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Mourners gather in Baghdad for Soleimani’s funeral procession

Soleimani’s body will arrive in Iran on Saturday evening where authorities have declared three days of mourning.

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TEHRAN QASEM SOLEIMANI PROTEST

Baghdad, Jan 4 : A huge crowd of mourners gathered in Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Saturday to participate in a funeral procession for the Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump.

The crowd in Baghdad was also there to mourn the death of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Front (PMF), who was also killed in the Friday airstrike near the Baghdad International Airport, the BBC reported.

The gathering in Baghdad on Saturday marked the beginning of days of mourning for Soleimani, who was the head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Mourners started gathering in Baghdad from early Saturday morning, ahead of the start of the procession, waving Iraqi and militia flags and chanting “death to America”.

The procession then snaked though the streets, some carrying portraits of Soleimani and some of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Ambassador to Baghdad Mousa Tabatabaie told Tehran’s state-run IRNA news agency that funeral processions for Soleimani would also be held in the Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Karbala on Saturday, reports Press TV.

Soleimani’s body will arrive in Iran on Saturday evening where authorities have declared three days of mourning.

According to Iran’s Mehr News Agency, a funeral procession for the IRGC commander will also take place in Tehran on Sunday morning, during which Khamenei will participate in a prayer ceremony.

The body will then be taken for burial in the city of Kerman, Soleimani’s birthplace.

Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have vowed to retaliate against the US over Soleimani’s death.

Friday’s attack came after Iraqi protesters on Tuesday stormed the US embassy compound in Baghdad to protest the American air raids conducted on December 29 against five bases of Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, claiming the lives of 25 people.

Disaster

‘Horror show’: Massive explosion in Beirut kills dozens, wounds thousands in Lebanon’s capital

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Beirut Blast

BEIRUT : A huge explosion in a port warehouse district near the centre of Beirut killed more than 73 people, injured over 3,700 others and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.

Officials expected the death toll to rise sharply as emergency workers dug through rubble across a swathe of the city to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful blast to hit Beirut in years, making the ground tremble.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere – in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion.”

Three hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.

A security source said victims were being taken for treatment outside the city because Beirut hospitals were already packed with wounded. Red Cross ambulances from the north and south of the country and the Bekaa valley to the east were called in to cope with the huge casualty toll.

The blast was so big that some residents in the city, where memories of heavy shelling during the 1975 to 1990 civil war live on, thought an earthquake had struck. Dazed, weeping and, wounded, people walked through streets searching for relatives.

Lebanon’s interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up. The minister later told Al Jadeed TV ammonium nitrate had been in storage there since 2014.

Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast, sending a ball of white smoke and fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km (more than a mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.

Lebanon’s health minister said more than 25 people had been killed and more than 2,500 were injured. Lebanon’s Red Cross said hundreds of people had been taken to hospitals.

DAY OF MOURNING

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the country’s Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency’s Twitter account. Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.

The explosion occurred three days before a U.N.-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people.

Hariri was killed in another huge blast on the waterfront, although on that occasion it was caused by a truck bomb.

It was not immediately clear what caused Tuesday’s blaze that set off the blast.

Internal Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim, touring the port area, said he would not pre-empt investigations. An Israeli official said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with the blast.

The governor of Beirut port told Sky News that a team of firefighters at the scene had “disappeared” after the explosion.

“I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street,” said a Reuters witness.

Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city’s western tip, to Rabieh 10 km (6 miles) east). In Cyprus, a Mediterranean island 110 miles (180 km) across the sea from Beirut, residents heard the blast bangs. One resident in Nicosia said his house and window shutters shook.

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Saudi Arabia concludes Hajj amid COVID-19 pandemic

This season is only limited to domestic pilgrims who are residents and citizens living in Saudi Arabia.

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Haj Social Distancing

Riyadh: Pilgrims on Monday bade farewell to Mecca after Hajj rituals were concluded, Xinhua news agency reported.

The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque had provided all relevant facilities for the pilgrims while ensuring precautionary measures against COVID-19.

The kingdom has organized an exceptional Hajj season with a limited number of pilgrims amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This season is only limited to domestic pilgrims who are residents and citizens living in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced on Monday 1,258 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the accumulated infections to 280,093.

The total recovered cases rose to 242,053 with the registration of 1,972 newly recovered cases.

The total death toll reached 2,949 with 32 fatalities reported in the last 24 hours.

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Disaster

One person is dying of COVID-19 every seven minutes in Iran: state TV

The report said that Iran’s official coronavirus figures were based only on the number of deaths in hospitals and those who had already tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Iran Covid Case

DUBAI : One person is dying from COVID-19 every seven minutes in Iran, state television said on Monday, as the Health Ministry reported 215 new deaths from the disease and state media warned of a lack of proper social distancing.

Health Ministry spokesman Sima Sadat Lari was quoted by the state TV as saying the 215 deaths in the past 24 hours took the combined death toll to 17,405 in Iran, and the number of confirmed cases rose by 2,598 to 312,035.

State television showed several Iranians in a busy Tehran street without wearing face masks or social distancing.

Some experts have doubted the accuracy of Iran’s official coronavirus tolls. A report by the Iranian parliament’s research centre in April suggested that the coronavirus tolls might be almost twice as many as those announced by the health ministry.

The report said that Iran’s official coronavirus figures were based only on the number of deaths in hospitals and those who had already tested positive for the coronavirus.

British broadcaster BBC reported on Monday that, based on data from an anonymous source, the number of deaths in Iran might be three times higher than officially reported. Iranian health authorities denied the report and said there had been no covebakingr-up.

With COVID-19 deaths surging since restrictions were eased in mid-April, Iranian authorities have said measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 will be reimposed if health regulations are not observed. Since last month, wearing face masks in public places and covered spaces has been mandatory.

Iran’s National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce was expected to announce later on Monday whether nationwide university entrance examinations, with over 1 million participants, will take place in August. Many Iranians have called on social media for the examinations to be postponed.

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