Tehran explosion kills at least 19
BBC News, The Telegraph, The Guardian and the Associated Press report that at least 19 people have been killed in an explosion at a clinic in Tehran, but there are fears that the death toll will rise further. Iran’s state media quoted senior officials as saying the blast was caused by a gas leak. Television pictures showed plumes of smoke billowing in the sky. Firefighters extinguished the blaze several hours later. The clinic, which carries out light surgeries and medical imaging, had 25 employees inside at the time of the explosion. Jalal Maleki, spokesman for the Tehran Fire Department, said firefighters had rescued 20 people.
The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Paul Adams, explains in a 4 minute video what’s at stake for Israel and the Palestinians if annexation of the West Bank occurs.
The Times and BBC News report that an Iranian dissident based in France has been sentenced to death after apparently being kidnapped, taken back home and put on trial. Ruhollah Zam ran the Paris-based Amadnews, an online opposition news service before he became a target for the regime after supporting protests that broke out across the country in December 2017. He disappeared last October while in Iraq. Yesterday a statement by the judiciary said he had been “convicted of corruption on Earth by a revolutionary court”, a charge used for the most serious offences against the regime, which carries an automatic death penalty.
The Telegraph and The Guardian note that Israel’s Prime Minister signalled to his Likud party on Monday that he will delay annexing parts of the West Bank as his government grapples with rising coronavirus infections and reports of hesitation in Washington about the controversial plan. The paper quotes Jason Pearlman, a communications strategist and former adviser to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, saying annexation is an important step that would update the legal framework around settlements in the West Bank and “in no way will impact the Palestinians, or prejudice any future agreements”. The Telegraph also showcases one area of Palestinian land, belonging to Abu Nader Abu Eid, that is located next to Gush Etzion. The bloc of settlements, according to recent reports, could be one of the first areas to be annexed by Israel as it begins to implement Donald Trump’s peace plan.
The Guardian and the Associated Press report on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging allies at the UN Security Council (UNSC) yesterday to prevent the lifting of the UN arms embargo on Iran. He said that if the UNSC were to fail in agreeing to continue the embargo, Iran would send more advanced weapons to regional allies such as the Palestinian militant movement Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The UNSC session publicly unveiled a report that found cruise missiles and drones used in attacks last year on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq, the world’s largest oil processing centre, included material of Iranian origin. The paper argues that the UK, Germany and France (E3) are caught in a dilemma, knowing that extending the arms embargo is arguably in breach of the deal but anxious Iran is not rewarded for successive breaches of the deal, even if many of these breaches come in response to the 2018 US pull-out from the deal and sanctions.
Writing in the Financial Times, Hisham Melhem, a non-resident fellow at the Gulf States Institute in Washington, argues that of America’s strategy in the Middle East which has rested on the four pillars of Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt since the late 1970s, only Israel retains genuine support. Melhem says that America’s partial retrenchment and rising nationalist and chauvinistic passions in the region have led the same four states to use violence outside their territories to shape the destiny of their weaker neighbours. The US today is mostly a hapless observer, as Russia’s influence keeps growing.
All the Israeli media report on the continued rise of coronavirus cases in Israel. Last night, more than 650 new cases were confirmed across Israel. Fifty-two people with the disease are in serious condition, among whom 24 are on ventilators. To date 320 people have died in Israel of the coronavirus. The Health Ministry has urged the government to impose restrictions on public movement in cities, towns and villages that have seen spikes in the number of cases. Meanwhile, three people reportedly died in the West Bank from the virus, a 70-year-old resident in Tufah and a woman and her son in Hebron. The number of people currently infected with the disease in the West Bank stands at more than 2,100, nearly three-quarters of whom are from the Hebron area. Other coronavirus hotspots in the West Bank include Bethlehem, Nablus and the villages surrounding Jerusalem.
Ma’ariv reports on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s legal opinion to the Dispensations Committee in which he said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not receive NIS 10m (approx. £2.3m) in aid from an associate of his, the businessman Spencer Partrich, to finance his legal expenses. In response, “associates of the prime minister” said in a statement: “The more the attorney general’s illegitimate acts are exposed in recordings that he has been concealing from the public, the more he intensifies his scandalous persecution of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the right wing. The attorney general’s conflict of interest cries out to heaven. With one hand he groundlessly indicts the prime minister, and with the other he does all he can to sabotage the prime minister’s ability to defend himself.” Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (Derech Eretz) all issued statements in support of Mandelblit.
Writing in Yediot Ahronot, Ben-Dror Yemini says: “The demand that Netanyahu fund his defense from his own pocket, with no external assistance, is unfair and unjust. It is unclear how much the investigations into the prime minister have cost, but they have obviously involved thousands of hours of work at a cost of several million shekels. It will also cost several million shekels to contend with this investigative material. Even an affluent man would need to spend a considerable portion of his personal wealth in order to deal with such an exceptional number of particulars from the investigations.”
Kan Radio News reports that Hamas is planning a march today to protest Israel’s planned annexation. According to one report out of Gaza, Hamas has deployed reinforcements along the border with Israel and has set up roadblocks to prevent any demonstrators from making their way to the border fence. A protest rally against annexation is also scheduled to be held this afternoon in Ramallah by the Palestinian Authority. Several calls have been made on social media to Palestinians to demonstrate at several points of friction [with Israeli troops] in the Ramallah and Hebron areas.
Ynet reports on a Hezbollah operation attempting to recruit Israelis that was exposed by Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet. Shin Bet officials said that two women from the town of Majd al-Krum were investigated at the beginning of June after meeting with a journalist from Lebanon who tried to recruit them to the Lebanese terrorist group.
In an interview with Channel 13‘s Barak Ravid, US special envoy for Iran Brian Hook says that a military option against Iran is still on the table. Hook said the Trump administration is working on extending the arms embargo on Iran and says Russia & China should be on board if they want stability in the Middle East. He adds that the US prefers an extension of the UN arms embargo over snapback UN sanctions. He also says that Iran’s foreign policy has brought Israel and Arab states closer together.