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Mohammad Javad Zarif, Mohammed al-Hakim Zarif - Iran, Iraq

Iran will defend itself against any military or economic aggression, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday, calling on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed. Speaking at a Baghdad news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed al-Hakim, Zarif said Iran wanted to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them. “We will defend against any war efforts against Iran, whether it be an economic war or a military one, and we will face these efforts with strength,” he said. Strains have increased between Iran and the United States after this month’s attack on oil tankers in the Gulf region. Washington, a firm backer of Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, has blamed the attacks on Iran. Tehran has distanced itself from the bombings, but the United States has sent an aircraft carrier and an extra 1,500 troops to the Gulf, sparking concern over the risk of conflict in a volatile region. Iraq stands with Iran and is willing to act as an intermediary between its neighbor and the United States, Hakim said. Baghdad does not believe an “economic blockade” is fruitful, he added in a reference to U.S. sanctions. “We are saying very clearly and honestly that we oppose the unilateral actions taken by the United States. We stand with the Islamic Republic of Iran in its position,” Hakim said. The United States and Iran are Iraq’s two main allies. Meanwhile, Iranian Deputy ForeignHere's the full story.

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UNRWA - United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

The head of the United Nations agency that has supported Palestinian refugees for seven decades hit back on Thursday at a U.S. proposal to have host countries take over the services it provides across the Middle East. The suggestion, from U.S. Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, that UNRWA should be effectively dismantled was the latest U.S. attack on an agency that began operations in 1950. Formerly UNRWA’s largest donor, the United States halted its funding to the agency in 2018, deeming its fiscal practices “irredeemably flawed” and stoking tensions between the Palestinians and U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. “We need to engage with host governments to start a conversation about planning the transition of UNRWA services to host governments, or to other international or local non-governmental organizations, as appropriate,” Greenblatt said after the Security Council was briefed by UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl. Asked at a Gaza news conference on Thursday about Greenblatt’s remarks, Krahenbuhl said UNRWA’s mandate was a matter for the entire U.N. General Assembly to consider, not by “one or two individual member states”. “Therefore, Palestinian refugees should remember that the mandate is protected by the General Assembly, and of course we will engage with member states to ensure what we hope is a safe renewal of that mandate,” Krahenbuhl said. STRONG BACKING IN U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY UNRWA’s mission is due to come up for renewal later this year in the General Assembly, where support for the agency has beenHere's the full story.

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Iranians - Iran News

Iranian and U.S. leaders have reassured their nations that they do not seek war. But among ordinary Iranians who already face hardship from tightening sanctions, nerves are being strained by worry that the situation could slip out of control. In interviews conducted from outside the country by telephone and online, Iranians described heated discussions at home, on the streets and on social media. The prospect of war was now the main topic of conversation in workplaces, taxis and buses, Nima Abdollahzade, a legal consultant at an Iranian startup company, told Reuters. “Apart from the deterioration in the Iranian economy, I believe the most severe effect” of confrontation with the United States “is in the mental situation of ordinary Iranians,” he said. “They are sustaining a significant amount of stress.” The United States pulled out of an agreement between Iran and world powers a year ago that limited Iran’s nuclear programme in return for lifting economic sanctions. This month tensions have risen sharply, with Washington extending its sanctions to ban all countries from importing Iranian oil. A number of U.S. officials led by National Security Adviser John Bolton have made hawkish remarks, citing Iranian threats against U.S. interests. Trump himself tweeted: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.” Iran has tended to dismiss the tough talk as a bluff – “psychological warfare” from a U.S. administration not ready for a fight. But some Iranians say the tension could have its own logic, raising the chanceHere's the full story.

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Yemen Houthis Drone

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia this week in a resurgence of tactics that had largely subsided since late last year amid United Nations-led peace efforts. The latest hostilities coincide with rising tensions between Iran and Gulf Arab states allied to the United States and come just as a sensitive, U.N.-sponsored peace deal is being carried out in Yemen’s main port of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions. The Houthis, who claimed responsibility for last week’s armed drone strikes on oil assets in Saudi Arabia, said on Tuesday that one of their drones hit an arms depot at the kingdom’s Najran airport near the Yemeni border, causing a fire. The Saudi-led military coalition said a civilian facility in Najran province was targeted with an explosive-laden drone. It said on Monday that Saudi defence forces intercepted Houthi ballistic missiles fired towards Mecca, Islam’s holiest site. The Houthis denied doing so. On Sunday, the Houthis said they would attack 300 vital military targets in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the UAE head a Western-backed coalition of Sunni Muslim states that intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014. The movement has during the war repeatedly targeted Saudi cities and vital installations – mostly in border areas, but on several occasions the capital Riyadh as well. The Houthis pledged last November to stopHere's the full story.

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Palestinians - Palestine News

Palestinians will stay away from a U.S.-led conference in Bahrain next month that the Trump administration has cast as an overture to its own plan for peace between them and Israel, a Palestinian cabinet minister said on Monday. Washington announced the conference on Sunday, describing it as an opportunity to drum up international investment for the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians, who have boycotted the Trump administration since it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, have shown little interest in discussing a plan on which they had no input and that they anticipate will fall far short of their core demands. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday that his government had not been consulted on the June 25-26 gathering in Manama. After the cabinet met, Ahhmed Majdalani, the social development minister and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee, said: “There will be no Palestinian participation in the Manama workshop.” “Any Palestinian who would take part would be nothing but a collaborator for the Americans and Israel,” he said. Shtayyeh reiterated Palestinians’ aspirations for a two-state peace agreement with Israel entailing control of the occupied West Bank and Gaza – currently run by the Islamist group Hamas – as well as East Jerusalem as their future capital. Internationally-mediated talks to that end have been stalemated for years. Israel calls Jerusalem its indivisible capital and has said it might declare sovereignty in its West Bank settlements, which are deemed illegal byHere's the full story.

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Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud - Saudi Arabia Headlines News Today

Saudi Arabia wants to avert war in the region but stands ready to respond with “all strength and determination” following last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets, a senior official said on Sunday, adding that the ball was now in Iran’s court. Riyadh has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. The attack came two days after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied it was behind the attacks which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference. “It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks. “The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement. Saudi Arabia’s Sunni MuslimHere's the full story.

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Iran Dispatches Naval Destroyer to Bab el-Mandeb Strait to Shield Its Vessels

Iran’s top diplomat on Saturday dismissed the possibility of war erupting in the region, saying Tehran did not want a conflict and that no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran”, the state news agency IRNA reported. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent days, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its Baghdad embassy following attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf. “There will be no war because neither do we want a war, nor has anyone the idea or illusion it can confront Iran in the region,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IRNA before ending a visit to Beijing. President Donald Trump has bolstered economic sanctions and built up U.S. military presence in the region, accusing Iran of threats to U.S. troops and interests. Tehran has described those steps as “psychological warfare” and a “political game”. “The fact is that Trump has officially said and reiterated again that he does not want a war, but people around him are pushing for war on the pretext that they want to make America stronger against Iran,” Zarif said. He told Reuters last month that Trump could be lured into a conflict by the likes of U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk. REGIONAL TENSIONS In a sign of the heightened tension across the region, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighbouring Iraq after days of sabre rattling between WashingtonHere's the full story.

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Yemen War News

Houthi fighters and pro-government forces battled in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday, breaching a ceasefire and potentially complicating a troop withdrawal agreement intended to pave the way for wider peace talks. Hodeidah port, which has been under Houthi control, is a lifeline for millions of Yemenis threatened by starvation because of the war as it is the main entry point for food imports and aid. The Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah and two other Red Sea ports began on Saturday and was the most significant advance yet in efforts to end the four-year-old war. The United Nations said on Tuesday the ports had been handed over to a coast guard and the pullout was going to plan. But both sides reported renewed clashes on Wednesday. Houthi-run media said pro-government forces had hit various parts of Hodeidah city, including the airport, with heavy and medium weapons. It did not say if they were Yemeni troops or members of an international military coalition led by Saudi Arabia which backs President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s Aden-based government The coalition-backed forces said in a report that Houthi fighters tried to infiltrate Hodeidah and the al-Duraihmi area to its south but pro-government troops foiled them. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a leading member of the coalition, have yet to comment on the Houthi withdrawal. The coalition has forces massed on Hodeidah’s outskirts and under the withdrawal plan’s first phase, they are supposed to eventually also draw back. ATTACKS ON SAUDIS The flare-upHere's the full story.

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Aras Amiri - Iran - UK

The British Council has confirmed one of its employees has been convicted and jailed in Iran for espionage charges. Head of the British cultural organization Ciarán Devane said in a statement on Tuesday that Aras Amiri, a 32-year-old employee of the London-based Council, had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran more than a year after she was arrested in the country for espionage. The statement came a day after a senior Iranian judiciary official said an Iranian woman had been convicted after she was found guilty of spying for Britain. Gholamhossein Esmaili, who serves as the spokesman for the Iranian Judiciary, said the unidentified woman had been “cooperating with Britain’s foreign intelligence service,” while working for the Iran Desk at the British Council. Esmaili said the woman had made “clear confessions” about her recruitment and “the instructions that the English security agency had given her.” “The person was involved in contacting theater and art groups to implement cultural infiltration projects,” said the official, adding that the woman had repeatedly traveled to Iran under aliases. The British council, however, denied espionage charges against Amiri. The agency said it will remain in contact with Britain’s foreign ministry to pursue the issue. “We firmly refute the accusation levied against her,” Devane said, adding, “The British Council does not do any work in Iran and Aras did not travel to Iran for work.” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also reacted to the news of the jail sentences for Amiri, saying lateHere's the full story.

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US Military at War

The United States’ military presence in the Gulf used to be a serious threat but now it is an opportunity, a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Sunday, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA). The U.S. military has sent forces, including an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers, to the Middle East to counter what U.S. officials have said are “clear indications” of threats from Iran to its forces there. The USS Abraham Lincoln is replacing another carrier rotated out of the Gulf last month. “An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past but now…the threats have switched to opportunities,” Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division said. He added, “If (the Americans) make a move we will hit them in the head.” The commander of the Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, said in a parliament session on Sunday that the United States has started a psychological war in the region, according to a parliamentary spokesman. “Commander Salami, with attention to the situation in the region, presented an analysis that the Americans have started a psychological war because the comings and goings of their military is a normal matter,” said Behrouz Nemati in a summary of the Salami’s comments, according to parliament’s ICANA news site. Salami was appointed head of the Guards last month. Separately, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet onHere's the full story.

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Iran and EU

European countries said on Thursday they wanted to preserve Iran’s nuclear deal and rejected “ultimatums” from Tehran, after Iran scaled back curbs on its nuclear programme and threatened moves that might breach the pact.

Iran announced steps on Wednesday to ease curbs on its nuclear programme, in response to new U.S. sanctions imposed after Washington abandoned the deal a year ago.

Experts say the new moves announced by Tehran so far are not likely to violate the terms of the deal immediately.

But President Hassan Rouhani said that unless world powers find a way to protect Iran’s banking and oil industries from U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Iran would start enriching uranium beyond limits allowed in the deal.

“We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA and the NPT,” read a statement issued jointly by the European Union and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany.

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Hamas - Gaza - Palestine

The military wing of the Palestinian Hamas resistance movement Hamas says it successfully “overcame” Israel’s so-called Iron Dome missile system during its recent confrontation with the Tel Aviv regime thanks to its new rocket-launching tactic.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said in a social media post on Monday that the fresh rocket-launching tactic had overwhelmed the so-called Iron Dome missile system, leading to the deaths and injuries of numerous Israelis in two days.

“The Qassam Brigades, thanks to God, succeeded in overcoming the so-called Iron Dome by adopting the tactic of firing dozens of missiles in one single burst,” he said.

“The high intensity of fire and the great destructive ability of the missiles that were introduced by the Qassam [Brigades]… succeeded in causing great losses and destruction to the enemy,” Obeida noted.

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Iran Nuclear Deal

Iran will on Wednesday announce “reciprocal actions” on the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Monday, quoting “knowledgeable sources.”

The Islamic Republic itself is not planning to pull out of the landmark nuclear agreement, the report noted, without spelling out what action Tehran intended to take. Some European Union leaders had been unofficially told of Iran’s decision, the report said.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced the U.S. pullout on May 8 last year and subsequently reimposed tough sanctions on Iran, including on its lifeblood oil exports with the stated intent of reducing them to zero and starving Iran’s economy.

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Hamas - Gaza - Palestine

A surge in deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel petered out overnight with Palestinian officials reporting that Egypt had mediated a ceasefire on Monday ending the most serious spate of cross-border clashes for months. The latest round of fighting erupted three days ago, peaking on Sunday when rockets and missiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel. Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, over the weekend.

Two Palestinian officials and a TV station belonging to Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said a truce had been reached at 0430 a.m. (0130 GMT), apparently preventing the violence from broadening into a conflict neither side seemed keen on fighting.

Israel did not formally confirm the existence of a truce with Hamas and its allied Gaza faction Islamic Jihad, militants that it, like much of the West, designates as terrorists.

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Palestinian Militants Rockets Inflict Injuries On Israeli Civilians

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired scores of rockets into southern Israel on Saturday, wounding at least two Israeli civilians and triggering retaliatory airstrikes and tank fire against militant targets in the blockaded enclave and shattering a month-long lull in violence.

Israeli officials said a 50-year-old woman was severely wounded by rocket fire, while a teenage boy was mildly hurt as he ran for cover. Gaza's Health Ministry said a 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli airstrike, and seven other Palestinians were wounded. Israeli police said a house in the coastal city of Ashkelon was damaged.

The outbreak of fighting came as leaders from Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, and the smaller armed faction Islamic Jihad were in Egypt for talks with mediators aimed at restoring a fraying cease-fire. Hamas leaders have hoped the recent calm would pave the way for a deeper, longer-term cease-fire.

Tensions have been rising in recent days amid allegations from Hamas that Israel has been delaying implementation of last month's cease-fire understandings.

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Iran Missile

Iran's envoy to the UN has denounced US attempts to portray Tehran's conventional missile program as a breach of Security Council Resolution 2231 that endorsed a 2015 nuclear deal, saying Washington must first explain why it has, itself, violated that international document by abandoning the landmark agreement.

Majid Takht-e Ravanchi said Thursday that American officials are after creating a negative atmosphere against Iran's missile work at the world body, reaffirming that Iran's missile activities are not inconsistent with Resolution 2231 contrary to what the US claims.

He added that a US State Department official has met with members of the UN Security Council and the world body's Secretariat about Iran's missile activities with the intention of promoting Washington's false allegations against Tehran

"Our stance is clear; [the issue] of our missiles does not fall at all within the framework of Resolution 2231," Takht-e Ravanchi stressed.

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Russian armoured personnel carriers supporting Syrian government troops

Russian and Syrian forces intensified air strikes and shelling in rebel-held northwestern Syria overnight, the heaviest assault since the area was declared a demilitarized zone under a Russian-Turkish deal, residents and medics said on Thursday. The targeted villages and towns in northern Hama and southern Idlib fall within a buffer zone agreed last September between Russia and Turkey as part of a deal which averted a major offensive on the area.

Schools, health facilities and residential areas have been hit, United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator Panos Moumtzis told Reuters on Thursday. “The barrel bombing is the worst we have seen for at least 15 months.”

He added that 300,000 people live in the buffer zone where there are hostilities. Earlier this week, the United States warned violence in the buffer zone “will result in the destabilisation of the region”.

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