again as long as I live. Even if I do, it’s ok, as long as it’s not with you,” the lyrics continue inside the card.

The demand for divorce cards has been going up over the past two years, another shop owner told the Shahr-e Khabar news website.

Officials in the capital Tehran have recently expressed concern about the trend of celebrating divorce, the pro-government Iran newspaper says, and Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi, one of the country’s top conservative clerics, has spoken out over the issue.

Last year, Iran saw a 4.6% rise in divorce cases, and a 4.4% decline in marriage rates. Nearly 20% of Iranian marriages now end in divorce.