Damascus, Jul 1 (AP/UNB) — Israeli warplanes attacked military positions in central Syria early Monday, with a missile near the capital, Damascus, killing four civilians and wounding 21, Syrian state media reported.
Israeli warplanes fired missiles from Lebanese airspace targeting military positions in the central province of Homs and suburbs of Damascus, said Syrian state news agency SANA, adding that Syrian air defense forces opened fire toward the Israeli missiles.
SANA said the dead included a baby and that other children were among the wounded in the town of Sahnaya, southwest of Damascus.
Israel does not usually comment on reports concerning its strikes in neighboring Syria, though it has recently acknowledged striking Iranian targets there.
On June 12, Israeli warplanes struck a Syrian army position in the country's south.
For years, Israel has remained largely silent about its attacks against Iran and its Shiite proxies operating in neighboring Syria. But in recent months, military and political leaders have become increasingly outspoken about these activities.
Dhaka, June 29 (UNB) A 3,400-year-old palace has been revealed on the banks of the Tigris river after drought caused water levels in a major reservoir to recede.
Newly-discovered wall paintings inside the ancient palace have been hailed as an “archaeological sensation” and the wider site is one of the most important finds of recent decades, researchers said.
A joint German-Kurdish team worked on the excavation after a lack of rain and the need to release water from the reservoir at Mosul Dam to relieve drought conditions further south combined last autumn to reveal the palace.
The massive building, preserved up to a height of 7m and with walls 2m thick in places, would originally have been an imposing structure overlooking the Tigris valley atop an elevated terrace, archaeologists said. The Mitannis built a huge mud-brick wall to bolster its western front on the sloping terrain, it is thought.
In the 1980s, the area was flooded following the construction of the Mosul dam.
The palace was in use for a long period, Dr Ivana Puljiz, of the University of Tubingen, said, with two phases of occupation clearly identifiable.
Excavations revealed a series of rooms of which eight have been partially explored so far, and clay tablets covered with ancient cuneiform writing found inside suggested it may have been part of the city of Zakhiku, archaeologists said. Another, larger city to the north may be linked, they believe.
Dr Puljiz added: ”We have also found remains of wall paintings in bright shades of red and blue.
“In the second millennium BCE, murals were probably a typical feature of palaces in the ancient Near East, but we rarely find them preserved.
“So discovering wall paintings in Kemune is an archaeological sensation.”
The palace was first partially revealed by low water in 2010, according to Dr Hasan Ahmed Qasim of the Duhok Directorate of Antiquities, but excavations were not possible at that time.
“The Mitanni empire is one of the least researched empires of the ancient Near East,” Dr Puljiz added.
“Information on palaces of the Mitanni period is so far only available from Tell Brak in Syria and from the cities of Nuzi and Alalakh, both located on the periphery of the empire.
“Even the capital of the Mitanni empire has not been identified beyond doubt.”
At its height, the Mitanni state stretched from the Mediterranean’s eastern coast across parts of what are now Syria, Iraq and Turkey. It existed during the 15th and 14th centuries BC.
Vienna, Jun 28 (AP/UNB) — A meeting of the remaining partners in the Iranian nuclear deal produced some progress but not enough to satisfy Tehran's demands, a senior Iranian official said Friday, offering little prospect for now of the country backing away from a move to surpass a uranium stockpile threshold that could doom the agreement.
Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, said after meeting with senior officials from Britain, Germany, France, China, Russia and the European Union that a complex barter-type system set up to keep trade with Iran afloat is now active. But he insisted that for the so-called INSTEX system to be useful, "Europeans need to buy oil from Iran, or to consider credit lines for this mechanism."
Araghchi described the meeting in Vienna, a regular quarterly gathering of signatories to the 2015 accord, as positive and constructive. He said it was "one step forward" compared with previous sessions, "but it is still not enough, and it is still not meeting Iran's expectations."
The 2015 agreement was aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the accord last year and he has imposed new sanctions on Iran in hopes of forcing Tehran into negotiating a wider-ranging deal.
Iran recently quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium. It previously said it would surpass a 300-kilogram stockpile limit set by the accord by Thursday, but then said it was below the limit Wednesday and there would be no new assessment until "after the weekend." It is currently a holiday weekend in Iran.
European countries are pressing for Iran to comply in full with the accord, though they have not specified what the consequences would be of failing to do so. But Iranian officials maintain that even if it surpasses the enrichment limit, it would not be breaching the deal, and say such a move could be reversed quickly.
The Europeans also face a July 7 deadline set by Tehran to offer long-promised relief from U.S. sanctions, or Iran says it will also begin enriching its uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.
After Friday's meeting, several EU countries said they are supporting efforts to keep the nuclear deal alive. Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden wrote in a joint statement that "aware of the difficulties to implement the economic part of the agreement, we are working ... to establish channels to facilitate legitimate trade and financial operations with Iran."
INSTEX was conceived in January but has taken months to activate. It would help ensure trade between Iran and Europe by allowing buyers and sellers to exchange money without relying on the usual cross-border financial transactions.
Senior EU diplomat Helga Schmid confirmed on Twitter that the system is "now operational, (with) first transactions being processed" and more EU member countries to join. She said that Friday's discussions were constructive and added that "full and effective implementation of #IranDeal by all sides remains key."
Araghchi said he will report back to Tehran, which will make further decisions. Of the 300-kilogram limit, he said that "the decision to reduce our commitments has already (been) made in Iran, and we continue on that process unless our expectations are met."
Asked whether there would be a follow-up meeting, Araghchi said that delegates "decided to have a ministerial meeting very soon," perhaps in the next few weeks, although a time and place have not yet been determined. Friday's meeting was held at a lower level of senior foreign ministry officials.
Trump said on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Japan that "there's no rush" to ease tensions with Iran.
"There's absolutely no time pressure," he added. "I think that in the end, hopefully, it's going to work out. If it does, great. And if doesn't, you'll be hearing about it."
Tensions have been rising in the Middle East. Citing unspecified Iranian threats, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier to the region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there.
The U.S. has been worried about international shipping through the Strait of Hormuz since tankers were damaged in May and June in what Washington has blamed on limpet mines from Iran, although Tehran denies any involvement. Last week, Iran shot down a U.S. Navy surveillance drone, saying it violated its territory; Washington said it was in international airspace.
Cornelius Adebahr, an associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Berlin, said there was a risk of "a big conflict."
"There is so much space for miscalculations, for misperceptions and there is no direct communication between Iran and the U.S.," he said. During the Cold War, he noted, Washington and Moscow had a direct hotline for crises, but now "there is nothing comparable and that makes this all so dangerous."
On Thursday, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook met top European diplomats in Paris and said he wants them to get tougher on Iran, instead of clinging to the nuclear deal.
The U.S. is trying to drum up support for an international naval force in the Persian Gulf, notably to protect shipping. On Friday, Hook met in London with the head of the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. shipping safety agency, to share intelligence on "Iran's recent aggression in and around the Strait of Hormuz."
Hook said that "we have put ourselves in a strictly defensive position but we are, we think, making strides to restore deterrence."
He also stressed that "you can't do business with the United States and Iran, and everyone has chosen the United States over Iran for a number of reasons."
Tehran, Jun 26 (AP/UNB) — Iran's foreign minister says President Trump's new sanctions targeting the Iranian supreme leader show the White House doesn't understand "international regulations."
Javad Zarif said Wednesday that the U.S. sanctions could violate the freedom of worship of some American Muslims because it restricts links with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
That's according to a quote by Iran's state news agency IRNA.
Khamenei is the chief of Iran's theocracy and considered by some Shiite Muslims as their religious guide.
The report also quoted Zarif as saying the new sanctions showed that it was a "lie" the U.S. wanted to negotiate with Iran. He said the U.S. had created "danger and tension in the region."
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said he doesn't want war with Iran, but that the U.S. was confident in its military superiority.
The UK's defense secretary says it's important to protect international shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, but is calling for restraint as tensions mount between the U.S. and Iran.
Speaking at NATO headquarters Wednesday, Penny Mordaunt said it was "vitally important" to protect shipping.
The U.S. wants to create a maritime coalition to patrol the Persian Gulf. Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is due to brief his NATO counterparts on developments with Iran at the meeting.
Asked if the UK was ready to step up its naval presence, Mordaunt said "we're already forward deployed there."
She said: "our prime goal is to de-escalate the situation."
President Donald Trump says he doesn't want war with Iran but that if there is one, "it won't last very long" because the U.S. has military superiority.
Trump told Fox Business Network on Wednesday that he was "nice" to Iran for not ordering strikes after Tehran shot down a more than $100 million U.S. surveillance drone.
Asked to respond to the Iranian president saying the White House is "afflicted by mental retardation," Trump says the Iranian leaders are not smart. U.S. sanctions to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and supporting militant groups are biting and Iran's resistance has led to food shortages, rioting and inflation.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran won't change its stance and his website calls the Trump administration "sinister."
Iran's supreme leader says Iranians will not budge or change their stance following the new U.S. sanctions targeting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his associates.
The top Iranian cleric's website on Wednesday quoted Khamenei as calling the Trump administration "the most sinister" U.S. government.
Khamenei is also quoted as saying that "the most hated figures of such an administration accuse and insult the Iranian nation. Iranian nation will not budge and will not withdraw because of the insults."
President Donald Trump on Monday enacted the new sanctions against Khamenei and others. U.S. officials also said they plan sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The sanctions followed Iran's downing last week of a U.S. surveillance drone, worth over $100 million, over the Strait of Hormuz, sharply escalating the crisis.
Iraq's prime minister is denying allegations that drones which targeted Saudi oil pipelines last month could have taken off from Iraq, rather than Yemen.
The attack — claimed by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who are at war with Saudi Arabia — was part of a series of incidents that escalated tensions in the Persian Gulf amid a crisis between Washington and Tehran.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi told reporters in Baghdad late on Tuesday that American officials contacted the Iraqis recently, alleging the drones may have taken off from Iraq.
He said Iraqi military and intelligence haven't confirmed such claims.
The May 14 attack on a Saudi pipeline forced a brief shutdown but caused no casualties.
Iraq hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is also home to powerful Iranian-backed militias.
Tehran, Jun 25 (AP/UNB) — Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman says the new U.S. sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic's supreme leader and other top officials mean the "permanent closure" of diplomacy between Tehran and Washington.
That's according to a report carried by the state-run IRNA news agency on Tuesday, quoting the spokesman, Abbas Mousavi.
Mousavi says the "fruitless sanction on Iran's leadership and the chief of Iranian diplomacy mean the permanent closure of the road of diplomacy with the frustrated U.S. administration."
Trump enacted new sanctions Monday targeting Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. U.S. officials also say they plan sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
This comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. over its unraveling nuclear deal and as Iran last week shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone.