Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned the United States against causing trouble for the Venezuela-bound Iranian fuel vessels, official IRNA news agency reported.
“If the United States causes any problem for our oil tankers in the Caribbean Sea or any other parts of the world, it will run into trouble reciprocally,” the Iranian president said in a telephone conversation with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
While highlighting Iran’s right to defend its national interests, Rouhani said his country will never be the initiator of any conflict with the United States.
He expressed the hope that “the Americans would not make a mistake” concerning the Iranian vessels.
The White House announced last week that the United States was considering measures it could take in response to Iran’s shipment of fuel to crisis-stricken Venezuela.
Iran ready to send more fuel to Venezuela: spokesman
Iran is ready to send more fuel shipments to Venezuela if there is a request, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday.
Mousavi slammed United States attempts to block Iran’s trade with other countries, saying that “if Venezuela makes a new request for (fuel) delivery, more shipments will be sent.”
“It is Iran’s natural right to defend its (economic) interests even in faraway places,” Mousavi said in his weekly press conference.
Last months, five Iranian oil fuel tankers arrived at Venezuela shores.
Washington has threatened to take action against the Venezuela-bound fuel tankers, including blacklisting the crew and the tankers.
Iran reports 2,979 new COVID-19 cases, 154,445 in total
The pandemic has so far claimed the lives of 7,878 Iranians, up by 81 in the past 24 hours.
So far, 121,004 have recovered and been discharged from hospitals and 2,578 remain in critical condition.
Iran’s health officials have urged the public to wear facemasks in crowded places, particularly while using public transports.
All employees have returned to work since Saturday and high-risk places such as gyms and beauty salons have opened for business.
Mosques, malls and holy sites have opened while observing social distancing rules. Wedding ceremonies remain banned.
Iran announced its first cases of COVID-19 on Feb. 19.
News Analysis: Israel, Iran reportedly trade cyber-blows as part of ongoing tensions
Media outlets reported on Monday that in a recent thwarted Iranian cyber-attack on Israeli water systems, there was an attempt to change the chlorine levels in the water, putting hundreds of Israelis at risk.
The latest reports come after weeks of suggestions that Israel and Iran have traded several blows in cyberspace. While the Iranian officials have denied the allegations, Yigal Unna, director general of the National Cyber Directorate in Israel was quoted as saying that May was the “turning point in the history of modern cyber warfare.”
An alleged Israeli retaliation to the attack also came a few weeks ago. Reports said that computers in a key Iranian port were paralyzed by a major cyber offensive, causing major disruption to naval traffic.
“This is already hard-core cyber warfare, where you create actual physical damage as a result of disrupting computer systems which control physical systems of our lives,” said Tal Pavel, head of Cyber Security Studies at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo.
While the supposed Iranian attack did not cause any damage in Israel, reports from Iran suggested that the Shahid Rajaee port terminal in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas took days to resume normal activity.
“The Israeli response is really out of the ordinary,” Pavel told Xinhua about Unna’s public comments. “This is really crossing a line. But Israel apparently wanted it to be known that it was behind the attack.”
Israel and Iran are arch-rivals that have been engaged in various levels of war-fare for decades. There is always concern that the tit-for-tat attacks will spill over into a wider conflict that will engulf the entire region.
Israel has launched hundreds of airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria in recent years. Increasingly, cyberspace has also become a battlefield. In a widely reported incident years ago, Israel, together with the United States, is believed to be behind a computer worm that was unleashed on the Iranian nuclear program computer system. The Iranian uranium enrichment facility’s activity was reportedly severely hampered by the mysterious computer virus.
The worm attack was a wake-up call for Iranian officials.
“In recent years Iran has invested a major effort in developing its cyber abilities after understanding the potential,” said Yossi Mansharof, a researcher in the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and the Ezri center for Iran.
Israel is considered a leading cyber security power. With a thriving hi-tech eco-system, the cybersecurity sector is a leading one in the country. While Iran has made great advances in its cyber capabilities, many experts in the field believe there is still a major gap in favor of Israel.
Yet, Israel is not immune to attacks.
“Being a cyber-power doesn’t only mean you have offensive capabilities, but also are capable of defending yourself from serious attacks on infrastructure,” Pavel added.
According to Mansharof, the conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria could well be transferred to cyberspace after years of armed conflict.
“Iran is well aware of its military inferiority vis-a-vis Israel and they prefer not to engage in a war but continue in attrition or use of proxies,” Mansharof said. “Israel is also largely alone against Iran and is not looking for a war.”
Iran, Turkmenistan agree to reopen borders amid easing of COVID-19 restrictions
Iran and Turkmenistan have agreed to reopen borders on June 10 as the restrictions pertaining to the novel coronavirus are eased in both countries recently, Iranian ambassador to Ashgabat announced on Sunday.
Iran and Turkmenistan had previously agreed to reopen borders on June 1, but the date was postponed to June 10 for disinfection operations at the border posts, said Arbab Khales.
He noted that at a ministerial meeting among Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well as negotiations between the heads of railway companies of the three countries, they have agreed to install sanitizing tunnels at both sides of the borders to help better implement health protocols.
The ambassador did not mention whether the reopening of border crossings includes only trade transactions or passengers as well.
Iran and Turkmenistan closed borders in late February after Iran reported first cases of COVID-19 in the country.
Iran deploys military helicopters to fight fire in forests
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and Army on Sunday deployed helicopters to the forests of Zagros mountain in the west and southwest of Iran to fight fire outbreak, according to local media.
The move came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the day issued an order to the relevant institutions to emergently respond to the fire spread in forests of Bushehr, in south of Iran, and Khuzestan, in southwestern Iran.
The IRGC and Army had already sent seven helicopters to Gachsaran and Dehdasht forests in southwestern Iranian province of Kohkilouyeh and Boyerahmad and Behbahan in Khuzestan Province.
According to the latest reports, the fire eruption in the west, southwest and south of the country over the past weeks has completely burnt 300 hectares of forests and grasslands in Gachsaran as well as 200 hectares of forests in Kohkilouyeh.
Iran produces advanced test kits to detect COVID-19 in Saliva: report
The researchers at an Iranian knowledge-based company, affiliated with Iran’s Amirkabir University of Technology, have developed the advanced test kit using a real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) system, according to the report.
The kit works on the basis of molecular identification of oral fluid for the detection of novel coronavirus.
The accuracy of the Iranian test kits is higher than that of the imported ones.
The Pasteur Institute of Iran has approved the test kits, and Iran plans to mass produce them.
The country has received purchase orders for the kits from the Republic of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Romania, Spain and the UK, according to report.
Iran’s speaker rules out talks, compromise with U.S.
Iran’s new Parliament Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf on Sunday ruled out the likelihood of talks with United States, saying the negotiations with Washinton is not for the interests of the country, state TV reported.
The Iranian parliament considers the negotiations and compromise with the United States as “futile and harmful,” he said.
He stressed the strategic policy of the Islamic republic is to expel the U.S. forces from the region.
On Thursday, the new parliament meeting, dominated by the principlists, elected Qalibaf overwhelmingly as the new speaker.
Iran’s COVID-19 cases reach 151,466, with 7,797 deaths
Iran on Sunday registered 63 new deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 7,797, according to state TV.
During an online press conference, Kianush Jahanpur, head of Public Relations and Information Center of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, confirmed 2,516 new infection cases, taking the total cases to 151,466.
He said a total of 118,848 patients have recovered so far, while 2,527 are still in critical condition.
According to the health official, the number of administered lab tests across the country stands at 935,894 as of Sunday.
Iran announced its first cases of COVID-19 on Feb. 19.
Iranian fuel reaches Venezuelan stations as prices set to rise
Fuel shipped from Iran began arriving at Venezuela’s gasoline stations on Saturday, just hours before President Nicolas Maduro announced higher prices at the pump that are set to end more than two decades of almost-free gasoline.
As authorities in the country with the world’s cheapest gasoline got ready to expand retail sales under a system combining subsidies and international prices, the fifth cargo of an Iranian flotilla approached the Caribbean Sea and is expected to reach Venezuelan waters on Sunday, according to Refinitiv Eikon.
Of 1,800 stations in Venezuela, about 240 have remained working since Maduro announced coronavirus-related lockdown measures in March, which included restrictions on fuel sales due to very low inventories.
More than 1,500 stations nationwide are expected to work in the coming days under the new system.
The new system includes monthly quotas for vehicles and motorcycles, automated sales and monitoring equipment.
Despite the price increases, it will cost about $1 to fill a whole tank of a vehicle under the subsidy.
After reaching the quotas, drivers will have to pay internationally indexed prices.
The remaining 200 stations will be supplied by independent companies, so drivers buying at those sites will be charged $0.50 per litre of gasoline and will have to pay in foreign currency.
Lines of drivers began forming at stations on Saturday in cities including Maracay, Valencia and Caracas in anticipation of the gasoline distribution.
Gasoline has been heavily subsidised in Venezuela, which, coupled with hyperinflation in recent years, has made it almost free, but acute scarcity has recently encouraged a black market that has forced people to pay at least $2 per litre.
Venezuela’s refineries, which can produce more than 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of fuel, have worked at less than 20 per cent of their capacity in 2020 mainly due to power outages and lack of spare parts.
As the U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA have also limited the sources and types of products Venezuela can import, Maduro’s socialist administration this year turned to Iran for refining parts and fuel.
The supply has been criticised by the U.S. as both nations are under sanctions.
“Venezuela has the right to buy in the world whatever it wants to buy,’’ Maduro said.
“Fortunately, Venezuela has more friends than what people can imagine.’’
Washington has warned governments, seaports, shipping firms and insurers that they could face sanctions if they aid the Iranian supply, the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, said on Friday.
Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, said his government will use Abrams’ comments as proof in an international case against sanctions.
Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)
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