Iran denounces Trump's 'sneak attack' accusation

Statement comes after US President Trump said Iran or proxies are planning to target US troops or assets in Iraq.

Iran has no proxies but it has friends, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, a day after US President Donald Trump alleged Tehran or its “proxies” planned a sneak attack on US targets in Iraq.

“Don’t be misled by usual warmongers, AGAIN, @realDonaldTrump: Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies. Unlike the US – which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates – Iran only acts in self-defence,” tweeted Zarif on Thursday.

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“Iran starts no wars, but teaches lessons to those who do.”

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Rouhani: U.S. has missed opportunity to lift sanctions on Iran amid coronavirus

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s president said on Wednesday the United States had missed a historical opportunity to lift sanctions on his country during the coronavirus outbreak, though he said the penalties had not hampered Tehran’s fight against the infection.

“It was a great opportunity for Americans to apologise … and to lift the unjust and unfair sanctions on Iran, Hassan Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.

“The sanctions have failed to hamper our efforts to fight against the coronavirus outbreak.”

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World War 3: Trump refuses to accept US hostage death in Iranian custody

Robert Levinson’s family announced the sad news in a statement today. Mr Levinson disappeared in Iran 13 years ago from the island of Kish off Iran’s southern coast.

He was the longest-held hostage in US history.

But Trump has disputed the claims that Mr Levinson is dead, in an unexpected turn of events.

On Wednesday at the White House, he said: “I’ve been very much involved in that and he was a great gentleman and a great family.

“It’s not looking good, he wasn’t well for years in Iran, it’s not looking promising.”

The president added: “But Robert Levinson, who was outstanding, has been sick for a long time.

“He had some rough problems prior to his detainment or capture.

“It’s not looking great, but I won’t accept that he’s dead.

“They haven’t told us he’s dead.”

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Trump had in November tweeted calling for Iran to release Levinson.

The plea, however, fell on deaf ears.

The reason for his being in Kish is disputed.

His family say he was working on behalf of an unauthorised CIA mission.

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They say he had been working in Kish as a private investigator looking at cigarette counterfeiting in the region.

He retired from the FBI in 1998.

Other reports suggest he was working for the CIA to recruit an Iranian spy.

US officials suspected he was kidnapped by Iranian intelligent forces to be used as a bargaining chip in dealings with Washington.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Levinson’s family said they had received information from US officials that had led them to conclude he had died in Iranian custody.

They said: “It is impossible to describe our pain.

“Our family will spend the rest of our lives without the most amazing man we have ever known, a new reality that is inconceivable to us.

“His grandchildren will never meet him. They will only know him through the stories we tell them.

“If not for the cruel, heartless actions of the Iranian regime, Robert Levinson would be alive and home with us today.”

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Iran releases French academic Roland Marchal: French official

PARIS (Reuters) – Iranian authorities have released French academic Roland Marchal, who has been imprisoned in Iran since June 2019, a French presidency official said on Saturday.

Marchal is due to arrive in France around midday on Saturday, the official said.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Iran to also release French citizen Fariba Adelkhah, who is still imprisoned, the official added. Adelkhah also holds an Iranian passport.

Iran and France have agreed to swap Marchal, held on security charges, and an Iranian detained by Paris over alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Tehran, Iranian state media reported on Friday.

France has released Jalal Ruhollahnejad, an Iranian engineer wanted by U.S. authorities over sanctions charges, state broadcaster IRIB has reported.

France had demanded that Iran release Marchal, a senior researcher at Sciences Po university whose arrest was reported by Paris in mid-October.

In May, a French court approved the extradition of Rouhollahnejad to the United States to face charges of attempting to illegally import U.S. technology for military purposes on behalf of an Iranian company which U.S. officials said was linked to the elite Revolutionary Guards.

The detentions have complicated ties between the two countries during a period when Macron was seeking to defuse tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Iran Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.

The detentions have coincided with a protracted standoff with Western powers prompted by a U.S. decision to withdraw from an international agreement to curb Iranian nuclear activities.

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Iran security forces to empty city streets to fight coronavirus

DUBAI (Reuters) – Security forces will empty the streets of cities across Iran in the next 24 hours in a drive to fight the spread of the new coronavirus, state television reported on Friday.

The move came as the World Health Organization (WHO) said Iran needed to do more to contain the disease. Tehran has recorded 514 people killed and 11,364 diagnosed infections, making Iran one of the worst affected countries outside China.

Iranian officials have repeatedly complained that many Iranians have ignored calls to stay home and avoid travel.

“Our law enforcement and security committees, along with the interior ministry and provincial governors, will be clearing shops, streets and roads,” state TV cited Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri as saying at a meeting about the virus. “This will take place in the next 24 hours.”

He did not make clear whether people would be arrested or simply told to go home.

On Thursday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked Bagheri to set up a body to lead the military’s efforts in fighting the coronavirus.

A WHO team that visited Iran said “solid work” was being done, especially in the areas of case management, laboratories, and risk communications.

“But more needs to be done. We agreed on several priority areas for scale-up with the national health authorities, based on informed experiences in China and elsewhere,” WHO team leader Dr Richard Brennan said in a statement.

The outbreak has infected a host of senior officials, politicians, doctors and clerics in Iran, several of whom, including an adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have died from the coronavirus, according to state media.

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U.S. wages retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed militia in Iraq

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States waged a series of precision air strikes on Thursday against an Iran-backed militia in Iraq that it blamed for a major rocket attack a day earlier that killed two American troops and a 26-year-old British soldier.

The U.S. strikes appeared limited in scope and narrowly tailored, targeting five weapons storage facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah militants, including stores of weaponry for past attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops, the Pentagon said.

In a statement, Iraq’s military said the U.S. air strikes hit four locations in Iraq that housed formal Iraqi police and military units, in addition to the paramilitary groups.

Three Iraqi army soldiers were killed and four wounded, police in Babel province said in a statement. Five paramilitary fighters and one policeman were also injured, they said, adding that the fate of two more policemen was unknown.

One strike hit an Iraqi civilian airport under construction in the holy Shi’ite Muslim city of Kerbala and killed a worker, Iraqi religious authorities said on Friday.

The U.S. military did not estimate how many people in Iraq may have been killed in the strikes, which officials said were carried out by piloted aircraft.

But there was no sign of the kind of high-profile killing that President Donald Trump authorized in January, when the United States targeted a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in a Pentagon statement detailing the strikes, cautioned that the United States was prepared to respond again, if needed.

“We will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region,” Esper said.

Trump had been quick to authorize the U.S. military to respond following Wednesday’s attack in Iraq, in which militants fired dozens of 107 mm Katyusha rockets from a truck, striking Iraq’s Taji military camp north of Baghdad.

About 18 of the roughly 30 rockets fired hit the base. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

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It was the third time in recent months the U.S. military lashed out against Kataib Hezbollah. It killed more than two dozen militants in December in response to an attack on an Iraqi base that killed a U.S. contractor.

The U.S. military drone strike in January that targeted Soleimani also killed Kataib Hezbollah founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

It was unclear if the latest strikes would deter further militant action. The Taji rocket attack took place on what would have been Soleimani’s 63rd birthday, suggesting the militants still sought revenge.

FURTHER ATTACKS?

Dennis Ross, a former U.S. ambassador now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, cast doubt on the Pentagon’s ability to deter Kataib Hezbollah.

“Regrettably, these attacks on our forces will continue as Iran has no problem fighting to the last of the Shia militias and believe they can force us out of Iraq,” he said on Twitter.

Iran retaliated for the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani by launching missiles from its territory at an Iraq base hosting U.S. troops, causing brain injuries to more than 100.

In the latest attack, 14 U.S.-led coalition personnel were wounded, including American, British, Polish and other nationals. Private-industry contractors were among the wounded.

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters that five of the wounded were categorized as “urgent,” suggesting serious injuries that could require rapid medical evacuation.

Britain identified its fallen service member as Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon. The United States has not yet identified its service members killed.

In a sign of concern that tension between the United States and Iran could be headed toward open conflict, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to limit Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran.

The Republican president has been engaged in a maximum-pressure campaign of renewed sanctions and near-constant rhetoric against Iran, after pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal struck under his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iran-backed paramilitary groups have regularly been rocketing and shelling bases in Iraq that host U.S. forces and the area around the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

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Fear, distrust and disinfectant in the air amid Iran's coronavirus outbreak

DUBAI (Reuters) – As the new coronavirus spreads across Iran, the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East, so a feeling of anxiety grows among many Iranians, some of whom worry the clerical establishment has not got a firm grip on the illness.

Every day trucks filled with disinfectants spray down streets, shrines, public parks, trash bins, public toilets and markets in Qom, Tehran and other areas that have had cases of infection.

State TV showed workers wiping down metro and bus stations.

“The smell of disinfectants has become my nightmare,” said retired teacher Ziba Rezaie, 62, from Qom. “The city smells like a cemetery, a morgue.”

The escalating outbreak in Iran has killed 54 people and infected 978, according to the Health Ministry on Sunday.

Authorities have called on Iranians to avoid public places and stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural and sports centers have been temporarily closed across the country.

“We have not left the house for a week. Children have online classes. Only my husband leaves the house for shopping and for work,” said Samar, 38, in the city of Shiraz.

Trying to prevent panic, the government has not locked down Qom, a holy Shi’ite Muslim city identified by authorities as the center of contagion, but has imposed broad restrictions such as limitations on who is allowed in and out of the city.

Some religious hardliners, including clerics, have dismissed the idea of closing the holy site to prevent the spread of the virus, arguing that the shrine in Qom is “a place for healing”.

Videos on social media showed some people licking the doors and the burial mound inside the Masumeh shrine, defying advice by the Health Ministry to avoid touching or kissing any surfaces in the shrine, a common practice for pilgrims.

DRAMATIC CONSEQUENCES

The head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, Mike Ryan, said on Feb. 27 that Iran may be dealing with an outbreak that is worse than yet understood.

Authorities announced Iran’s first infections and two deaths from the virus on Feb. 19. Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by many Iranians over the handling of the outbreak, saying all the necessary measures to overcome the crisis have been taken.

Some doctors and nurses contacted by Reuters said hospitals in Tehran, Qom and Rasht city were overloaded.

“Hospitals are full of infected people. We hear about hundreds of deaths,” said a doctor in Tehran, who asked not to be named. “We need more hospitals. The death toll will rise.”

The Health Ministry has ordered hospitals to admit only infected people and those patients who need immediate care. Dozens of military-run hospitals have been allocated to treat the infected people.

A doctor in Qom, who also asked not to be named, told Reuters on Sunday that the illness had been circulating days before it was announced. “We had many patients with the same symptoms. But they were treated with flu medicine and sent back home.”

Some critics accused the clerical rulers of initially concealing the outbreak to secure a high participation in state-organized rallies in February. Some others suggested there was a cover-up to ensure a high turnout in Feb. 21 parliamentary polls. Government spokesman Ali Rabeie on Thursday rejected this accusation, saying the outbreak should not be politicized.

“It has spread across the country. How is it possible in 10 days? Obviously they concealed facts to go ahead with their own plans. They lied to us again,” said Fariba, 34, a high school teacher in the city of Tabriz.

Iranians’ confidence in their leaders has been damaged over bloody crackdowns of several protests since last year and the belated acknowledgement of the accidental shooting down in January of a Ukrainian airliner that killed all 176 aboard.

“If my children don’t die from this virus, they will die of hunger,” construction worker Ali Hosseini, 39, told Reuters from Qom. “Construction business is dead now and I am jobless.”

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Iran coronavirus death toll ‘10 times higher than official figures’ in cover-up

Iran’s coronavirus death toll has exceeded over 500 as the outbreak is now out of control, insiders have claimed.

Opposition groups have claimed the amount of people killed by the virus in Iran is being covered up .

The Islamic republic has become the epicentre of the outbreak in the Middle East.

Iranian officials have claimed the death toll hit 54 today – and even that makes it the second highest outside of China.

But insiders have claimed the death toll is actually almost ten times higher – breaking the 500 mark.

And a selection of high profile officials have struck down by the virus, with some even being close advisors of the Ayatollah, 80.

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The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran have claimed the death toll has exceeded 500.

The opposition group – who live in exile from the state – accused the regime over covering up the death toll.

It is claimed at least 150 victims have died in Qom, 100 in Tehran, 100 in Mazandaran Province, 37 in Arak and Saveh, 37 in Isfahan, Homayounshahr and Najafabad, 24 in Kashan and 22 in Gilan.

And several more people have died in Mashhad, Kermanshah, Karaj, Semnan, Bandar Abbas, Yazd, Ilam, Yasuj, Khorramabad, Neyshabour, and Hamada.

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Iran's regime have admitted Iranian vice president Masoumeh Ebtekar has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

And Ayatollah Hadi Khosrowshahi, the ambassador to the Vatican, has reportedly died of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Mojtaba Zolnouri, a high profile security chief, has been rushed into quarantine.

Iranian deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi was also taken ill after infamously declaring he was fine at a press conference.

And Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the former police chief, who met the Ayatollah days ago, has also been diagnosed with coronavirus.

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has praised the work of his regime in battling the coronavirus – saying health workers will be rewarded by God.

He said: “Your work is really valuable.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington was concerned that Iran may have concealed "vital details" about its outbreak.

He urged all nations to "tell the truth about the coronavirus" as its now spread to every continent worldwide.

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Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said the regime has no places to quarantine any towns and cities despite the outbreak.

Rouhani told a cabinet meeting that health authorities would continue to "only quarantine individuals".

The nation is believed to be the source of cases in the Middle East which are spreading to Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Pakistan.

The president also told the cabinet meeting that he had received "promising" reports from the health ministry.

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Coronavirus testing kits have been shipped to the nation by the World Health Organisation

The president urged all locals to avoid travel to areas infected by the coronavirus.

He said: “We have no plan to quarantine any district or any city.

“We only quarantine individuals. If an individual has early symptoms, that person must be quarantined.”

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Shahin Gobadi, of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said “It is quite evident that the clerical regime is covering up the real scope of this disease in Iran, has deliberately misled the public, and failed to take proper actions to deal with this growing threat that has become an epidemic in Iran.

“Lies, and deception, and cover-up are in the regime’s DNA.

“The regime is repeating the same lies regarding the Coronavirus, albeit on a much larger scale, as it did in the aftermath of the downing of the Ukrainian commercial airliner.”

He blamed the Ayatollah for “resorting to a cover up” to ensure high turn outs for the anniversary 1979 revolution on February 11 and the election on February 23

It comes as reportedly British prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has contracted the coronavirus in Tehran.

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Coronavirus has infected more than 87,000 and killed almost 3,000 worldwide.

The virus has spread round the world after first originating from the city of Wuhan in China.

It is believed to have come from one of the so-called “wet markets” – where live animals are kept in cages before being slaughtered.

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China has highest number of confirmed cases with almost 80,000, with South Korea second with 3,736 and Italy third at 1,128.

Iran is in fourth place with an official figure of 978, but opposition groups fear the figure is vastly higher.

  • Iran
  • Coronavirus

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Iran's Guards allocate facilities to tackle coronavirus outbreak

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have allocated facilities across the country to help eradicate the new coronavirus, a Guards commander told a televised news conference on Sunday.

The death toll from the virus in Iran has reached 43.

“We have set up centers across the country to help people to tackle the virus … we need national cooperation to tackle this crisis. People should follow our health officials’ advice,” said the commander, who was not named by Iran’s Press TV.

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Iran warns Israel of 'firm' response to air raids in Syria

Israel, which views Iran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets in Syria.

    Iran has warned Israel of a “firm and appropriate” response if it continued attacking targets in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assad and his forces in their nearly eight-year war against rebels and ISIL fighters.

    Israel, which views Iran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of its allied militia in Syria.

    With an election looming in April, Israel has been increasingly open about carrying out its air strikes.

    In a meeting on Tuesday with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem in Tehran, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said the Israeli attacks violated Syria’s territorial integrity and were “unacceptable”.

    “If these actions continue, we will activate some calculated measures as a deterrent and as a firm and appropriate response to teach a lesson to the criminal and lying rulers of Israel,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying by the Fars news agency.

    But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that Israeli forces would continue to attack Iranians in Syria and warned them to “get out of there” fast.

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