TEHRAN, Iran: According to a senior official in the Iranian government, the country is looking to increase its missile capacity and acquire modern fighter jets and submarines as part of efforts to expand its defence capabilities.
Mohammad Ahadi, Iran’s deputy defence minister for international affairs, made the announcement in a speech to a group of foreign military attaches, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported on Saturday.
“Increasing ballistic and cruise missile capacity and the acquisition of next-generation fighters and heavy and long-range vessels and submarines with various weapons capabilities are among the new plans of this ministry,” he said in the capital, Tehran.
His comments came a day after Tehran rejected a French call for negotiations on future nuclear plans, its ballistic missile arsenal and its role in ongoing regional conflicts, in the wake of a decision by the United States to withdraw from a multinational nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions against it.
Earlier this week, Iranian lawyers asked the International Court of Justice to order the US to lift the sanctions, saying the measures – which are damaging Iran’s already weak economy – violate terms of a little-known 1955 friendship treaty between the two countries.
In his address, Ahadi said the sanctions had not slowed the development of the country’s arms industry.
“We have the necessary infrastructure and what we need to do is research and development, and at the same time upgrade and update the defence industry while relying on the country’s very high scientific capabilities and tens of thousands of graduates in technical fields and engineering,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
He also defended Iran’s actions in Syria and Iraq, saying they were central to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIL or ISIS) armed group.
“If Iran and its allies … had not stopped [the] Islamic State [of Iraq and the Levant], today the map of the region would be different and the world would face a terrible challenge.”
In August, Iran unveiled a new domestic fighter jet, reportedly the first to be “100-percent indigenously made”.
At the time, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country’s military strength was designed to deter enemies and create “lasting peace”.
Rouhani later said that the Islamic Republic’s military prowess deterred the US from attacking it.
Relations worsened between the two countries after US President Donald Trump’s decision in May to pull out from the landmark nuclear deal, which was signed in 2015 between Iran and several world powers.
War games are on
In a separate announcement on Saturday, the head of the defence ministry’s naval industries said a water jet propulsion system was in development and would be ready by March, according to semi-official news agency Tasnim.
Earlier this week, Iranian state media reported the launch of military exercises involving some 150,000 volunteer Basij militia members, led by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who vowed to protect Iran from “foreign threats”.
“The motto of these war games is unity … and to declare that, when it comes to adversity and threats from foreigners, we all join to defend the [Islamic Republic’s] system,” Basij commander Gholam-Hossein Gheibparvar was quoted by IRNA as saying.
The exercises come in advance of massive annual rallies planned for later this month to mark the start of the Iran-Iraq war, which raged from 1980 to 1988.
After Tehran talks, Syria and Russia forces step up Idlib attacks
Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.
ANTAKYA, Turkey: Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.
The air raids and shelling on Saturday came a day after Russia rejected a Turkish call for a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province, where a major government assault aimed at recapturing the last rebel stronghold in the country is seemingly imminent.
The attacks targeted areas in southern Idlib province and in the north of neighbouring Hama province, in what is seen as the biggest escalation over the past week.
One hospital in the village of Hass in southern Idlib was destroyed by a barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter.
Local activists told Al Jazeera that six civilians died in the bombardment, including one child.
According to Abd al-Kareem al-Rahmoun, a representative of the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria, the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in northern Hama province was targeted with more than 150 shells.
The shelling killed two men and wounded five others, including two children.
At least 26 people in rebel-held areas have been killed since the beginning of the month, the White Helmets said.
Rebel factions in northern Hama province responded to Saturday’s attacks with rocket fire and shelling of areas under government control, including the city of Salhab further west. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), there were no reported casualties.
On Friday, rebel shelling killed 10 people, including five children in the Christian-majority town of Maharda in western Hama province, SOHR reported.
Mohamad Haj Ali, commander of the First Coastal Division, which is part of the moderate opposition formation al-Jabha al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir (NLF), told Al Jazeera that despite the escalation, the battle for Idlib has not started yet.
“[The offensive was delayed] because of Turkish pressure on the Russians. We still hope for a diplomatic solution,” he said, adding, however, that he expects the offensive to be launched in the coming weeks.
If this happens, its first stage will target northern Latakia province and the area around the town of Jisr al-Shaghour in southern Idlib, he said.
In a separate development, clashes erupted between Syrian troops and Kurdish security forces known as Asayesh in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northern Hasakah province.
At least 13 members of the government forces were killed and seven Asayesh fighters, according to SOHR.
Although Qamishli is fully controlled by Kurdish forces, Damascus has retained control of a military base in its outskirts.
The story was first published on Al Jazeera.
Kashmir: Nine-year-old ‘gang-raped, eyes gouged out’
At least five people arrested, including the stepmother, for brutal gang rape and murder of nine-year-old child.
BARAMULLAH, Indian-occupied Kashmir: A nine-year-old child has been gang-raped and murdered in Indian-occupied Kashmir’s (IOK) Baramullah district, bringing back memories of the brutal gang rape of an eight-year-old in the Indian-occupied Jammu region of the state.
According to police reports, the child was reported missing on September 23 and was murdered on the same day.
Five people have been arrested in connection with the case, including the stepmother and the stepbrother.
The girl was lured to a secluded spot in a forest by her stepmother and was raped in turn by her 14-year-old stepbrother, his friends and accomplices, the police said.
Later, the stepmother strangled her and the stepbrother swung an axe at her head. One of the men gouged out her eyes and burned parts of her body with acid to destroy evidence, the police added.
“There is conclusive evidence for murder, there is destruction of evidence in regards to rape. But we have got vital clues to prove the rape charges in the court,” Mir Imtiyaz Hussain, police chief in Baramullah district who is supervising the investigation, told Qatar media outlet Al Jazeera.
“We have identified the culprits. Our job will be complete when the culprits are convicted in a court of law,” he added.
Police say they found the decomposed body in a forest near her home in Uri on September 2, almost 10 days after she went missing.
The father of the child had two wives and the first wife harboured acrimonious feelings towards the second wife and her daughter which spurred her to murder the child, police said.
The police said they are building a “watertight case” so the perpetrators are punished this time.
The case is the second such incident in the restive Kashmir region after the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua earlier this year, which caused widespread revulsion across India.
The girl in Kathua was held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January.
Violence against women in the South Asian country is widespread and has deep roots.
In recent years, the country has witnessed renewed public outrage over the number of violent sexual assaults against women, especially children.
Crimes against minors
In July this year, doctors confirmed sexual abuse at a girls’ shelter in the state of Bihar, with children reporting being beaten, drugged, raped and scalded with hot water.
A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India, according to NGO Child Rights.
Crimes against minors have risen more than 500 percent over the past decade, the right group said, after analysing government data.
In 2016, police in India received 38,947 reports of rape compared with almost 35,000 in 2015, according to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau.
India has enacted strident anti-rape laws in response to nationwide outrage in the wake of a series of child rape cases.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has now been amended to introduce the death penalty for the rape of children below age 12.
But campaigners say laws, on their own, do not act as a deterrent.
“The brutal assault on this child tells us the law is not working. When you have death penalty for rape, they don’t just rape, but they murder and they destroy evidence like they tried with this girl by using acid,” Enakshi Ganguly, founder and adviser at HAQ Centre for Child Rights in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.
“This case should be a lesson to the government. They rushed to bring the death penalty but the number of rapes have not gone down. What we are dealing with is what is happening behind closed doors, inside families. Our studies show in more than 70 percent of child abuse cases, the rapists are known to the family,” she added.
Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017
Military sources say the attacks are mostly aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.
JERUSALEM, Palestine: Israel has launched more than 200 air attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the past year and a half, a senior Israel official revealed.
The officer in the Israeli army said on Tuesday the air raids included the dropping of about 800 bombs and missiles on mostly arms shipments as well as military bases and infrastructure.
Later on Tuesday, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz confirmed the report, calling Iran’s military presence in Syria a “red line”.
“Only just now it was published – in the name of military sources, so I can quote it too – that in the last two years Israel has taken military action more than 200 times within Syria itself,” Katz said.
“Understanding the significance of this matter in terms of preserving the red line, preventing things that Iran has done, is doing and trying to do against Israel from Syria.”
In August 2017, the outgoing chief of Israel’s air force told Haaretz newspaper that his corps had carried out “nearly 100 strikes” in Syria.
That left another 100 in the time since, according to the official Israeli accounts issued on Tuesday – roughly two attacks per week.
Israel, which monitors neighbouring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government, in part, to set up a permanent garrison there, effectively forming an extended anti-Israel front with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran, Israel’s arch foe, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the seven-year-old war, sending military advisers as well as material and regional Shia armed groups that it backs.
Israel’s strikes on Syria have been largely ignored by Russia, Syria’s big power backer.
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On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman signalled that the country could also attack suspected Iranian military targets in Iraq, where Reuters has reported the deployment of ballistic missiles by Tehran.
Briefing reporters on Tuesday, a senior Israeli military officer who requested anonymity said that Israel believed Iran was using Iraqi territory as a conduit for missile transfers to Syria.