Masked gunmen on Wednesday ambushed and killed the local commander of a paramilitary security force in southwestern Iran, an associate of Iran's top general recently killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The slain commander, Abdolhossein Mojaddami, headed the Basij forces, a paramilitary wing of the Revolutionary Guard used for internal security and other tasks, in the town of Darkhoein. He was gunned down in front of his home in the town in the country's oil rich Khuzestan province.
Two gunmen on a motorcycle, armed with an assault rifle and a hunting rifle, ambushed Mojaddami, IRNA reported. Other Iranian media said the gunmen's faces were covered with masks and that four shots were fired.
The case is under investigation and a motive was not immediately clear, but Basij units had been involved in violent clashes with demonstrators in the area in November in which many protesters were injured and killed. Amnesty International has reported that more than 300 people were killed in the unrest across the country, though Iran has not announced a death toll.
Mojaddami's killing is seen another blow to the Revolutionary Guard, following the death of top general Qasse m Soleimani earlier this month in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Mojaddami was described by IRNA as an associated of Soleimani, who was the head of the Quds forces, the foreign wing of the Guard.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged on Tuesday a global "sanction" against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the wake of a possible war-crime investigation against Israel.
In an interview to be broadcast later on Tuesday in TBN, the world's largest Christian Network, Netanyahu hailed U.S. President Donald Trump for "forcefully" speaking against the ICC over its intent to open a war-crime case against Israel's conduct in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
"I urge all your viewers to do the same," he said, according to excerpts released by the Israeli Prime Minister's office. "To ask for concrete actions, sanction against the international court, its officials, prosecutors, everyone," Netanyahu said.
ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced in December that there was a "reasonable basis" to launch an investigation into war crimes in the occupied territories and settlements.
The court is currently mulling whether it has territorial jurisdiction before continuing with the procedure.
Israel is not a member of the ICC and Netanyahu as well as Israel's Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit said that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel.
Iraqi security forces wounded dozens of protesters on Sunday as renewed anti-government demonstrations gripped the capital and Iraq's south, activists and officials said.
The mass protests had lost steam when soaring U.S.-Iran tensions threatened an open conflict on Iraqi soil in past weeks.
As the regional crisis receded, Iraqi activists gave the government a week's deadline to act on their demands for sweeping political reforms or said they would up the pressure with new demonstrations.
The uprising began on Oct. 1 when thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to decry rampant government corruption, poor public services and a scarcity of jobs. Protesters are demanding an end to Iraq's sectarian political system, alongside early elections and the stepping aside of its ruling elite.
Clashes between protesters and security forces in central Baghdad wounded at least 27 people on Sunday. Security forces fired tear gas to disperse crowds in Tayaran square and the nearby Sinak bridge, wounding 23, an activist and two medical officials said. Some protesters hurled rocks at police, wounding four personnel, a security official and two medical officials said.
The Iraqi officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Three Iraqi activists said that more rallies are planned in the coming days as the protesters seek to refocus public attention on their mass movement.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran peaked after an American drone strike killed a top Iranian commander and Iraqi militia leader outside Baghdad's international airport. Those killings prompted days of political turmoil across the region and Iraq that led to Iraqi lawmakers calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal.
Supporters of the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr say they are organizing a mass protest this week supporting calls for the ousting of American troops from Iraq in response to the U.S. drone attack. The planned rallies in support of al-Sadr have prompted fears of more clashes with the anti-government demonstrators, who say they are against both Iranian and U.S. influence in Iraqi affairs.
Protesters have been in a standoff with security forces on three strategic bridges — Sinak, Ahrar and Jumhuriyah — that lead toward the fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government.
Meanwhile, Iraq's parliament postponed a critical session on Sunday due to lack of quorum. Lawmakers were expected to discuss candidates to replace outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned in December under pressure from protesters. The next session is expected to be held Wednesday.
Earlier on Sunday, protests burned tires cutting off main thoroughfares in Baghdad.
Protests were also held in the southern provinces of Najaf, Dhi Qar, Karbala and Basra.
Activists expressed fears that parallel protests planned by al-Sadr's supporters to take place on Friday could eclipse their peaceful anti-government movement. However, al-Sadr has emerged as a supporter of the movement. Many of the protesters hail from Baghdad's impoverished areas where the Shiite leader enjoys widespread support; his militia group, Saraya al-Salam, has acted as unarmed protectors for the demonstrators.
In a statement on Sunday, al-Sadr said he supported the recent escalation by anti-government protesters and lambasted the political elite for not selecting a new premier.
But activists said the protests called by al-Sadr supporters to oust U.S. troops could weaken their hard-fought movement.
"We are scared of one side trying to start a fight with the other side," said Ahmed, 34, one of protest organizer in Baghdad's Tahrir square, the epicenter of the movement. "For our part we are staying calm and focusing on our goals."
Israel's military said it began construction of an underground defense system Sunday along its northern frontier with Lebanon to protect against cross-border tunnels.
The infrastructure project will identify underground acoustic and seismic activity indicating tunnel digging, accompanied other defensive measures, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman.
Israel destroyed a series of what it said were attack tunnels last year, dug under the border by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The group battled Israel to a stalemate in a monthlong war in 2006. Hezbollah is closely allied with Iran, Israel's greatest regional foe, and has vowed to retaliate for America's killing of a top Iranian general in a drone strike earlier this month.
Conricus said the construction would all be on the Israeli side of the border and that United Nations peacekeepers along the frontier had been notified.
"What we are doing today is part of a larger plan," he said. "We understand that our activity may be seen and will be heard on the other side and we want to explain what we are we doing and why we are doing it. It is a matter of precaution."
Israel recently warned that Hezbollah had beefed up its presence along the volatile frontier.
Israel and Hezbollah's 2006 war ended in a U.N.-brokered cease-fire. While direct fighting has been rare since then, there has been occasional violence. The most recent flare-up was in September, when Hezbollah fired a barrage of anti-tank missiles into Israel and Israel responded with artillery fire. There were no casualties on either side.
Israel also has acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes in neighboring Syria, many of them believed to have been aimed at Iranian weapons shipments bound for its Hezbollah proxy.
Hezbollah has a battle-tested army that has been fighting alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria's civil war. Israel believes the group has an arsenal of some 130,000 missiles and rockets capable of striking virtually anywhere in Israel. More recently, it has accused the group of trying to import or develop guided missiles.
Dozens of anti-government protesters gathered in Lebanon's rainy capital on Sunday, as security forces braced for more rioting after a night of violence left hundreds wounded.
Security forces, including Lebanese military, were heavily deployed across downtown Beirut after the worst violence since the unrest erupted three months ago. They spent the day reinforcing concrete barriers and stringing coils of razor wire across main thoroughfares, ahead of calls from protesters for more rallies.
Lebanon's public prosecutor ordered Sunday the release of 34 people detained in clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters that wounded hundreds in the capital the previous night.
The public prosecutor said all those detained during the riots would be released except those with other pending cases, the official National State News agency reported.
At least 377 people were injured in Saturday's clashes, according to the Red Cross and the Lebanese Civil Defense. More than 120 of those were treated in hospitals, including a protester who sustained an eye injury, as well as security force members. Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said 142 of its members were injured, including 7 officers, some with serious concussions.
The clashes took place amid a rapidly worsening financial crisis and an ongoing impasse over the formation of a new government. The Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October.
Security forces and the military were girding themselves for more violence, following protester calls for more rallies on Sunday.
Government forces blocked access to some buildings in central Beirut with razor wire, closing off access to areas that included a popular tourist site. Workers also welded fencing together across roadways that lead to Parliament to make it harder for demonstrators to push through.
On the quiet, rainy streets Sunday, shopkeepers, banks and other businesses swept up broken glass and boarded up windows. Workers at one bank took down the large sign with its name to remove any identifier and avoid soliciting anger from protesters, who smashed the windows and the facade of Lebanon's Banking Association headquarters with metal bars the previous night. The demonstrators widely blame Lebanese financial institutions, alongside government corruption, for the crippling economic crisis.
Nearby soot and ashes still littered the ground where security forces burned the tents of the protesters' sit-in during the chaotic melee.
Riot police had fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets late into the night Saturday to disperse the thousands of demonstrators. The protesters, who came from the country's north, east and the capital itself, clubbed security forces with tree branches and metal bars and fired flares and fireworks, while lobbing stones and other projectiles at them.
The clashes also took place on the steps of a mosque downtown. The top Muslim Sunni Fatwa office called it "inappropriate" and said protesters had taken refuge inside the mosque and were taken care of.
The pitched street battles lasted for nearly nine hours, with both protesters and the government trading blame for the violence.
Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said that security forces were ordered to protect peaceful protests. "But for the protests to turn into a blatant attack on the security forces, public and private properties, this is condemned and totally unacceptable," she tweeted Saturday.
However, Human Rights Watch described the security force response as "brutal" and called for an urgent end to a "culture of impunity" for police abuse.
"There was no justification for the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon's riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators in downtown Beirut," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW. "Riot police showed a blatant disregard for their human rights obligations, instead launching teargas canisters at protesters' heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque."
The protesters have been rallying against the country's political elite who have ruled Lebanon since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. They blame politicians for widespread corruption and mismanagement in a country that has accumulated one of the largest debt ratios in the world.
Panic and anger have gripped the public as their local currency, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60% of its value in recent weeks on the black market. The economy has seen no growth and foreign inflows dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most of its basic goods.
Meanwhile, banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawal of dollars and foreign transfers.
Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab had been expected to announce an 18-member Cabinet on Friday, but last minute disputes among political factions scuttled his latest attempt.