Tehran :The Iranian Foreign Ministry has dismissed as “a joke” allegations that Russia has mediated indirect talks between Iran and Israel.
“Claims of this nature can never be true,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi told reporters in a press briefing .
“News like this sound more like a joke to those who are familiar with Iran’s foreign policy,” he added.
Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida claimed Friday that Moscow had arranged indirect talks between Tehran and Tel Aviv over a number of issues, including Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and its military presence in Syria.
The paper claimed that the recent trips to Moscow of senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were arranged by the Russian government to facilitate the alleged talks.
“Russia passed the Israeli demands to Tehran and asked [the Iranian government] to dispatch a representative with full power to reach a solution for the Iranian issue with Syria,” the paper quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying.
Velayati, a senior adviser to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to convey a message from Ayatollah Khamenei to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s written letter.
A senior Iranian official conveys a message from Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Israel is worried by the presence of Iranian military advisers whose help has been crucial to the Syrian army advances and Netanyahu has on several occasions asked Putin to arrange for them to leave the Arab country.
Iranian troops are in Syria at the request of the Syrian government but US troops are there illegally, with Damascus saying they did not have a benign agenda and repeatedly calling for their exit.
The Kuwaiti paper went a step further, claiming that Velayati had set out Iran’s conditions for accepting US President Donald Trump’s demands regarding the Iranian nuclear program and asked Putin to discuss them with the US leader in their upcoming meeting in Finland on Monday.
Senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati says Iran and Russia’s presence in Syria will continue to protect the country against terrorist groups and US aggression.
Qassemi said in his press briefing that the claim also was a lie and that Iran had in no way had discussed the content of the summit between the two heads of state.
“The meeting between the American and Russian presidents has been planned in advance and we have had no communications with Russia in this regard whatsoever,” he asserted.
“We have not sent any messages to Trump via Putin and talks about this issue are pure speculation by the media,” he added.
The spokesman also denied speculations about similar meetings between Iranian and American officials in Oman, in the wake of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s recent trip to the country.
“There is nothing secretive about Zarif’s trip to Oman,” Qassemi said, noting that Omani and Iranian delegations had held regular meetings in both countries shortly before the trip.
Sri Lanka police arrests 40 suspects; death toll climbs to 310
Colombo: The death toll from Easter Sunday’s horrific terror attacks in Sri Lanka is now 310, a police spokesman said Tuesday. Forty suspects have been arrested so far, he added.
Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena gave the military sweeping police powers in the wake of the bombings. A national emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka in the wake of the deadly blasts. Few social media sites have been shut down. Armed security forces are patrolling the largely deserted streets in capital Colombo, even as a curfew went into effect on day 2.
The suicide bombings struck three churches and three luxury hotels Sunday in the island nation’s deadliest violence since a devastating civil war ended in 2009.
Meanwhile, officials disclosed that intelligence agencies had warned about the attacks by the radical Muslim group weeks ago. The intelligence document, reports Reuters, said a foreign intelligence agency had warned authorities of possible attacks on churches by the National Thawheed Jama`ut group. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the horrific attacks.
Day after the blasts, Sri Lankan police found 87 bomb detonators at the main bus station in Colombo on Monday.
Thirty-one foreign nationals, including eight Indians, were killed in the blasts.
Security in southern states, especially in churches and religious places, has been strengthened following the terrorist. Security has also been stepped up in sensitive locations in major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru, and Goa as a precautionary measure.
Seven suicide bombers believed to be members of an Islamist extremist group are suspected behind the horrific blasts. Government’s spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said local Islamist extremist group called the National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) is suspected of plotting the blasts that struck three churches when the Easter Sunday mass were in progress and three five-star hotels.
“All suicide bombers involved in the blasts are believed to be Sri Lankan nationals,” said Senaratne, who is also the Health Minister.
Investigators are now looking whether the group has international support. “There may be international links to them,” he added.
Israeli troops accused of shooting at handcuffed Palestinian
BEIT JALA: A hospitalised Palestinian teen said he was shot in his thighs by Israeli soldiers while he was handcuffed and blindfolded the latest in what a leading rights group portrayed as a series of unjustified shootings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers.
The military said it was investigating last week’s incident, which it said took place as Palestinian youths were throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
Osama Hajahjeh, 16, said he was trying to run from soldiers when he was shot Thursday. He said the incident began after a funeral for a school teacher in his village of Tekoa, who had been hit by a car driven by an Israeli while walking at a busy intersection.
Hajahjeh said school was let out early for students to attend the funeral. After the burial, he said he was tackled by a soldier who jumped out of an olive grove and forced him to the ground. He said his hands were cuffed and his eyes covered with a cloth blindfold.
After the arrest, he said he could hear Palestinian youths shouting at the soldiers, while soldiers yelled back in Arabic and Hebrew.
“I got confused” and stood up, he said. “Immediately, I was shot in my right leg. Then I tried to run, and I was shot in my left leg and fell on the ground,” he said, speaking from his hospital bed in the West Bank town of Beit Jala south of Jerusalem. Doctors said he is in stable condition.
A photo captured by a local photographer shows soldiers appearing to pursue a fleeing Hajahjeh with his eyes covered and hands tied behind his back.
The shooting set off a chaotic scene. Soldiers and Palestinians shouted at each other as the teen lay on the ground. One soldier took off the teen’s belt and used it as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
Amateur video shows a masked soldier screaming and pointing a pistol at a group of anguished Palestinians as the teen lies on the ground. Later, a soldier scuffles with residents as another soldier fires into the air. A soldier and two Palestinian men then carry away the teen to medical care.
In a statement, the military said the teen had been arrested after participating in “massive stone throwing” at Israeli forces.
“The detainee was held at a nearby spot and began running away from the force. The soldiers chased him, during which they fired toward his lower abdomen,” it said.
The statement did not say anything about him being blindfolded or cuffed, but said the military offered medical treatment after the shooting and was investigating the event.
Hajahjeh’s father, Ali, said he was thankful a soldier gave his son medical care. But he said his son never should have been shot to begin with. “Only a sick person would shoot a blindfolded boy,” he said.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the incident was the latest in a series of what it called unjustified shootings on Palestinian teens and young men. It says four Palestinians in their late teens or early twenties have been killed in the West Bank since early March.
The army has challenged the Palestinian witness accounts, but also frequently announces investigations into disputed cases.
B’Tselem has long criticised military investigations, saying they rarely result in punishments and alleging they’re used to whitewash abuses by troops.
“Like the previous four cases we investigated, this is an example of Israel’s reckless use of lethal fire, and the fact that the human lives of Palestinians count very little in the eyes of the army,” said Roy Yellin, a spokesman for the group.
US envoy returns after Taliban-Afghan talks scuttled
Kabul: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban has returned on a marathon trip for talks, despite disappointment after the militants failed to meet with the Afghan government, the State Department said.
Zalmay Khalilzad left on a journey that will run through May 11 and take him both to Afghanistan and Qatar, the usual venue for talks with the Taliban.
In the Qatari capital Doha, “he will continue to press forward on negotiations with the Taliban to reach a consensus on core national security issues, and urge their participation in an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue,” a State Department statement said, without directly confirming he would meet again with the Taliban.
Despite several rounds of talks with Khalilzad, the Taliban have refused to negotiate with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s internationally recognized government.
Hopes for a breakthrough last weekend were dashed when a dialogue planned between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Doha collapsed at the last minute.
Ghani had announced a delegation of some 250 people from all walks of Afghan life, including government figures, but the Taliban rejected the lengthy list, saying the meeting was “not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced disappointment over the impasse during a call on Saturday with Ghani.
Pompeo “encouraged all sides to seize the moment and reach an understanding on participants, so that an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue can be convened in Doha as soon as possible,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
President Donald Trump is eager to reach a solution to end the longest-ever US war, which dislodged the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP that the upcoming talks would focus on a timetable for pulling all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Khalilzad on his trip will also visit four other countries with deep interests in Afghanistan — Pakistan, India, Russia and Britain.