• Iraq says Turkish troops in ‘violation’ of international law

    05/Dec/2015 // 170 Viewers

    The presence of Turkish troops near the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in northern Iraq is a "violation" of international law, Iraq's president said Saturday.
     
    President Fuad Masum called the move a "violation of international norms, laws and Iraq's national sovereignty," and said it was contributing to increased tensions in the region.
     
    Hakim al-Zamili, the head of parliament's security and defense committee, went a step further, calling on Iraq's prime minister to launch airstrikes against the Turkish troops if they remained in Iraqi territory.
     
    Turkey has said a military battalion equipped with armored vehicles has been in the Bashiqa region close to Mosul in the northern Ninevah province for the last five months as part of a training mission to help forces fighting the Islamic State group. Mosul fell to the extremists in June 2014 amid a stunning collapse of Iraqi security forces.
     
    Plans to try to retake Mosul last spring were sidelined as the extremist group advanced on other fronts.
    The founder of the training camp outside Mosul, former Ninevah governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, told The Associated Press that the Turkish trainers were at his base at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi. He said the Turkish forces are training but not arming Sunni fighters.
     
    "They didn't give us any weapons even though we asked them to," he said. "We equipped this force from the black market with our own money and we believe they're the best force to liberate Mosul... These people will be very effective to hold ground because they are from there and there'll be no resistance to them from local people."
     
    Sunni fighters in Ninevah and the western Anbar province say the Shiite-dominated government has failed to provide them with the support and weaponry needed to defeat the IS group. The government fears that arming Sunni tribes and militias could backfire. Sunni grievances were a key factor fueling the rise of the IS group, and many Sunnis initially welcomed the extremists as liberators.
     
    The U.S.-led coalition launched 12 airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq on Friday, including two near Mosul targeting tactical units and fighting positions.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    (AP)


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  • Saudi Arabia halts flights and trade with Iran

    05/Jan/2016 // 188 Viewers

     

    AFP: Saudi Arabia's breach of ties with Iran will extend to cutting air traffic between the countries, ending commercial relations and barring its citizens from travel to the Islamic Republic, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Monday.
     
    Iranian pilgrims will still be welcome to visit Mecca and Medina, Jubeir said in an interview with Reuters news agency, though adding that Iran must behave like "a normal country" instead of "a revolution" and respect international norms before ties could be restored.
     
    The Saudi civil aviation authority later confirmed that all flights to and from Iran had been cancelled.
     
    The escalating row between the two regional heavyweights was sparked by Sunni majority Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute leading Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, which triggered furious protests in Shiite Iran.
     
    Saudi Arabia said it was cutting ties with the Islamic republic on Sunday after its embassy in Tehran was attacked by protesters.
     
    'IRAN AND S. ARABIA AT ODDS WITH EACH OTHER OVER OIL'
     
    Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, followed suit on Monday, giving Iranian embassy and consular staff 48 hours to leave the country.
     
    Sudan and the United Arab Emirates later rallied behind oil-rich Saudi Arabia, with Khartoum ejecting Iran’s ambassador and Abou Dabi announcing it was downgrading diplomatic ties with Tehran.
     
    ‘Excuse’ to fuel tensions
     
    Nimr, a prominent opponent of Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud dynasty, was executed on Saturday along with three other Shiites and 43 members of al Qaeda.
     
    As news of the execution spread on Sunday, enraged Iranians burst into the Saudi embassy where they destroyed furniture and started fires. Demonstrators also attacked a consulate in Iran’s second city of Mashhad.
     
    Protests spread to Bahrain, a Sunni kingdom which has a Shiite majority population.
     
    Saudi authorities said they had asked Iranian officials to ensure security at the embassy, but that Tehran had failed to do so. Riyadh hit back by ordering diplomats, as well as consular and embassy staff, representing Tehran to leave the country within 48 hours.
     
    Tehran hit back on Monday, accusing Saudi Arabia of exploiting the embassy attack to fuel tensions in the region, adding that it was committed to protecting foreign diplomatic missions.
     
    "Iran... is committed to provide diplomatic security based on international conventions. But Saudi Arabia, which thrives on tensions, has used this incident as an excuse to fuel the tensions," Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in televised remarks.
     
    ‘Inhuman’ execution
     
    Relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-ruled Iran have been strained for decades, with Riyadh frequently accusing Tehran of interfering in Arab affairs.
     
    The two countries have also been divided over the nearly five-year war in Syria, where Iran is backing the regime, and the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Shiite rebels.
     
    ‘LOWEST SAUDI-IRAN RELATIONS SINCE IRAN-IRAQ WAR’
     
    Nimr was a central figure in Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence.
     
    Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned Nimr's execution, saying "God will not forgive" the kingdom for putting him to death.
     
    "The unjustly spilt blood of this martyr will have quick consequences," he said, adding, "It will haunt the politicians of this regime."
     
    Meanwhile, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani condemned the execution as “inhuman”, but also urged the prosecution of “extremist individuals” for attacking the embassy and the Saudi consulate, state media reported.
     
    UN Security Council condemnation
     
    The UN Security Council also condemned the attack on the Saudi embassy, in a statement released on Monday that made no mention of the execution of Sheikh al-Nimr and called on Iran to protect diplomatic personnel and property.
     
    “The members of the Security Council condemned in the strongest terms the attacks against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran, and its Consulate General in Mashhad in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which resulted in intrusions into the diplomatic and consular premises, causing serious damage,” said the council statement.
     
    Expressing “deep concern” over the attacks, the 15-member council “called on the Iranian authorities to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel, and to respect fully their international obligations in this regard”.
     
    Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi had earlier urged the council to “take all appropriate measures to ensure the inviolability of diplomatic facilities and the protection of all Saudi diplomats in Iran”.
     
    International fears were growing that the Saudi-Iranian rift would derail peace efforts in Syria and Yemen, and two UN envoys were dispatched to Riyadh to keep diplomatic gains afloat.
     
    “The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia will definitely have a negative impact” on the peace process, Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian opposition-in-exile, told AFP on Monday.
     
    “The negotiations were already difficult, if not impossible, and this conflict is only going to lead to positions becoming more entrenched,” he said.
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Source:  Reuters, AFP


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  • US-backed Syrian rebels launch offensive against IS group

    05/Nov/2015 // 0 Viewers

    A newly formed U.S.-backed Syrian rebel alliance on Saturday launched an offensive against Islamic State in the northeast province of Hasaka, a day after the United States said it would send special forces to advise insurgents fighting the jihadists.

    It was the first declared operation by the Democratic Forces of Syria, which joins together a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia and several Syrian Arab rebel groups, since it announced its formation earlier this month.

    World powers and regional rivals are convening in Vienna to seek a solution to the www.france24.com/en/tag/syria/four-year conflict in Syria that has escalated since Russia intervened a month ago with an intense air campaign.

    Fighting in Hasaka had begun after midnight, a spokesman for the alliance said. A group monitoring the war reported fighting and coalition air strikes in the area.
    A video posted earlier on Youtube announced the offensive in southern Hasaka, and showed several dozen men in fatigues standing outdoors with yellow flags and banners carrying the name of the Democratic Forces of Syria in Arabic and Kurdish.
    The campaign would "continue until all occupied areas in Hasaka are freed from Daesh," a spokesman for the alliance’s general command said in the video, using an Arabic name for IS. He urged residents to stay away from IS-controlled areas of Hasaka.

    Another spokesman later said alliance forces had already attacked Islamic State fighters.

    "The battle began after midnight," Talal Salu told Reuters via internet messaging service. "They were flanked by our forces... (who) thwarted a counter attack."

    United States’ support

    The United States’ decision to station ground troops in Syria comes after it dropped ammunition to rebel groups in northern Syria several weeks ago.

    Washington’s strategy in Syria has shifted from trying to train fighters outside the country to supplying groups headed by U.S.-vetted commanders.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors developments on the ground, said fighting was raging on Saturday near al Hawl, a town close to the Iraqi border, accompanied by coalition air strikes.

    Hasaka province borders Iraq and territory there that is a crucial stronghold for Islamic State.

    One member of alliance, the Kurdish YPG has to date proved Washington’s most effective partner on the ground against IS in Syria. It had pushed towards the border in previous fighting this year.

    The Raqqa Revolutionaries Front, one of the Arab groups in the allliance, on Thursday declared an imminent offensive against Islamic State in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa province, which borders Hasaka.

    (REUTERS)


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  • Every child must study the Bible as school year opens - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

    05/Sep/2016 // 9897 Viewers

     

    (BIN) - This year, students must put more emphasis on learning the Bible, which is the “basis for why we are here,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a cabinet meeting two days before the start of the new school year in Israel.

    Bible-supported Zionism, must be at the root of a “revolution” in education brought about by the government, said the Israeli leader on Tuesday, the Jerusalem Post reported.

    “Our objective is to carry out an education revolution,” he said. “This revolution will be based on two things: excellence and Zionism.”

    Zionism, built on Bible study and learning about Jewish heritage, will teach students why the Jews are in Israel, he continued, putting heavy emphasis on studying the Torah (Bible).

    Bible study must come first, the prime minister elaborated.

    “First of all the study of the Bible. We must make a major effort, this is the basis for why we are here, why we have returned here, why we stay here.”

    Students should also learn about Jewish contributions to civilization, history, and knowledge, which is the “basis of the new world, and the basis of Israel as a strong nation in the world,” Netanyahu said.

     


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  • Assad says Britain's Syria strikes 'illegal', will encourage terror

    06/Dec/2015 // 185 Viewers

     

     Syrian Presidency/AFP/File | Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meets a delegation of French lawmakers in the capital Damascus on November 14, 2015

     

    LONDON (AFP) - 

    Britain's bombing campaign against Islamic State extremists in Syria is "illegal" and will only cause "terrorism" to spread, President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published Sunday.

    "It will be harmful and illegal and it will support terrorism as happened after the coalition started its operation a year or so (ago)," he told The Sunday Times after British MPs voted on December 2 to join the US-led bombing campaign over Syria.

    Terror, he said, was like a cancer which needed to be tackled with a "comprehensive" strategy which would involve working with troops on the ground.

    "You cannot cut out part of the cancer. You have to extract it. This kind of operation is like cutting out part of the cancer. That will make it spread in the body faster.

    "You cannot defeat (IS) through air strikes alone. You cannot defeat them without cooperation with forces on the ground. You cannot defeat them if you do not have buy-in from the general public and the government," he said.

    "They are going to fail again."

    Britain began its bombing campaign early on Thursday, hitting an oil field held by IS just hours after a decisive parliamentary vote authorised air strikes.

    Momentum to join the air campaign grew after IS militants claimed a deadly series of attacks on Paris last month which killed 130 people and wounded more than 350.

    In late September, Russia began its own bombing campaign in Syria in support of Assad over a year after a US-led coalition began its strikes targeting the IS group.

    Russia is coordinating its air strikes with Damascus, unlike the US-led coalition, whose action has been criticised by Assad and his government as ineffectual.

    More than 250,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against Assad's regime.

     

     

     Source: France24


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  • Secret detentions, deaths raise alarm over Egyptian police

    06/Mar/2016 // 236 Viewers

     

    BENI SUEF, Egypt (AP) — The 32-year-old Egyptian government engineer disappeared in mid-January when, according to witnesses, masked police burst into his office in the southern city of Beni Suef and dragged him off in handcuffs in front of his co-workers.

     

    Mohammed Hamdan's family searched for him for 15 days, filing a formal complaint over his detention and asking at police stations — only to be told by every official that he was never arrested.

    On Jan. 25, he turned up dead. But police gave a very different story: The Interior Ministry announced that security forces killed Hamdan in a gun-battle that day while raiding a farmhouse where he was hiding. It said Hamdan, a Muslim Brotherhood member, was behind previous killings of policemen. His family was summoned to the morgue, where they found his body riddled with bullets.

    "They arrested him, killed him, sent the body to the morgue, wrote the report, sealed the case and gave me a body to bury," Hamdan's father, Qenawi Hamdan, told The Associated Press, speaking in his mud-brick house in the village of Beni Suleiman outside the city of Beni Suef.

    "I can't fight the government," the 67-year-old said.

    Allegations of abuses by police are raising fears that Egypt's security agencies are growing out of control. For two years, they have had a largely free hand in cracking down against the former ruling Muslim Brotherhood and against Islamic militants — a threat the government says is one and the same. Police have also targeted secular activists critical of the government, something which prompted little criticism from a public more concerned with security.

    But in recent weeks, incidents of abuse against regular citizens have sparked public anger that is unusually vocal, given that media have for two years effusively praised the police and avoided any criticism and tough laws have all but eliminated street protests. In recent weeks, doctors held large protests after two hospital staffers were beaten by police; when a policeman shot and killed a driver in a dispute over a fee, protests broke out by residents from the driver's Cairo neighborhood; several staunchly pro-government TV commentators have said police are going too far.

    The Interior Ministry has repeatedly denied that abuses like torture and forced disappearances are systematic, saying any instances are isolated acts. After the shooting of the driver last month, the government promised reforms that would hold abusive policemen accountable. Those reforms, however, focused on low-level policemen in the street, whom officials depicted as the source of all problems.

    Rights activists, however, say abuses are an intentional tool used by all levels in the security forces.

    "Practices of forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture are on the rise," said Sherif Mohy Eldeen, a researcher in human rights and terrorism with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

    He said police "act with total impunity." Some officials seem to publicly encourage tough police action. Two days after Hamdan's body surfaced, Justice Minister Ahmed el-Zind vowed on TV, "My fire will only be quenched when 10,000 Muslim Brothers are killed for every martyr" from the security forces.

    Human Rights Watch said in a January report that while the militant threat in Egypt "is real," the "heavy-handed response" by authorities creates more divisions. It said the government "has made it clear dissenting opinions will be crushed."

    "Egypt's government should learn from the country's own decades-long experience that grinding oppression can plant seeds for future upheaval," the group's deputy Middle East director, Nadim Houry, said in the report.

    Police abuses were one of the complaints fueling the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak. His elected successor, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, was removed by the military in 2013 after massive protests against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. The head of the military, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, then left his post and was elected president in a landslide.

    Since Morsi's ouster, militants have stepped up their insurgency, killing hundreds of police and soldiers.

    The Egyptian Association for Rights and Freedoms says at least 314 people in 2015 and 35 people this year were subjected to "forced disappearances," in which police detain a person in secret. The tactic, activists and lawyers say, is a way for security agents to interrogate — and often torture — someone before notifying prosecution officials of their arrest, something that under the constitution is supposed to take place within 24 hours.

    Most turn up alive when authorities finally formalize their detention. But the association has documented at least two deaths this year, including Hamdan's, and at least five last year, including one with marks from burns and electrical shocks.

    The allegations are one reason that many rights activists suspect security agents in the death of Italian Ph.D. student Guilio Regeni, who disappeared in Cairo on Jan. 25. Regeni's body was found nine days later dumped by a highway with torture marks. The Interior Ministry has denied security agents were involved and said he was likely killed in a personal dispute.

    Hamdan was known to be a Brotherhood member and once served as a guard for the group's leader, Mohammed Badie. Announcing Hamdan's death on Jan. 25, the Interior Ministry said he was part of a Brotherhood cell that had killed at least three policemen. It said police on the same day also raided an apartment on the outskirts of Cairo and killed two other men working with Hamdan.

    Hamdan's family, however, says he had already been in custody for two weeks.

    One of his brothers, Hussein, and his father, Qenawi, said Hamdan's co-workers from an Agriculture Ministry department alerted them on Jan. 10 after he was arrested.

    In the offices of the Agriculture Reform Department, employees were visibly afraid to speak to the AP and did so only on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

    One said Hamdan "was arrested" but would not elaborate. He said he testified about the arrest to the prosecutor.

    "I can't speak or else I will be in trouble," he said. "I can only say I was shocked and remain shocked till this day."

    Another employee said, "this is a political case," but would not explain.

    As proof of when Hamdan actually disappeared, his brother Hussein shows a series of official reports the family filed over his reported detention. The first they made immediately on Jan. 10 to the Beni Suef prosecutor's office. Others to police, prosecution and the Interior Ministry are dated over subsequent days.

    As the family continued to speak up against the arrest, one of Hamdan's brothers was detained for four days without charge in what the family says was an attempt to intimidate them.

    The Beni Suef prosecutor, Sherif el-Gammal, refused to comment, saying the investigation is still ongoing. The officer on duty at the Beni Suef police station, Capt. Ahmed Musharraf, referred the AP to a local security agency media department, which in turn refused to comment.

    Hamdan's father described how a police officer summoned him to the police station on Jan. 25 to inform him of his son's death.

    The officer started off saying, "You're a strong man, Sheikh Qenawi. How many children do you have?"

    Nine sons and six daughters, Qenawi said he replied.

    "Praise the Lord," the officer said.

    "Just tell me outright that you killed my son," Qenawi said he told the officer.

    The officer, he said, replied: "Only God is immortal."


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  • Previous use of chemical weapons in Syria

    06/Nov/2015 // 227 Viewers

     Moadamiyet al-Sham media center/AFP/File | An image grab from a video uploaded on YouTube by Moadamiyet al-Sham media centre on August 26, 2013 allegedly shows a UN arms experts inspecting the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus' Moadamiyet al-Sham suburb

     

    BEIRUT (AFP) - 

    Since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011, multiple players have accused each other several times of using chemical weapons.

    Here is a recap of the situation.

    - Damascus threatens to use chemical weapons -

    - July 23, 2012: The Syrian government acknowledges for the first time that it has chemical weapons and threatens to use them in the event of military operations by Western countries, but not against its own population.

    On August 20, US President Barack Obama says that using or even moving such weapons would constitute the crossing of a "red line."

    - Sarin gas attack near Damascus -

    - August 21, 2013: Hundreds of people are killed in the east and southwest of Damascus, including in the neighbourhood of Moadamiyet al-Sham, in chemical weapons strikes after Syrian troops launch an offensive in the area.

    The opposition accuses the Syrian army, but the government denies it.

    In late August, a US intelligence report blames the Syrian regime for the Moadamiyet al-Sham attack and adds that 426 children were among 1,429 people killed.

    On September 16, a UN reports says there is clear evidence that sarin gas was used on August 21.

    Two days earlier however, Washington and Moscow agree on a plan to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by the middle of 2014, putting off the threat of punitive strikes against the Assad regime by Washington and Paris.

    - Chlorine attacks in northern and central Syria -

    - September 10, 2014: Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirm that chlorine was used as a chemical weapon "systematically and repeatedly" in villages in northern Syria earlier in the year. It cites attacks in the villages of Talmanes, Al-Tamana and Kafr Zeita.

    The watchdog group Human Rights Watch says that attacks on those villages in April were the work of Syrian government forces.

    In late August, an UN commission accuses Syrian authorities of using chemical weapons, probably chlorine, eight times in western Syria.

    - August 7, 2015: The UN Security Council agrees to form a panel of experts to determine who was responsible for chlorine attacks in Syria.

    Washington, London and Paris accuse the Syrian army, but Moscow says there is no irrefutable evidence that was the case.

    - IS accused of using mustard gas -

    - August 25, 2015: Syrian rebels and non-governmental organisations say they documented a chemical weapons attack against dozens of people on August 21 in Marea, the main rebel stronghold in the northern Aleppo province. Local activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights accuse the Islamic State (IS) group.

    MSF, a Paris-based medical humanitarian group, said it treated four patients, all from a single family in Marea, who were "exhibiting symptoms of exposure to chemical agents" in northern Syria on August 21.

    The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) says its doctors have identified the agent as mustard gas.

    - November 5, 2015: An OPCW source tells AFP that mustard gas was used in Marea on August 21, saying: "We have determined the facts, but we have not determined who was responsible."


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  • WATCH: Israel’s Amazing Military Technology

    06/Nov/2016 // 447 Viewers

     

    The unique, state-of-the-art military technologies developed in Israel are now in high demand around the world.

    Defexpo India 2016, an internal homeland security systems exhibition held in Doa last March, displayed a wide range of sophisticated Israeli military technologies, highlighting the growing cooperation between the two countries.

    Twenty-eight Israeli defense companies presented their products, which were especially designed for the current and future needs of the Indian military.

    Advanced electronic, electromagnetic and electro-optics are the foundation of Israel’s technological advantage.

    As demonstrated in this video, Israel’s impressive, wide-ranging capabilities prepare the military for any scenario.

    Click to watch video:



     

    Link to source: CLICK HERE


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  • Debunked: Saudi authorities did not bulldoze bodies in Mecca

    06/Oct/2015 // 1653 Viewers

    A few days after a deadly stampede killed more than 700 pilgrims in Mecca, this photo began stirring up a social media frenzy. Internet users said it showed bulldozers clearing away the bodies of dozens of victims. But is there any truth behind it? Our team investigates.

    Sadly, such tragedies are not uncommon during the annual pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest site, Mecca. But this was the worst stampede to hit in 25 years. It took place on September 24 on what's known in the Muslim calendar as Eid al-Adha, the festival of the sacrifice, in Mina, just a few kilometres from Mecca. More than 700 pilgrims died and over 900 were left injured when two large groups of pilgrims tried to push their way past one another from opposite directions. 

    In the photos taken by agency photojournalists after the catastrophe, dozens of dead bodies can be seen strewn across the ground. Many are covered with white blankets, whilst other pictures show rescue workers desperately working to get injured people onto stretchers amidst horrified crowds of onlookers.

    It wasn't long before Saudi authorities came under fire for failing to prevent yet another tragedy. As criticism mounted, several images began circulating online showing bodies piled up on top of one another. Yet one stood out above the rest: an image appearing to show a bulldozer clearing away corpses in the aftermath of the tragedy. For outraged internet users who shared the photo, it was proof enough that Saudi Arabia's rulers had blood on their hands.

    Meanwhile, a little-known Iranian website called Namnak.com tasked itself with verifying when the photo was originally published. The site reported that it was in fact just one of a series of photographs taken in the aftermath of another stampede that took place more than ten years before. Some of those photos were uploaded here back in 2004.

    The photos published by the Iranian website seem to have been taken at the same place and at the same time as the photos from 2004. Looking closely, one can make out the white monument in the background. That's notably where the “stoning of the devil” takes place, a ritual meant to symbolise the pilgrims' refusal to give in to temptation or to sin. 
     
    But there's yet another detail that proves this particular photo wasn't taken in 2015. The site was expanded and renovated after a deadly stampede in 2006 left more than 300 pilgrims dead. As a result, today's white monument is far bigger and more oval-shaped than the one that can be seen behind the bulldozer in the photo.
    Another journalist points out that the photo showing the bulldozer can't have been taken in 2015. The left-hand side photo shows the ritual site after renovation works were carried out.
     
     
    The Iranian website Namnak doesn't challenge the assumption that the photo shows dead bodies being bulldozed. Yet the photo alone doesn't serve as proof. Although corpses can clearly be seen lying near the bulldozer, the poor image quality makes it impossible to say for sure what exactly is being scooped up by the vehicle's shovel. They could be the personal belongings left behind by pilgrims after the stampede. Contacted by France 24, our Observers in Saudi Arabia say that to the best of their knowledge authorities never resorted to using bulldozers to clear bodies following past stampedes.

    Despite being both dubious and dated, the photo was widely shared by Iranian Twitter accounts. Iran lost 464 of its nationals as a result of the tragedy, according to the latest count.

    The tragedy has also rekindled age-old tensions between two of the Middle East's biggest regional powerhouses. Iran says Saudi authorities should shoulder the blame for the catastrophe. But Saudi Arabia's Health Minister has shot back, laying part of the blame at the feet of Iranian pilgrims who he says hadn't followed safety instructions.
     
     


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  • Saudi Arabia's top cleric says Iran's leaders 'not Muslims'

    06/Sep/2016 // 472 Viewers

     

    RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia's top cleric is revving up the kingdom's rhetoric against Iran, saying in comments published on Tuesday that Tehran's leaders are "not Muslims," in response to rancorous remarks from Iran's supreme leader.

    The remarks by Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh came a day after Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Saudi authorities of killing Muslims injured during last year's crush of crowds at the hajj pilgrimage.

    Their confrontational comments mark a sharp escalation in the countries' faceoff as their spat plays out across the region.

    Khamenei, in remarks published on his website Monday, said the "heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers — instead of providing medical treatment and helping them or at least quenching their thirst. They murdered them."

    Mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia and majority Shiite Iran back opposite sides of the wars in Syria and Yemen, and support opposing political groups in Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon.

    In comments to the Makkah newspaper, the top Saudi cleric was quoted as saying that Khamenei's remarks are "not surprising" because Iranians are descendants of "Majuws"— a term that refers to Zoroastrians and those who worship fire. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion predating Christianity and Islam and was the dominant religion in Persia before the Arab conquest.

    "We must understand they are not Muslims, for they are the descendants of Majuws, and their enmity toward Muslims, especially the Sunnis, is very old," the Saudi cleric said.

    The September 2015 stampede and crush of pilgrims killed at least 2,426 people, according to an Associated Press count. Iran had the highest of death toll of any country, with 464 Iranian pilgrims killed.

    Saudi authorities have not released any findings of their investigation into the hajj disaster. Preliminary statements suggested the crush was caused when at least two large crowds intersected.

    Khamenei also blamed Saudi Arabia for an earlier crane collapse in Mecca that killed 111 people, and urged Muslims around the world to reconsider Saudi Arabia's custodianship and management of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina where the hajj is performed. He also said Saudi rulers promote sectarian strife and arm "wicked takfiri groups" — a reference to extremist Sunni militants who denounce other Muslims as heretics and non-believers.

    The two countries severed diplomatic relations in January after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric and angry Iranian crowds overran Saudi diplomatic missions.

    Negotiations between the two countries over hajj security measures also collapsed earlier this year, prompting Iran to declare it would not be sending any of its citizens to this year's pilgrimage, which begins this weekend.


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