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February 24, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8582

Iranian Majlis Representative From Qom: 10 Deaths Every Day From Coronavirus In The City, The Regime Is Concealing The Numbers Of Dead In Iran; Former Official In Office Of President Rouhani: 'Coronavirus – A Gift From The Clerics Of The Islamic Republic [Of Iran] To The People'

February 24, 2020
Iran | Special Dispatch No. 8582
In Iran, there are increasing reports on outbreaks of coronavirus in several Iranian cities, particularly in Qom. At the February 24, 2020 Majlis plenum, the representative from Qom, Ahmad Amirabadi, revealed that the Iranian authorities were concealing statistics on the outbreak of the virus in the country, the numbers of carriers and dead, and the fact that the regime is unprepared to handle the epidemic. Additionally, Qom University for the Medical Sciences president Dr. Mohammad Reza Qadir acknowledged, in a live television broadcast, that the Health Ministry had prohibited him from releasing this information. He added that the situation in the city was critical and implored the authorities to take action. For his part, Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi demanded that information on the virus' impact be submitted only to authorities and only via official, secret letter, and added that he refused to quarantine cities to fight the virus.[1] On February 20, Amir Moqaddam, former PR director and liaison between the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Majlis, who fled Iran several years ago, explained on his channel on the messaging platform Telegram that the regime has extensive connections with China that it uses for disseminating Shi'ite Islam there, and that this is the reason for the outbreak of coronavirus in the holy city of Qom, where many Chinese clerics study. Accusing the regime and the clerics of hiding information from the public, Moqqadam wrote: "It is no wonder that the coronavirus outbreak began in Qom, and with such virulence. [The organization of] the seminaries in Qom has an extensive network in China. Every year hundreds of clerics are dispatched to China. The Chinese citizens have a special seminary in Qom, and they are always coming and going [from China]. In the seminaries, they study Chinese. The streets of Qom are filled with Chinese [Muslim] clerics. The coronavirus is the gift of the clerics and the Islamic Republic [of Iran] to the [Iranian] people. This is the main reason why they are trying to hide information about the coronavirus situation in Qom"[2] (see his photos below of Chinese in Qom). Representatives of political camps are pointing fingers at each other for the failure to tackle the crisis. The two main camps in Iran – the reformists and conservative pragmatists, whose candidates for last week's Majlis elections were disqualified by the thousands,[3] and the ideological conservatives – are accusing each other of responsibility for the situation. The following are the main points of statements about the coronavirus crisis in Qom and Iran:   Majlis Representative From Qom Ahmad Amirabadi: "50 Coronavirus Patients Have Died In Qom"; "The Government's Fight Against Coronavirus Is Zero" At the February 24 Majlis plenum, Ahmad Amirabadi, Qom's representative in the Majlis, said: "The coronavirus outbreak situation in Qom is not good. In my opinion, the government's control of the spread of the disease has failed. The government's fight against the coronavirus is zero. To date, the nurses in the hospitals have no appropriate [protective] clothing for the conditions of the quarantine and they are treating patients in fear and horror. The nurses have had many problems so far, but have few resources. "Unfortunately, the government is not as fearful as it should be, and is not treating the issue as a crisis. It is true that we must maintain calm, but we must not reflect the scope of the crisis [to the public] as if nothing were happening. Ten people are dying every day in Qom from coronavirus. In the past two weeks, up to last night, some 50 coronavirus patients have died in Qom, and the blame rests on the health minister. Unfortunately, three weeks have passed since the virus reached Qom, but the authorities have informed [the public of this] only recently. It is true that 250 people are now quarantined, but there are not enough resources in Qom, and sometimes not enough masks in the pharmacies [for the public]. "At a secret Majlis session I asked the health minister to quarantine Qom, and I even argued with him about the lies he is telling the public, because the circumstances are not as the government is telling the public, and the situation in Qom is critical... "The government did not want to release the news about the coronavirus so as not to frighten the public... All this time, since the outbreak of the virus in Qom, 32 people in quarantine have died... Two children were diagnosed with it, [and] even the president of Qom University of Medical Sciences was infected, and in light of the critical situation a substitute [for him] must be chosen as soon as possible. "The nurses have no means of protection, despite the health minister's statements that since this morning 7,000 [sets of protective] clothing have been sent to the nurses. I don't know if these statements are true or false. "The government has so far taken no special action against the coronavirus... In the past 48 hours, four opthalmologists were sent to Qom, but they fled overnight. "According to statements by the Qom University of Medical Sciences president, the first deaths from coronavirus were on February 13 [note: the health system reported the deaths only a week later]." Subsequently, the ILNA news agency reported that Amirabadi had taken ill after he spoke and left, and that Majlis staff had disinfected the area for fear that he was infected with the coronavirus. Majlis members at the plenum, Tehran (Source: Fars, Iran, February 24, 2020) Iranian Deputy Health Minister: Coronavirus Statistics Should Be Reported To Us "In An Official, Secret Letter"; Amirabadi Is Lying Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi denied Amirabadi's claims: "I deny [the claim] that 50 have died in Qom. No one has the authority to release such information. I am not responding to the [mendacious] foreign media reporting the number of dead of the disease. If in Iran there is anyone who cares about the situation and has something to say in the matter, he should submit the numbers in an official, secret letter. Amirabadi should have informed us of this officially and secretly. If the number of dead from coronavirus is even half of what Amirabadi reported, I will step down. But we are not backing down on the fact that he is confusing public opinion... This is not the time for political rivalry; the coronavirus is a national issue and we must unite and uproot it..." Amirabadi Responds: "I Have Provided The Health Minister With The Names Of The Dead, And Now We Must Wait For The Deputy Minister To Resign, As He Promised" ILNA then reported on Amirabadi's response to Harirchi's statements; according to the report, he said: "The rumors that I am infected with coronavirus and was taken to the hospital are false. I merely left the press conference to attend a meeting with the Majlis speaker. I heard that the deputy health minister denied my statements about the number of dead in Qom. I have provided the health minister with the names of the dead, and now we must wait for the deputy minister to resign, as he promised."[4]  Qom University Of Medical Sciences Dr. Mohammad Reza Qadir: "According to Health Ministry instructions, I am prohibited from presenting statistics" On February 22, Dr. Mohammad Reza Qadir, president of the Qom University of Medical sciences, spoke on Iranian state TV about the outbreak of coronavirus in Qom: "I am accustomed to speaking candidly, and so I say that we must look at Qom differently. The situation in Qom is not good... In light of the wave of people coming to the hospitals fearing they have been infected with the coronavirus tonight, and also because of the growth in the number of carriers in the city, the alarm bells are warning of the danger in Qom... Thus, I implore the Health Ministry and the government to look at Qom differently so that we will not witness an outbreak of the coronavirus in Qom... At the moment, the situation is critical... According to Health Ministry instructions, I am prohibited from presenting statistics on this matter..."[5] Political Finger-Pointing: Who Is Responsible For The Failure To Deal With And Report Coronavirus Cases? On February 24, Mustafa Tajzadeh, a reformist who was a government minister during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), tweeted questions about the authorities' poor handling of the fight against the coronavirus. Journalist and member of the ideological camp Hossein Dehbashi tweeted back, blaming him and his reformist colleagues for the failure. Tajzadeh tweeted: "Why is there no ban on travel from China to Iran since the coronavirus emerged? Why, after the coronavirus reached Qom, was the city not quarantined, and why were the religious and public sites and schools not shut down? Why are official statistics of the date the virus appeared and the exact numbers of dead and sick different from what doctors in the area are saying?" Dehbashi responded: "Dear Mr. Tajzadeh, the chairman of Mahan Air [that flies the Iran-China route], Mr. Hossein Mar'ashi, is your political ally. The chairman of the Council for Ensuring Security in Qom, Mr. Baharam Sarmast, has a clearly reformist past. The current health minister, Mr. [Saeed] Namaki, is the choice of [Iranian Vice President Masoumeh] Ebtekar. You have the answers to your questions. Shame on you!"  Twitter interchange of Tajzadeh and Dehbashi??, February 24, 2020. Photos: Coronavirus In Iran Citizens in the streets. ILNA, Iran, February 24, 2020. ILNA, Iran, February 24, 2020. Top: Chinese students visiting Qom, from Telegram channel of Amir Moqaddam, former PR director and liaison between the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Majlis; bottom: Announcement of a Qom workshop for Iranian students wishing to learn Chinese (Source: T.me/am_moghadam/455?single, February 20, 2020)   [1] MEMRI TV clip to be released soon. [2] T.me/am_moghadam/455?single, February 20, 2020. [3] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1502, The Recurring Scam Of Allegedly Democratic Elections In Iran: The 11th Majlis Elections – A Continuation Of Khamenei's Dictatorship Through His Councils, February 19, 2020.   [4] ILNA (Iran), February 24, 2020. [5] Peykeiran.com/Content.aspx?ID=200948, February 22, 2020

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February 24, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8581

'Is It Not A Shame That Money Belonging To The Nation And State Is Poured Into These Palaces?' – Turkish Journalist Criticizes President Erdoğan's Construction Of Extravagant Palaces

February 24, 2020
Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 8581
In a February 15, 2020 column in the Turkish daily Sözcü, investigative journalist Emin Çölaşan criticized President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's construction of extravagant palaces.[1] He counted three palaces that President Erdoğan's AKP government has in various stages of construction: one completed in Ankara; one under construction in Marmaris Okluk; and one by Lake Van. Çölaşan wrote: "The nation is suffering a lot from hunger, from unemployment, from corruption... Is it not a shame that money belonging to the nation and state is poured into these palaces?" Turkish investigative journalist Emin Çölaşan (source: Sozcu.com.tr). Since December 2015, President Erdoğan has resided at the Turkish Presidential Complex in Ankara, which, with 1,150 rooms, is often referred to as a palace.[2] While Turkey's then Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek announced in November 2014 the cost of the construction of the palace as 1.3 billion Turkish lira,[3] Tezcan Karakuş Candan, then director of the Ankara branch of the Chamber of Architects, has said: "We are face to face with an expenditure of 20 billion Turkish lira at the palace."[4] Twenty billion Turkish lira is about 8.7 billion USD based on an exchange rate from October 2014, when the palace was opened.[5] Sixty million Turkish lira were spent on roads to reach the palace.[6] The palace's toilets cost five to ten thousand lira apiece[7] and it has 63 elevators. The drinking glasses used at a reception at the palace were 1,000 lira apiece,[8] which is about as much as a minimum wage worker earned in a month in Turkey in 2014.[9] The palace's doors cost 170,000 lira apiece, and there are reportedly about 150 such doors in the palace's main building.[10] The palace's 22,000 square meters of windows cost about 701 million lira.[11] The Ankara branch director of the Chamber of Architects estimated the cost of the palace as $8.7 billion. The cost of the palace's basic monthly upkeep, including its electricity, water, natural gas, heating, cooling, cleaning, and landscaping, is about 21 million lira.[12] Heating the palace for six months costs about 10 million lira, or approximately the price of heating all the homes in the Turkish province of Bayburt, which has a population of about 80,000 people, for a season.[13] The personnel costs are seven times higher than those at Çankaya Mansion, which was the residence of the Turkish president until 2014.[14] and its annual cleaning costs are 104 million lira.[15] Maintaining the palace tulips costs 1.6 million lira per year,[16] while the landscaping in general costs 108 million lira per year.[17] While the Presidential Complex is also called Ak Saray ("White Palace"), it has been nicknamed Kaçak Saray ("Fugitive Palace") because it was illegally built[18] on the Atatürk Forest Farm, which had been about 25,000 acres of nationally protected land that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Turkey known for his secularist policies, established in 1925 in west Ankara from land purchased from individuals. Urbanologist Dr. Ruşen Keleş estimated in 2014 that at that time approximately 8,000 acres, or approximately 1/3, of the Atatürk Forest Farm remained as a result of illegal transfers, grants, and sales of the land.[19] Following is a translation of Çölaşan's February 15 column: "We All Know The Famous, Magnificent Palace In Ankara... He Is Having A Gorgeous Summer Palace Built For Himself In Marmaris Okluk... Another New Palace Is Being Built Overlooking Lake Van" "My dear readers, this government, above all the party-member president loves palaces and living in palaces. And they are right, their mothers gave birth to and raised all of them in palaces like Ottoman sultans! That must be where their love of the Ottomans comes from. "By now we all know the famous, magnificent palace in Ankara with 1,150 rooms and halls (even if it is closed to the public). Only Recep would not be content with this much. Now he is having a gorgeous summer palace built for himself in Marmaris Okluk. Billions have been spent on it, and it is almost finished.[20] From now on he will spend a portion of his summer vacations there. Their fondness for palaces is such that they hold normal day-to-day meetings in the state's Dolmabahçe Palace.[21] "But their palace passion does not end there. Now another new palace is being built overlooking Lake Van in the Ahlat district of Bitlis for the gentleman and his family. No one knows what the cost of the Ahlat palace will be or what it will be for. The gentleman wanted it, and it is being built." "The Nation Is Suffering A Lot From Hunger, From Unemployment, From Corruption... Is It Not A Shame That Money Belonging To The Nation And State Is Poured Into These Palaces?" "While all of this was happening, the nation is suffering a lot from hunger, from unemployment, from corruption. The number of unemployed has passed five million, who cares! Is it not a shame that money belonging to the nation and state is poured into these palaces? "There is a more interesting aspect to this... The Constitutional Court cancelled the legal ruling preventing the construction of the Ahlat palace in January of last year. Now the construction of the palace has been approved once again with a clause crammed into a newly prepared bag law in parliament.[22] With AKP and MHP votes! May they live in the old and new palaces together with their children and enjoy it. What else can I say!"   [1] Sozcu.com.tr/2020/yazarlar/emin-colasan/ille-de-saray-5626239, February 15, 2020. [2] Aksam.com.tr/siyaset/cumhurbaskani-erdogan-sarayin-kac- odali-oldugunu-acikladi/haber-360731, December 6, 2014. [3] Cnnturk.com/haber/turkiye/maliye-bakani-acikladi-saray-ucak-1-8-milyar-tl, November 5, 2014. [4] Cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/290463/Saray_20_milyari_gecti.html, June 3, 2015. [5] Paracevirici.com/doviz-arsiv/merkez-bankasi/gecmis-tarihli-doviz/2014/amerikan-dolari, accessed August 30, 2019. [6] Fortuneturkey.com/tmmob-cumhurbaskanligi-sarayi-yol-baglantisina-60-milyon-tl-harcandi-3239, November 19, 2014. [7] Diken.com.tr/itibardan-tasarruf-olmaz-ak-sarayda-kullanilan-klozetlerin-fiyati-5-bin-tlden-basliyor, December 10, 2014. [8] Emo.org.tr/genel/bizden_detay.php?kod=105687, December 3, 2014. [9] Muhasebedersleri.com/haber/2014-yili-asgari-ucret-brut-ve-net-tutarlar, December 31, 2013. [10] Sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/ak-sarayin-kapisi-170-bin-tl-794699, April 6, 2015. [11] Yeniasya.com.tr/gundem/ak-saray-in-ithal-camlarinin-maliyeti-en-az-701- milyon-lira_321748, February 18, 2015. [12] Haberler.com/mimarlar-odasi-cumhurbaskanligi-sarayi-nin-aylik-7002827-haberi/, February 24, 2015. [13] T24.com.tr/haber/16-askerli-ak-sarayin-6-aylik-dogalgaz-gideri-10-milyon-lira,283790, January 15, 2015. [14] Patronlardunyasi.com/haber/Cankaya-dan-Ak-Saray-a-tasinmak-pahaliya- patladi/163184, November 11, 2014. [15] Sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/ak-sarayin-temizlik-maliyeti-104-milyon-740094, February 11, 2015. [16] Diken.com.tr/yeni-lale-devri-ak-sarayin-lale-giderleri-yillik-1-milyon-600-bin-tl, January 21, 2015. [17] T24.com.tr/haber/ak-sarayin-yesil-alan-duzenlemesinin-yillik-gideri-108-milyon,286433, February 7, 2015. [18] Cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/turkiye/285035/Danistay_noktayi_koydu...__Saray_h_l__kacak_.html, May 26, 2015. [19] T24.com.tr/haber/ataturk-orman-ciftligi-arazisinin-ucte-ikisi-gitti-102-bin-dekardan- elde-kalan-338-bin-dekar,268139, August 19, 2014. [20] Çölaşan actually said that "trillions" had been spent on the palace, but he was referring to the pre-2005 Turkish lira, which was revalued in 2005. He meant "billions" in terms of the new Turkish lira. [21] Dolmabahçe Palace, located in Istanbul, was the center of the Ottoman Empire's administration from 1856-1887 and 1909-1922. [22] The phrase torba yasa ("bag law") refers to legislation that makes rulings on many different subjects. Vergidosyasi.com/2019/04/15/torba-kanun-yasa-nedir-vergi-duzenlemesi-torba-kanunla-yapilir-mi, April 15, 2019.

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February 24, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8580

Lebanese Mock Nasrallah’s Call To Boycott American Products

February 24, 2020
Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 8580
In a February 16, 2020 speech, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stated that the U.S. economy and the dollar are America’' Achilles heel, and therefore called to boycott American products as part of the struggle against the U.S. Nasrallah's call drew mocking responses from Lebanese media figures and social media users. Taking to Twitter, they accused Hizbullah of hypocrisy, because its members and leaders openly use the dollar, American social media platforms and various American products. They posted many photos showing prominent Hizbullah members using such products, and similar photos of officials from Iran, which is Hizbullah’s patron. For example, photos were posted of Nasrallah's son Jawad and of the late Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani wearing the Timberland brand, as well as a photo showing the car that carried Soleimani's coffin during his funeral: a U.S.-manufactured Chevrolet. The following is a sampling of the reactions in Lebanon to Nasrallah's call for a boycott on American products. Poster of Hizbullah's campaign to boycott U.S. goods: "Boycott Is Resistance" (Source: Twitter.com/MhmdMahdiNasr9, February 19, 2020) Hizbullah, Iranian Officials Use American Products Nasrallah's Son And Qassem Soleimani Wearing The Timberland Brand One of the pictures that went viral as part of the mocking response to Nasrallah's call was a photo of his son, Jawad, wearing a shirt bearing the logo of the American Timberland brand. Twitter activist Fatima Eid posted it with the comment: "Nasrallah: Boycott American Goods. [His son] Jawad Nasrallah: No way."[1] Photo of Jawad Nasrallah in a shirt saying "Timberland USA.73" User Abu Awadi tweeted two versions of this photo, one titled "before the boycott" and showing Jawad wearing the shirt, and another titled "after the boycott," showing him without it.  The comment above the photos says "Boycott American products, says Sayyed [Hassan Nasrallah]."[2] It should be mentioned that Jawad Nasrallah replied to these tweets with a sarcastic tweet of his own, saying: "They are responding to the logo on my shirt. I can't reply, because I am boycotting American products, and I'm about to sell my iPhone," followed by kiss and wink emojis.[3]  Another picture circulated widely in response to Nasrallah's call showed Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of Iran's Qods Force, who was recently killed in a U.S. airstrike and is greatly revered by Nasrallah, wearing a Timberland jacket. Shi'ite Lebanese media figure Dima Sadek tweeted the photo with the word "Timberland".[4]  Dima Sadek's tweet Soleimani's Coffin Was Carried In A Chevy; Hizbullah Uses Envoy Vans And Other GMC Vehicles Twitter user Charlotte Halby wrote, "Nasrallah [says], 'why not boycott American goods? It's part of the struggle." Below this she posted a picture of Nasrallah giving the speech, along with a picture of the car that carried Soleimani's coffin during his funeral: a Chevrolet.[5]  Charlotte Halby's tweet User HAKIMEXX tweeted "boycott American goods," with a photo of a GMC van bearing Hizbullah's shield. [6] User Fadi Nasrallah tweeted: "I swear I can't see the boys from Hizbullah trading in their [American] Envoy [vans] for [French] Renault Meganes…"[7] User Gino Raidy from Lebanon tweeted a photo of Nasrallah giving his February 16, 2020 speech, along with a picture of the chair he was sitting on, manufactured by the American Herman Miller company, and commented in English: "Teb [ok] if the Sayyed [Nasrallah] sits on an American-made chair worth 1,300-1,500USD while he is demanding we boycott US products, shu mna3mel [what are we supposed to do]?"[8] Gino Raidy's tweet Another Lebanese user tweeted: "Death to America and long live its products."[9] Hizbullah Officials Use Twitter, American Currency Many users noted that Hizbullah uses American websites and technology. User Hussein Nasrallah wrote: "The three Hizbullah MPs and the Hizbullah minister [all] use Twitter, an American website. They also use that icon of American technology, the iPhone, and a long list [of other products]…"[10] Hussein Nasrallah's tweet In another tweet, he alluded to the fact that Hizbullah conducts transactions in U.S. dollars, commenting: "First boycott the dollars you receive via Latin America. Lebanon will not boycott any American goods, and whoever has a problem with that can emigrate. Bless Donald Trump." Below this he posted an image of imported products sold in Lebanon, many of which are American.[11] Another user tweeted: "Boycott American goods – sure thing, Nasrallah. Yeah, you genius. Yeah, [you are really] scaring [the Americans]. Yeah, it took you years to come up with this big idea. Yeah, you conqueror of American social media. Yeah, you bury your dead with American Envoy [vans]. Yeah, you import American dollars [provided by] the Iranians. Yeah, you idiot."[12] Lebanese Journalist: Hizbullah Is Two-Faced Lebanese journalist Nasrin 'Ajab reacted to Nasrallah's call to boycott American goods in an article on the Elaph news website titled "Hizbullah and the U.S. – The Devil and the Compass". She accused Hizbullah of hypocrisy because it curses the U.S., while some figures close to it "rush into America's arms." She added that the American dollar is not responsible for the dire situation in Lebanon, and neither is Lebanon itself; rather, the ones responsible are the politicians, including Nasrallah's allies, who are robbing the country. She wrote: "'Why not boycott American goods,' wondered Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, in his [February 16] speech, in which he brutally attacked the U.S. Yes, that is a legitimate question… But wait a minute, is it the dollar that turned [Lebanon] into a plundered state? No, it is the politicians, including Sayyed Nasrallah's closest allies, who have been diligently looting the country for 30 years and concoct [shady] deals instead of taking care of its electricity, water and even garbage[-collection infrastructures]. So before flooding us with declarations against the U.S. and its economy, let him stop backing his corrupt allies, and then maybe this small country will regain some of its stolen funds, start paying some of its mounting debt and find a way out of its economic hell… "Yes, [the call to boycott American goods] would have been legitimate coming from someone who has severed all his ties with the one he calls 'the Great Satan.' But the problem with Hizbullah's handling of this issue is its double standard: On the one hand, [it treats] America as the Great Satan, who must be fought, but at the same time, figures close to Hizbullah rush into America's arms and brag about it…" The Lebanese Al-Jumhouriya daily, known for its opposition to Hizbullah, published a cartoon captioned "Nasrallah calls to boycott American goods," in which a Hizbullah supporter shouts “No, no, no [to American goods], except dollars, Cherokees and Jeans!!"[13] The Al-Jumhouriya cartoon      [1] Twitter.com/Fatima_Eid9, February 16, 2020. [2] Twitter.com/Firasg72, February 17, 2020. [3] Twitter.com/mohammadjdns, February 16, 2020. [4] Twitter.com/DimaSadek, February 17, 2020. [5] Twitter.com/HalbyCharlotte, February 17, 2020. [6] Twitter.com/HAKIMEXX, February 16, 2020. [7] Twitter.com/Fidodido901, February 16, 2020. [8] Twitter.com/GinoRaidy, February 17, 2020. [9] Twitter.com/GrFr39267907, February 17, 2020. [10] Twitter.com/Hussein_nasrlah, February 17, 2020. [11] Twitter.com/Hussein_nasrlah, February 16, 2020. [12] Twitter.com/icomefromrivia, February 16, 2020. [13] Al-Jumhouriya (Lebanon), February 17, 2020.

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February 24, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8579

Putin's Televised Remarks On Ukraine Cause A Storm

February 24, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8579
On February 20, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to TASS, where he responded in depth to 20 questions posed by his interviewer, Andrei Vandenko. One of these questions concerned Russia's relations with the Ukraine. In the interview, Putin made many controversial statements about the historical relations between the two countries. Inter alia he claimed that Russians and Ukrainians were one people and this unity had been fractured by foreign powers, who sought to pull the countries apart in order to gain a competitive advantage. A union between Russia and Ukraine would obviously strengthen both countries. These foreign powers were aided and abetted by Ukrainian leaders, who used power to line their pockets and then fobbed off the citizens with Russophobic rhetoric. Naturally, these comments provoked a heated response in Ukraine from the country's current and former leadership. In Russia they also aroused debate with pro-Putin pundits defending the president's remarks, while liberal commentators challenged the remarks and the direction they portended. Below is the segment from the interview dealing with Ukraine and the responses that it elicited: Putin plays 20 questions (Source: Online47.ru) The TASS Interview Vladimir Putin: Ukrainians [with an accent on the first a] were the people who lived on the frontiers of the Russian state. There were Ukrainians in Pskov; Ukrainians were the people who defended the southern frontiers from attacks by the Crimean khan. Ukrainians were in the Urals. Ukrainians were everywhere. We had no language differences. Moreover, around the same time, before the 14th and 15th centuries, even those people, the east Slavs, who lived in the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – both in Muscovy and in Poland – were called Russians. The first language differences appeared much later… Andrei Vandenko: History is history, but now we are talking about the present day. Vladimir Putin: To talk about today or tomorrow we need to know history, need to know who we are, where do we come from, what unites us. What unites us is… Andrei Vandenko: Now many things divide us. Vladimir Putin: Many things divide us. But we should not forget about things that unite us. And should not destroy what we have. For example, the Church. Why did one need to destroy the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church? You know that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is in fact fully autonomous; it has been fully autonomous before, including in terms of the election of hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Moscow Patriarchate has never had any influence on the election of hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. In fact, it has always been independent, completely. There has been only spiritual unity and mentioning. The Patriarch of Moscow has been mentioned, recalled all the time in churches. That's it! It has been the only thing uniting the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. But they needed to cut the cords that bind. Why? You say people do not understand. They simply do not know it. If they know, they will understand better. They should be told that. Why should one be embarrassed? Is it insulting for people? Some time passed. As a result of people sharing the border with the Catholic world, with Europe, a community of people feeling to some extent independent from the Russian State began to emerge. How should we feel about that? I have already said: we should respect that. But we should not forget about our shared community. Moreover, in the modern world our joint efforts give us huge competitive advantages. And, vice versa, division makes us weaker. The Ukrainian factor was specifically played out on the eve of World War I by the Austrian special service. Why? It is well-known – to divide and rule. Absolutely clear. Nevertheless, if it happened this way, and a big part of the Ukrainian population got a sense of their own national identity and so on, we should respect that. We should proceed from the reality but not forget who we are and where we come from. By the way, the fathers of the Ukrainian nationalism, they never spoke about the urgent need to break up with Russia. Strange as it may seem, but their major works of the 19th century say that Ukraine is: a) multinational and should be a federal state, and b) should build good relations with Russia. Today’s nationalists seem to have forgotten that. I will tell you why they have forgotten that. You know why? Because the interests of the Ukrainian people are not the main issue on their agenda. How can it be the interest of the Ukrainian people if the break-up with Russia has led to loss of space engineering, shipbuilding, aircraft engineering and engine manufacturing; it is virtually the deindustrialization of the country that is happening. How can it be among interests? The World Bank demands to stop cross-subsidizing. What's good in it? Or, they make them export round wood from the Carpathians. Soon the Carpathians will turn bald. Why do this if, by joining efforts, we increase our competitive advantages manifold? Why lose it? Why throw everything away, what for? Because the Ukrainian leaders or those who got power pursued their self-interests. And what were they? It was not even to earn more by robbing the Ukrainian people but to retain what has been plundered before. This was the main objective. So, where is the ‘dough’? Pardon my French. Where is the money? In foreign banks. What do they need to do for this? Show that they serve those who have this money. Hence, the only thing they sell is Russophobia. Because some like dividing Ukraine and Russia, they believe it's a very important mission. Because any integration of Russia and Ukraine, along with their capacities and competitive advantages, would lead to the emergence of a rival, a global rival for Europe and the world. No one wants it. That's why they'll do anything to pull us apart. [1] Ukrainian Political Leaders Respond Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky was quick to respond to Putin and his office chose the pro-Trump Administration Washington Examiner as the place to reply: “Russian-Ukrainian relations should not be determined by the geopolitical ambitions of individual leaders...These relations are based on the relations of people who live, work, create, and strive for peace nearby on both sides of the border." Zelensky also defended the decision to form a Ukrainian Church independent of the church in Moscow: "In Ukraine, the church and state are separate...The recent unification of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine was a decision exclusively of the people, initiated by the congregation, according to the rules of the church and legalized by the church document, the Tomos."[2] Zelensky's predecessor Petro Poroshenko, who was on the receiving end of Putin's barbs gave as good as he got: "And his [Putin's] goal is to take not only Ukrainian land, but also the Ukrainian soul. In order to make sure that peace with Ukraine is not included in his plans, do not look into his eyes. Just listen to what he says."[3] Poroshenko in a topical comparison called Putin "a worse danger than the Coronavirus and therefore I advise the [Ukrainian] authorities not to remain silent.[4] Pro-Putin Opinion Leaders Try To Back His Arguments Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov sought to make sense of Putin's comments without causing a diplomatic incident. Asked by journalists what Putin meant when he said that Russia and Ukraine are being “pulled apart” to prevent unification, Peskov responded: "The head of state had in mind a circle of countries that have consistently sought to ensure that relations between Russia and Ukraine are maintained in their current deplorable state." At the same time, Peskov emphasized that he did not want to name these countries specifically.[5] Others were less reticent about naming the trouble-makers who spoiled relations between Moscow and Kiev. Leonid Slutsky, who chairs the Duma's International Affairs Committee tweeted: "The reason for Zelensky’s objections to 'geopolitical ambitions' in relations with Russia is simple: Ukraine since 2014 has become a pawn in the US geopolitical game. And the longer Kiev will "trade in Russophobia", the more it will miss out on a joint competitive advantage in tandem with the Russian Federation.[6] Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the Kiev Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies, also blamed the Americans: "“Of course, this in fact is what happened, the West, and in particular the USA, played a major role for many years by funding and actively working with youth towards creating an atmosphere to estrange Ukraine from Russia and cause separation. Yes, this is a strategic goal – to prevent rapprochement, but on the contrary, to exploit Ukraine. And the way you can exploit Ukraine - is by fostering nationalist, anti-Russian sentiment, in Ukraine. This was successfully done and and still continues to work. “ The West adopted a divide and rule policy because like Putin it realized that Russia and Ukraine acting in unison was a game changer: “The West is not interested in this combination of efforts, coordination, and active cooperation, since, in a certain sense, Ukraine, actively cooperating with Russia in various fields, of course, strengthens Russia's potential in some areas and creates additional competitive advantages in world markets. This applies to space and weapons and much more."[7] Viktor Mironenko, head of the Center for Ukrainian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe, argued that Putin was merely voicing an objective opinion that was shared by Western experts: "Our president is not original, before him this idea was expressed quite a long time ago by a well-known Sovietologist who was well versed in our situation. His name was Zbigniew Brzezinski. And then he said bluntly that the point is not that Russia without Ukraine will be weaker, but the fact is that Russia without Ukraine is a different country. And in this regard, I think, both he and Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] were absolutely right. ” [8] Liberal Russians Voice Understanding For The Ukrainian Position Journalist Nicolai Svanidze, interviewed by Alexei Narishkin on the Echo of Moscow radio station accused Putin of mustering only the historical facts that fortified his position while disregarding less convenient facts. There was no dominant Russian culture and there were many tribes and linguistic groups. As for the bad state of relations with Kiev, Svanidze believed Russia was mainly to blame: "'And how do you feel about the relationship [between Russia and Ukraine] being messed up.' Naturally the answer is: 'I feel bad about it' But where does this bad relationship derive from? Bad relations ensued since the annexation of Crimea. It is difficult to expect from the country from which you take a piece ... Crimea belonged to Ukraine - now it belongs to Russia. And it’s hard after such a ... to expect that Ukraine will react to this normally and will love you like its own kin.[9] Echo of Moscow also published an article by Putin's former economic adviser Andrey Illarianov, who has parted ways with his former boss and has predicted that Russia will soon invade Belarus and the Ukraine. Illarianov claimed that Putin's exposition on Ukraine was built on five myths but showed that Putin was bent on no less than a total annexation of Ukraine and not merely the annexation of a few Russian speaking enclaves: " The vast majority of modern Ukrainians not only had no idea about the 'subversive activities of the Austrian General Staff' and the work of the founding fathers of Ukrainian nationalism, but also exhibited an exceptionally benign and in many cases truly brotherly attitude to Russia. This attitude was torn to shreds not by Austrian spies and Bandera nationalists, but by the Kremlin's master, who stole the Crimea and unleashed a bloody massacre in the Donbass, which claimed the lives of more than 13 thousand Ukrainians, crippled the lives of more than 30 thousand inhabitants of Ukraine, and turned several million people into refugees." "...The strategic goal of Vladimir Putin is the unification of Russia and Ukraine... "Although in recent years Putin has regularly spoken out about Russians and Ukrainians, about the so-called “single people”, about relations between the two countries, nevertheless, until yesterday, it seems, he has never yet so openly formulated his main strategic goal. Now it’s not just Sevastopol and Crimea, not some Lugandonia, not even New Russia and the Black Sea region, now it’s the unification of Russia and all of Ukraine."[10] Andrey Illarianov (Source: Inosim.ru)   [1] Kremlin.ru, February 21, 2020. [2] Washingtonexaminer.com, February 22, 2020. [3] Iz.ru, February 21, 2020. [4] Strana.ua, February 22, 2020. [5] Mk.ru, February 21,2020; Rosbalt.ru, February 21, 2020. [6] Twitter.com/l_Slutsky, February 22, 2020. [7] Gazeta.ru, February 21, 2020. [8] Gazeta.ru, February 21, 2020. [9] Echo.msk,ru, February 21, 2020. [10] Echo.msk,ru, February 22, 2020.  

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AQAP Confirms Death Of Leader Qasim Al-Rimi, Praises His Dedication To Fighting The U.S.

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February 24, 2020

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The Cyber & Jihad Lab

The Cyber & Jihad Lab monitors, tracks, translates, researches, and analyzes cyber jihad originating from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, and North and West Africa. It innovates and experiments with possible solutions for stopping cyber jihad, advancing legislation and initiatives federally – including with Capitol Hill and attorneys-general – and on the state level, to draft and enforce measures that will serve as precedents for further action. It works with leaders in business, law enforcement, academia, and families of terror victims to craft and support efforts and solutions to combat cyber jihad, and recruits, and works with technology industry leaders to craft and support efforts and solutions.

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Feb 11, 2020
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10-Year-Old Palestinian Girl at Pro-Abbas Demonstration Curses Trump, Says: If You Want War, We Declare War

#7832 | 01:26
Source: Palestinian Authority TV

On February 11, 2020, Palestine TV aired a report from a pro-Abbas demonstration. Addressing U.S. President Donald Trump, a 10-year-old Palestinian girl named Juman recited a poem with the following lines: "If you want war, we declare war... We will curse your honor, you vagabond. You are the sibling of a grungy woman... My homeland is not a toy in your hands. The Zionists will be thrown out... Hear it, you son of a bitch."

Reporter: "This girl, Juman, is 10 years old, and she insists on delivering this message and reciting this poem on Palestine TV."

Juman: "If you want war, we declare war. We will ignite it in the East and in the West. We will curse your honor, you vagabond. You are the sibling of a grungy woman, Trump. If you want war, we declare war. We will ignite it in the East and in the West. That's it! We're done with the flattery. That's it! We're done with the flattery. Hate us! We don't want to be loved. My homeland is not a toy in your hands. The Zionists will be thrown out of my homeland. Add, subtract, and divide, but I won't allow any multiplication. Listen! Listen to me well and hear it, you son of a bitch."

Reporter: "Thank you, Juman. Yes, Ahmad. This is the picture here. This is the voice of the Palestinians who will not stop fighting on their land, until they attain liberation and freedom. Back to you to continue our coverage."

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Feb 17, 2020
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Jordanian MP Yahya Saud: Our Trade Unions Wouldn’t Even Tolerate Their Members Saying “Hello” to a Jew; Arabs Must Pressure Their Governments to Stop Normalizing Relations with Israel

#7831 | 01:24
Source: Jordanian TV

Jordanian MP Yahya Saud, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Palestine, said in a February 17, 2020 interview on Jordan TV that the Arab people completely reject President Trump’s Deal of the Century, and he called for the people to pressure their governments to stop all forms of normalization with Israel. ea

He added: “The trade unions are very strict when it comes to normalization. I dare any lawyer, engineer, or doctor to say hello to a Jew. This is something that we reject completely.”

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Feb 20, 2020
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IRGC General Mohammad Hejazi, Deputy Commander of Qods Force Fends Off Criticism of Costly Involvement in Syria and Iraq: Our Defense Budget Is Only 1.2% of the GDP

#7830 | 02:05
Source: Channel 1 (Iran)

General Mohammad Hejazi, the Deputy Commander of the IRGC's Qods Force, said in a February 20, 2020 interview on Channel 1 (Iran) that Iran is militarily active in Syria and Iraq in order to engage Iran's enemies far away from its border, where they cannot target its cities. He also said that though most countries spend roughly 2% of their GDP on defense, Iran spends no more than 1.2% of its GDP on defense both domestically and abroad, and he further argued that this justifies the expenses that people complain about because it is less costly than fighting the enemies nearer to the border.

Interviewer: "There is a general question that I ask almost every night, and, perhaps, you have been asked this by the public as well: What are you doing in Syria and Iraq? You give our money to the Syrians and the Iraqis, when there are so many poor people here..."

[...]

Mohammad Hejazi: "Sometimes, you let your enemy come near. You either let it into your country or engage it at the border. In such a situation, the enemy's weapons can reach your center, your cities, everywhere. In other cases, you target and destroy the enemy before it reaches your border.

[...]

"People talk about expenses, expenses, expenses, and I will give a general answer. Usually, throughout the world – and you can check this in military websites – countries allocate a certain percentage of their GDP to defense. Usually, it is two percent. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, it is four percent.

[...]

"The money that the Islamic Republic of Iran allocates for defense has never exceeded 1.2% [of the GDP]."

Interviewer: "To our entire defense..."

Mohammad Hejazi: "Yes, our entire defense. This includes units inside Iran, as well as expenses we have abroad. What kind of expense is this? Is it better to have such expenses in order to stop the enemy from coming near us, or should we wait until the enemy comes to us before we engage it, which would be much more costly?"

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Feb 09, 2020
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Iraqi Researcher, Former Shiite Cleric Ghaith Al-Tamimi: Religions Justify Killing, Stealing, and Other Crimes in Ways That Contradict Reason; Who Gets to Decide How to Implement Allah’s Commands?

#7829 | 07:39
Source: Zagros (Iraqi Kurdistan)

Iraqi researcher Ghaith Al-Tamimi, who is a former Shi'ite cleric, said in a February 9, 2020 interview on Zagros TV (Iraqi Kurdistan) that religion and religious societies justify killing, crime, lying, stealing, and violations of human rights in a fashion that rational deduction has shown to be wrong and that non-religious systems do not tolerate. He said that religion is the only context in which a person who kills another can be a mujahid or in which stealing from people by telling them they will go to Hell if they don't part with their property can be justified as gathering charity. He criticized religious institutions and countries, which he described as "drowning in corruption," and he argued that Shi'ites and Sunnis justify killing each other because of their religious beliefs. Saying that Shi'ites and Sunnis essentially believe in a different Allah, and that even Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Al-Sistani believe in a different Allah, Al-Tamimi asked who has the right to implement the things that Allah says in the Quran. Furthermore, he criticized religious scholars who "keep Allah in [their] pocket" and keep Him "in the background" in order to exercise personal authority, and he said that religious institutions should reform themselves before trying to reform society.

Ghaith Al-Tamimi: "Religious studies have shown us that religions have justified crime. Religions have justified lying, stealing, and violating the rights of others. Religions do not necessarily always implement justice."

Interviewer: "You're talking about all religions..."

Ghaith Al-Tamimi: "Yes, without exception. Why? Because one of the basic roles of a religion is to accommodate its followers with the absolute truth. Religion makes you feel like you own the truth. Let me give you a small example. When one person kills another, he is a criminal. There is no other definition. Only religions allow you to kill a person and be considered a mujahid. You see what I mean? A person who steals from another is a thief. There is no way around it. Only religions allow you to steal the property of others under pretexts like booty, the khums tax, or zakat [mandatory charity], and other religious classifications, which exist in Christianity and Judaism..."

Interviewer: "The khums is different."

Ghaith Al-Tamimi: "Don't tell me it's different..."

Interviewer: "The khums is different. It's not theft. People pay it of their own free will..."

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "No, no. When you collect the khums, the person isn't giving it out of his free will. You say to that person: 'Give me the khums or you will go to Hell.' So you take it from him against his will. Nobody gives away his money willingly.

[...]

"In many cases, religions have justified things that humanity has concluded through rational deduction to be wrong. Lying is permitted if it is done to support or defend the religion. You may defy your parents under religious pretexts.

[...]

"Usually, societies that are governed by a religious system are replete with violence, crime, racial discrimination, social conflicts, and lack of justice.

[...]

"This is why secular Jews defend the rights of the Palestinians, while religious Jews justify the violation of the rights of the Palestinians. The same story [is true in Iraq]. The Shi'ites in Iraq justify the killing of the Sunnis, the violation of their rights, plundering them, attacking them..."

Interviewer: "These are exceptional cases..."

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "Don't tell me these are exceptional cases. I am talking about a social system of values. They justify this. They think it is justified. There are ideological reasons for this justification. They believe that they are more worthy of ruling and enjoying justice. These are all their privileges. The same is true of the Sunnis. They believe they have Sunni privileges. In Saudi Arabia, for example, they see the Shi'ites as..."

Interviewer: "Why are you talking about Shi'ites and Sunnis? Why not talk about 'extremists' among the Shi'ites and the Sunnis?"

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "I am not talking about individuals, but about a value system. This is why I say that if you take that very same Sunni or that Shi'ite and drop him in Sweden, Germany, or Japan, he would become a just person, since he is not the problem.

[...]

"When you quote a Quranic verse and say: 'Allah says...' Fine. So Allah says something. But who implements it? Khamenei? We've seen his record. He oppresses the Iranian people, and he slaughtered and executed 1,000 people [in November 2019]."

Interviewer: "Don't go into politics..."

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "This isn't politics, it's about human rights."

Interviewer: "Keep our discussion ideological..."

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "[In Iran], there are human rights violations, poverty, hunger, deprivation, and more. Let's move to our experience in Iraq. I'm talking human rights, not politics. If you tell me that the religious system produces a moral society, I will applaud this. I am a Muslim, and I have to believe in what you say. But in practice, the religious society in Iraq, according to our experience in the past and in the present, is a cruel society. The state is extremely cruel. It has no problem oppressing, killing, fabricating, and stealing people's money. The same is true of the religious endowments system. Don't tell me that I am talking politics. The religious endowments system operates according to fatwas. It has a religious cover, but it is one of the most corrupt and thieving organizations of the Iraqi state."

Interviewer: "The religious endowments authority?"

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "Of course. If we look at the school curricula, we see that the religious interference in these curricula has distorted [the minds of] the children. Imagine a child whose mother does not wear a hijab. When he comes to school, they teach him that a woman who does not wear a hijab is lewd. [He is told:] 'Your mother is lewd.' What has happened to our education system?

[...]

"Let me take you to non-religious countries and I'll show you justice, human rights, honesty, and more. These things exist among the people and in the institutions and regime. But if I take you to a religious country, I will show you corruption, deviations, and all the things you are talking about. My colleague said that religious does not justify killing. This is not true! Religion does justify killing. I'll explain, and I ask my colleague to deny it if I say something wrong. According to the fatwas of the scholars of Islamic law, a person who curses Allah and His Messenger should be killed. If you hear anyone cursing [Allah], you should kill him. A second example is the infidels. Infidels like the Yazidis and the Baha'is should be killed [according to Islam]. This is what ISIS did, and it did so in keeping with religious texts. If we don't want to beat around the bush, we must acknowledge that these are clear religious texts. Religion justifies killing and this is why we have seen terrible massacres in Iraq – there was religious justification for this.

[...]

"When Imam Hussein was killed, there was no America, but there was a conflict over who should rule, and there were the companions of the Prophet and the second generation of followers. The religious system leads to conflict. This is why, as soon as the Prophet Muhammad died... Imam Ali said that the Prophet had not been buried yet when the fight over the rule began."

Interviewer: "So when people accuse America..."

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "Okay. Fine. 'And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed'... 'they are the disbelievers.' And that is the problem! Who says you represent Allah? How come your Allah has authority and my Allah does not?"

Interviewer: "How can you say that?"

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "That is the problem. The Allah of the Shi'ites is different from the Allah of the Sunnis."

Interviewer: "No, no, no."

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "Please allow me... You are interviewing me as a scholar, right?"

Interviewer: "Yes."

Ghaith Al-Tamini: "Allah of the Shi'ites is different than Allah of the Sunnis."

Interviewer: "How can you say that?"

Ghaith Al-Tamimi: "The proof is that they are fighting each other. They are in dispute. Allah of the Sunnis rules something to be halal and the Allah of the Shi'ites rules it to be haram. It goes beyond that. Khamenei's Allah is different from Al-Sistani's Allah. If there is only one Allah, then a thing is either halal or haram.

[...]

"It is as if you keep Allah in your pocket, and then you take Him out, making a ruling, and say: 'I am Allah.' You are not Allah. Let Allah rule and I will accept the ruling. But I won't accept you. You see what I'm saying? They confiscate Allah and keep Him in the background. Allah is the background for their personal decisions.

[...]

"The clerics and the religious institutions are drowning in corruption. They want to reform society? They should reform themselves first."

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