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Shooting inside Iran’s parliament, attack at Iman Khomeini shrine

Seven people killed and four hostages taken in incident at parliament building, quickly followed by reports of armed gunmen and suicide bombing at Ayatollah’s tomb

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Iran Parliament

Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked Iran’s parliament and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran on Wednesday morning, killing at least 12 people in a twin assault at the heart of the Islamic Republic, Iranian officials and media said.

Islamic State claimed responsibility and released a video purporting to show gunmen inside the parliament building and one body, apparently dead, on the floor.

The rare attacks were the first claimed by the hardline Sunni Muslim militant group inside in the tightly controlled Shi’ite Muslim country. Islamic State has regularly threatened Iran, one of the powers leading the fight against the militants’ forces in neighboring Iraq and, beyond that, Syria.

The raids took place at a particularly charged time after Iran’s main regional rival Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of backing Tehran and militant groups.

The incident could exacerbate tensions in Iran between newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist, and his rivals among hardline clerics and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Attackers dressed as women burst through parliament’s main entrance in central Tehran, deputy interior minister Mohammad Hossein Zolfaghari said, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

One of them detonated a suicide vest in the parliament, he said. About five hours after the first reports, Iranian media said four people who had attacked parliament were dead and the incident was over.

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At least 12 people were killed by the attackers, the head of Iran’s emergency department, Pir-Hossein Kolivand, was quoted as saying by state broadcaster IRIB.

“I was inside the parliament when shooting happened. Everyone was shocked and scared. I saw two men shooting randomly,” said one journalist at the scene, who asked not to be named.

Soon after the assault on parliament, another bomber detonated a suicide vest near the shrine of the Republic’s revered founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, a few kilometers south of the city, Zolfaghari said, according to Tasnim.

A second attacker was shot dead, he said. The shrine is a main destination for tourists and religious pilgrims.

“The terrorists had explosives strapped to them and suddenly entered the shrine and started to shoot around,” said the shrine’s overseeer, Mohammadali Ansari.

The Intelligence Ministry said security forces had arrested another “terrorist team” planning a third attack, without giving further details.

“I was shopping and suddenly heard shooting,” said housewife Maryam Saghari, 36, who lives near parliament. “People started to run away from the area. I was very scared. I don’t want to live in fear,” she told Reuters by telephone.

Television footage showed police helicopters circling over the parliament building, with snipers on its rooftop. Tasnim praised the elite Revolutionary Guards for confronting the attackers.

The Fars news agency, which is close to the Guards, blamed Iran’s arch foes, the United States and Saudi Arabia, for the attacks. It noted that they took place two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump visited Riyadh and vowed to isolate Iran.

Iran is locked in a tussle with Saudi Arabia for regional influence which is being played out in the Yemen conflict as well as in Syria and Iraq.

“It is very likely that these attacks were coordinated. Its hardly a coincidence that it happened within minutes of each other.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group claimed responsibiliy for the attack via its online forum.

“Fighters from the Islamic State (ISIL) attacked the Khomeini mausoleum and the parliament building in Tehran,” the Amaq agency said, citing a “security source”.

Middle East

Saudi Arabia admits Khashoggi killed inside consulate, detains 18

He went to the consulate on October 2 for paperwork needed for his upcoming wedding to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

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journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Riyadh/Ankara, Oct 20 : After over two weeks of shifting stories, Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that missing journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi died during a fistfight inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul and that 18 men had been arrested in the case.

Following this admission, Turkey on Saturday vowed to reveal all details in the case. “Turkey will never allow a cover-up… We are carrying out our own independent investigation. We will reveal our own conclusion,” a ruling party spokesperson said.

Turkish investigators previously said that Khashoggi had been deliberately killed inside the consulate and his body was later dismembered.

After 18 days in which it insisted it had no involvement in the journalist’s disappearance, Riyadh on Friday night said that an initial investigation by the government’s general prosecutor found that the Saudi journalist had been in discussions with people inside the consulate when a quarrel broke out and escalated to a fatal fistfight.

Those responsible then tried to cover it up, a Saudi statement said. Khashoggi was a permanent resident of the US in self-imposed exile and was a fierce critic of Riyadh’s human rights violations and of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s policies.

He went to the consulate on October 2 for paperwork needed for his upcoming wedding to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

An announcement carried on Saudi state TV was the first official confirmation of Khashoggi’s death in Turkey, and the first acknowledgment by Saudi Arabia of its role in it.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expresses deep regret at the painful developments that have taken place in this case and affirms the commitment of the authorities in the Kingdom to bring the facts to the attention of the public and to hold accountable all those involved,” it said.

The Saudi government said it fired five top officials and arrested 18 other Saudis as a result of the initial investigation. Those fired included the Crown Prince’s adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri.

The Saudis set up a commission, led by the Crown Prince, that will restructure the Saudi general intelligence directorate and will have one month to release a report, state TV said.

The commission will consist of national security officials, the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry.

The Saudi statement came as the kingdom faced unprecedented political and economic pressure to explain what happened to Khashoggi.

It was unclear whether the Saudi explanation, in contrast with details provided by Turkish investigators, will be enough to satisfy foreign leaders, global business executives and US lawmakers pressing for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Turkish investigators had concluded days ago that Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a Saudi team dispatched to Istanbul. US officials have said that Turkey has audio and video recordings providing evidence that the journalist was interrogated and killed inside the consulate and his body cut into several pieces.

According to the Washington Post, CIA officials had listened to an audio recording that Turkish officials say proved the journalist was killed and dismembered by the Saudi team, according to people familiar with the matter.

If verified, the recording would make it difficult for the White House to accept the Saudi version that Khashoggi’s death was effectively an accident. Nor has Khashoggi’s body been recovered, and the Saudi statement did not address what happened to it.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump said that he found the Saudi claim credible, CNN said. He called the official statement from Riyadh a “good first step” and said talks with Saudi officials would continue.

He added that Saudi Arabia was a “great ally in the Middle East”, but “what happened is unacceptable”.

Trump said he would work with Congress to develop a response to Khashoggi’s death, but said that he didn’t want sanctions to affect US arms sales to the Kingdom.

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Middle East

Yemen’s new PM sworn in, vows to ease sufferings of Yemenis

According to state-run Saba news agency, Hadi congratulated the new Prime Minister and asked him to place economy and basic services as top priorities.

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Maeen Abdulmalik

Aden (Yemen), Oct 19 : Yemen’s newly appointed Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik was sworn in on Thursday to lead the internationally-backed government in the war-torn Arab country.

Maeen was appointed as Prime Minister by Yemen’s President Abdu-Rabbu Mansour Hadi earlier this week, replacing his sacked predecessor Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, reported Xinhua news agency.

According to state-run Saba news agency, Hadi congratulated the new Prime Minister and asked him to place economy and basic services as top priorities.

Hadi said he trusted Maeen’s abilities and determination to achieve in the economic field.

“We do understand the obstacles created by the Houthi militia’s war. However it does not exempt anybody from shouldering his responsibilities and explore every possible means to do his duties successfully,” Hadi noted.

Maeen thanked Hadi for his trust, vowing to work with other government members to ease Yemenis’ suffering from the economic collapse.

On Monday, President Hadi sacked Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr over sharp economic crisis and currency slump, and referred him to investigation over “carelessness and failure” of his government.

Earlier this month, the pro-secession Southern Transitional Council blamed the Yemeni government for rampant corruption, calling for a public uprising in the port city of Aden and other neighbouring main cities.

In response, the Yemeni government and its Interior Ministry beefed up security around government institutions in Aden and vowed to protect the city from sabotage elements.

The southern port city of Aden, where Yemen’s government is temporarily based, has been suffering from frequent power outages and lack of basic services including water, leading to public anger against the local authorities.

The impoverished Arab country has been locked into a civil war since the Shiite Houthi rebels overran much of the country militarily and seized all northern provinces, including the capital Sanaa, in late 2014.

IANS

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Middle East

UN seeks immediate action to avoid another war in Gaza

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Palestinians

United Nations, Oct 19 : The United Nations envoy for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, has demanded that Palestine and Israel take immediate action to reduce current tensions in the area and avoid another armed conflict in Gaza.

“We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent,” said Mladenov in a videoconference speech to the Council on Thursday.

“Barring substantial steps to reverse the current course, this precarious sense of calm is doomed to give way under the mounting pressure. It is already beginning to fray,” he said, reports Efe.

The diplomat called on Hamas and other groups to “immediately” halt all “provocations and attacks” and to stop all violence along the border, while adding that Israel must facilitate access of goods and people to Gaza and ensure that its security forces are acting with maximum restraint.

Mladenov addressed the Security Council to review the new escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, where on Wednesday Israel staged about 20 airstrikes in reprisal for the launching of rockets from the Palestinian enclave.

Mladenov, who is working with Egypt in negotiations to try and stabilize the situation in Gaza and facilitate reconciliation among the Palestinian factions, said that the arrangements that have maintained a certain calm in recent years are breaking down under growing pressure.

The UN official said he was afraid that there is no more time for mere words and that the international community and the local parties must act now.

The upsurge in violence is taking place as Israeli society and members of the country’s Cabinet debate whether to launch a broad new military operation against Gaza to guarantee calm, after six months of mobilizations in the Strip, the launching of hundreds of incendiary balloons and dozens of attempts to damage the border fence and infiltrate into Israel, some by armed militias.

These actions come amid the so-called Great March of Return, which began on March 30 resulting in the deaths of more than 200 Palestinians in demonstrations and in violent incidents or Israeli bombings against militias.

Mladenov emphasized that the situation in Gaza is absolutely not sustainable: “Gaza is collapsing. This is not hyperbole. It is not alarmism. It is a reality.”

He said that the economy of the Strip is in free fall, with unemployment of 53 percent, and 70 percent unemployment among young people.

All the key indicators – humanitarian, economic, security and political – continue to deteriorate, he said.

Mladenov emphasized that there is a clear and growing international consensus about the need to act to respond to the situation, above all with humanitarian initiatives, adding that reducing the humanitarian pressure on the ground will directly reduce the threat of escalation and provide space for efforts led by Egypt to return the legitimate Palestinian government to Gaza, which is currently under the control of the Islamist Hamas movement.

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