Heavy air pollution shuts schools in Iran
Iran shut primary schools in the capital and other parts of the country on Sunday due to choking levels of air pollution.
Local authorities late Saturday announced the closure of all primary schools in the province of Tehran, which is home to 14 million residents, except in two towns.
A blanket of smog has covered neighborhoods in the capital in the past few days.
Airborne concentration of fine particles (PM2.5) hit 185 micrograms per cubic meter in the south of Tehran and 174 in its center on Sunday morning, local authorities said.
That is far above the World Health Organization recommended maximum of 25 micrograms per m3 over a 24-hour period.
Authorities also ordered mines and cement factories in Tehran Province to close and reinforced regular traffic restrictions in the capital’s center.
They called on the elderly, children, pregnant women and people with heart problems to stay indoors.
In the northwestern cities of Tabriz and Orumieh, schools remained closed for the second day straight on Sunday, IRNA said.
Every year, Tehran suffers some of the worst pollution in the world when cool temperatures cause an effect known as “temperature inversion”.
The phenomenon creates a layer of warm air above the city that traps pollution from more than eight million cars and motorbikes.
In 2014, almost 400 people were hospitalized with heart and respiratory problems caused by pollution in Tehran. Nearly 1,500 others required treatment.
The Health Ministry estimated that pollution in 2012 contributed to the premature deaths of 4,500 people in Tehran and about 80,000 across the country.
Iran, Oman to launch new shipping route
A senior trade official announced that a new shipping route between Iran’s Khorramshahr Port and Oman’s Sohar Port will be launched on December 30.
“The Iran-Oman Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mining and Agriculture identifies the obstacles and provides the infrastructure for developing exports between the two countries,” Chairman of Iran-Oman Joint Chamber of Commerce Mosen Zarrabi was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
He noted that another route between Chabahar and Sohar will be launched in the near future.
“According to our agreements with the Oman Free Trade Zones Organization, Iranian companies can register a company in the country without the need to export goods,” Zarabi said.
“We have also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sohar Free Trade Zone which will increase the volume of Iran’s date export to the country to 300,000 tons a year if implemented,” he added.
In relevant remarks in June, Iranian Ambassador to Oman Mohammad Reza Nouri Shahroudi and Chairman of Oman’s State Council Yahya bin Mahfoudh al-Mantheri in a meeting discussed ways to broaden bilateral ties.
During the meeting in Muscat, Nouri Shahroudi and Yahya reviewed the ways to expand parliamentary relations between the two countries’ parliaments.
The two sides stressed that the long-standing relations between Iran and Oman are an indication of wisdom and prudence of the two countries’ senior officials.
Iran: Aviation giants to fund plane purchases
Iran’s aviation officials played down speculations that the administration of US President Donald Trump would block sales of planes to the country and say they expect purchases to move ahead faster because mechanisms to fund the campaigns are being worked out by plane-makers, themselves.
On the same front, Iran’s national flag-carrier airline Iran Air said European aviation giant Airbus had announced readiness to finance its plane purchases, Press TV reported.
The announcement was made by Iran Air Managing Director Farzaneh Sharafbafi who said representatives from Airbus were in Tehran to discuss the matter.
Sharafbafi further added that her company would nonetheless continue negotiations with potential financers.
Ali Abedzadeh, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization (CAO), also said that apart from Airbus, Boeing and ART had also agreed to fund a certain section of Iran’s plane purchases.
In December 2016, Boeing sealed deals with Iran’s flag-carrier airliner Iran Air over sales of 80 jets valued at $16.6 billion. They include 50 narrow-body Boeing 737 passenger jets and 30 wide-body 777 aircraft. Iran Air also sealed deals with Airbus over purchases of 100 planes worth $18-20 billion at list prices and has already received three of them.
Sharafbafi said a total sum of $330 million had already been allocated from the National Development Fund to fund Iran Air plane purchases.
The official emphasized that certain payments to the same effect had already been made to Airbus as a result of which three jets from the European plane-maker and six from its Italian-Franco offshoot ATR had been purchased.
Both officials were reacting to a report by the Wall Street Journal that Trump’s administration was considering blocking planned sales of hundreds of passenger planes by Boeing and Airbus to Iranian airlines.
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Thousands flee as wildfire ‘beast’ grows to California’s third-largest
A raging California wildfire powered by fierce winds grew into the third-largest in state history on Saturday as forced evacuations turned neighborhoods into ghost towns and ash fell in some areas like heavy snow.
High winds and dry conditions remained through the weekend to power the so-called Thomas Fire in Southern California. It has destroyed more than 1,000 structures and threatened 18,000 more since erupting on Dec. 4, including homes in the wealthy enclave of Montecito just outside the coastal city of Santa Barbara, Reuters reported on Sunday.
“It is a beast,” Santa Barbara County Fire Department Division Chief Martin Johnson told a news conference.
Nearly 8,500 personnel using nearly 1,000 engines and 32 helicopters were battling the blaze, which was 40 percent contained on Saturday evening. It has become the seventh-most destructive in state history, officials said.
A new evacuation order was issued for parts of Santa Barbara County on Saturday as high winds whipped the fire through bone-dry terrain.
In Montecito, smoke billowing from nearby canyons and pushed by the high winds choked the air, hindering aircraft from dropping flame retardant, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said.
The wildfire forced many schools to close for days, shut roads and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. It was also responsible for poor air quality throughout Southern California.
The total cost of fighting the fire had come to more than $110 million by Saturday evening, as flames blazing over steep hills lit up the night skies.
This year has been unprecedented for California in terms of structures lost and the size of the wildfires, officials said. Five of 20 most destructive fires in recorded history ravaged the state in 2017, according to Cal Fire.
The vast landscape charred by the blaze, centered fewer than 100 miles (160 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, reached 267,500 acres (108,253 hectares) late on Saturday. The largest wildfire in state history was the 2003 Cedar blaze in San Diego County that consumed 273,246 acres and caused 15 deaths.
The hot Santa Ana winds have propelled the fire’s expansion, at times sending embers far ahead of its main flank.
Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson, 32, died on Thursday while battling the flames near the Ventura County community of Fillmore. Fire officials said Iverson, the blaze’s first fatality, left behind a pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter.
He died of smoke inhalation and burns, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office said.
Key oil players presented Azadegan plans: Official
Several leading oil and gas players have submitted the results of their studies over the development of one of its biggest oil prospects – Azadegan oilfield.
Ali Kardor, the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), was quoted by Press TV as saying that the companies included Total, Royal/Dutch Shell, CNPC and Inpex.
Kardor emphasized that the NIOC was already studying the studies presented by the companies. He added that several more had requested more time to present their technical evaluations over Azadegan, but did not name them.
Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh announced earlier last week that the tender proceedings over the project – known as Iran’s biggest oil find in decades – had already started.
Zanganeh also said that if things proceed as normal, a deal over Azadegan was likely to be sealed before next summer.
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UNSC weighs measure rejecting US Beit-ul-Moqaddas bid
The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution affirming that any change to the status of Beit-ul-Moqaddas has no legal effect and must be reversed, in response to the US decision to recognize the city as Israel’s capital.
Egypt circulated the draft text, and diplomats said the council could vote on the proposed measure as early as Monday, AFP reported.
Breaking with the international consensus, US President Donald Trump this month announced that he would recognize Beit-ul-Moqaddas as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, sparking protests and strong condemnation.
The draft resolution stresses that Beit-ul-Moqaddas is an issue “to be resolved through negotiations” and expresses “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem (Beit-ul-Moqaddas),” without specifically mentioning Trump’s move.
“Any decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem (Beit-ul-Moqaddas) have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded,” it said.
Diplomats said they expected the United States to use its veto power to block the measure while most, if not all, of the 14 other council members were expected to back the draft resolution.
Israel illegally occupied and seized control of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and sees the whole of Beit-ul-Moqaddas as its undivided capital. The Palestinians view the east as the capital of their future state.
The draft resolution calls on all countries to refrain from opening embassies in Beit-ul-Moqaddas, reflecting concerns that other governments could follow the US lead.
It demands that all member-states not to recognize any actions that are contrary to UN resolutions on the status of the city.
Several UN resolutions call on Israel to withdraw from territory seized during the 1967 war and have reaffirmed the need to end the occupation of that land.
The Palestinians had sought a toughly-worded draft resolution that would have directly called on the US administration to scrap its decision.
But some US allies on the council such as Britain, France, Egypt, Japan and Ukraine were reluctant to be too hard-hitting and insisted that the proposed measure should reaffirm the position enshrined in current resolutions, diplomats said.
Indonesians protest against Trump’s Beit-ul-Moqaddas decision
Tens of thousands of Indonesian Muslims took to the streets in the country’s capital Jakarta, denouncing US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Beit-ul-Moqaddas as Israel’s “capital.”
Some 80,000 protesters — by police estimates — marched from the main mosque in the Indonesian capital to a square in front of the US Embassy on Sunday, calling on Washington to retract the controversial decision, Press TV reported.
The rally was organized by the Indonesia Ulema Council, the country’s top Muslim clerical body, and supported by the government as well as various Muslim groups and Islamic organizations.
Dressed mostly in white, the protesters chanted “God is greatest,” waved Palestinian flags, and held up banners that read, “Peace, love and free Palestine.”
An Indonesian police spokesman said 20,000 police and members of the military had been deployed in the area to ensure security. Police also held back the protesters behind coils of barbed wire outside the US Embassy in Jakarta.
“We are here with all of our Indonesian Muslim brothers. We convey our aspiration to our brothers in Palestine. I hope that they will have their freedom and Allah give them power and patience so that they can get their independence just like ours,” a protester said.
Indonesia’s religious affairs minister and Jakarta’s governor were also among those at the protest site.
Reading from a petition due to be handed to the US ambassador in Indonesia, Anwar Abbas, who is the secretary general of the Indonesian Ulema Council, called on all Indonesians to stop buying American products until Trump revokes his decision.
“We urge all countries to reject the unilateral and illegal decision of President Donald Trump to make Jerusalem Israel’s capital,” Abbas told the crowd.
Trump announced that his administration would recognize Beit-ul-Moqaddas as Israel’s “capital” and relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Beit-ul-Moqaddas on December 6.
That announcement was only welcomed by Israel. Saudi Arabia’s response was also conspicuously muted.
Demonstrations were held in protest in the occupied Palestinian territories, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, and other Muslim countries.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) convened an emergency meeting to call on all Muslim nations to respond by pressing the world for the recognition of East Beit-ul-Moqaddas as the capital of a Palestinian state.
Israel annexed East Beit-ul-Moqaddas after it occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan Heights during the Six-Day War of 1967. That annexation has never been recognized by the international community.
Ronaldo remains motivated for more trophies
Cristiano Ronaldo expects to continue his “trajectory” and win more trophies at Real Madrid after scoring the winner against Gremio in Saturday’s Club World Cup final.
The Portugal international, 32, curled home a free-kick as Real became the first team to win back-to-back titles, BBC reported.
Ronaldo won a fifth Ballon d’Or earlier this month and crowned himself “the best player in history”.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” he said.
“I am very happy, I remain very motivated to keep winning things at a collective and individual level.
“I still feel strong enough to continue my trajectory as a player and to win trophies, which is what I like most.”
Saturday’s victory in Abu Dhabi was a record-equaling third Club World Cup win for Real, who also triumphed in 2014, matching Barcelona’s achievement.
89 days per trophy
Real Madrid’s 1-0 victory over Gremio saw Zidane win yet another trophy as the club’s coach, since taking over he has averaged a trophy every 89 days with the Spanish giant.
From the time he arrived at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to the night of the Club World Cup final, there have been 10 possible trophies the French coach could have won, and he’s claimed eight of them, Marca reported.
His 2017 has been almost unmatchable; his haul of five titles within the calendar year has the former Juventus midfielder right up there with the very best.
January 2016 saw Zidane appointed after the disastrous failure of the Rafa Benitez experiment; his first success came with the Champions League of the 2015/16 season as Los Blancos overcame their fierce rival Atletico Madrid in a penalty shootout in Milan.
Next came the UEFA Super Cup over Sevilla before Zidane lifted the first of two Club World Cups with a victory over Kashima Antlers.
Los Blancos’ pursuit of the La Liga title in the 2016/17 season bordered on an obsession, from the top of the organization right through to the bottom, few were more invested in such a challenge than the Frenchman himself.
He duly delivered, before winning the Champions League again becoming the first coach of the modern era to lift it in consecutive campaigns.
In less than two years in the job, Zidane has moved into second place on the all-time leaderboard for successful Real Madrid coaches.
Only Miguel Munoz has won more trophies, who’s haul stands at 14.
“It is a great moment for all Madridistas and everyone who loves this club. There have been some great brilliant moments and we are witnessing them first hand,” Zidane said in a press conference.
“We have to enjoy today, the balance is good and we must continue in this manner. We are going home to relax, and then turn our attentions to El Clasico.”
The Real Madrid coach added, “We have won our fifth (trophy) this year and we will keep on. Now we must enjoy, rest up and think about the rest of the season.”
2,800-year-old skeleton unearthed in western Iran
The remains of a body, buried in ancient times, was unearthed during construction activities in a neighborhood in Hamadan, said the supervisor of ancient excavations in the western Iranian city.
“The body remains belong to a 10-year-old boy”, said Mohammad Sha’bani, adding that they are the oldest body remains so far discovered in the city, IRNA wrote.
Another ancient body remains has also been unearthed in another section of the same construction site at the Imam Khomeini Square which is under examination by the experts, he said.
He said that no historical items were found buried with the body.
“Some items have already been unearthed in the area, including a pillar base, belonging most probably to the Seleucid Empire (312 BC to 63 BC), a mill stone, and an oil crock”, Sha’bani added.
In the paving process of the Imam Khomeini Square, and Ekbatan Street in Hamedan, two broken earthen coffins, dating back to the Parthian period (247 BC – 224 AD), and some other pottery, belonging to the Median period through the Islamic era, have been also found.
Bombers attack church in Pakistan; eight dead
A suicide bomb attack on a Pakistan church claimed by the Daesh terror group killed at least eight people and wounded 30 during a service on Sunday, just over a week before Christmas.
Two women were among the dead at a Methodist church in the restive southwestern city of Quetta in Balochistan Province, said Provincial Home Secretary Akbar Harifal, AFP reported.
Several of the wounded were in serious condition, police said.
Officials said police intercepted and shot dead one attacker outside the church before he could detonate his bomb. But the second managed to reach the church’s main door, where he blew himself up.
“Police were quick to react and stop the attackers from entering into the main hall,” said provincial police chief, Moazzam Jah.
Each attacker was carrying 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of explosives plus grenades, said civil defense official, Aslam Tareen.
in a brief statement on its Amaq propaganda outlet, Daesh claimed responsibility.
Balochistan Provincial Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti said that around 250 people normally attend the church on Sundays, but the congregation had swelled to around 400 because it was close to Christmas.
“God forbid, if the terrorists had succeeded in their plans, more than 400 precious lives would have been at stake,” tweeted the home minister.
Hours after the attack, reports surfaced that a total of four attackers had been involved, with two escaping.
Senior police official Abdul Razzaq Cheema said investigators were analyzing CCTV footage to check the claim and had launched a search for any further suspects.
Christians make up an estimated 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people and have long faced discrimination.