A Look at the Tri-State’s Active Fault LineMonday, March 14, 2011By Bob Hennelly
The Ramapo Fault is the longest fault in the Northeast that occasionally makes local headlines when minor tremors cause rock the Tri-State region. It begins in Pennsylvania, crosses the Delaware River and continues through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic and Bergen counties before crossing the Hudson River near Indian Point nuclear facility.In the past, it has generated occasional activity that generated a 2.6 magnitude quake in New Jersey’s Peakpack/Gladstone area and 3.0 magnitude quake in Mendham.But the New Jersey-New York region is relatively seismically stable according to Dr. Dave Robinson, Professor of Geography at Rutgers. Although it does have activity.„There is occasional seismic activity in New Jersey,“ said Robinson. „There have been a few quakes locally that have been felt and done a little bit of damage over the time since colonial settlement — some chimneys knocked down in Manhattan with a quake back in the 18th century, but nothing of a significant magnitude.“Robinson said the Ramapo has on occasion registered a measurable quake but has not caused damage: „The Ramapo fault is associated with geological activities back 200 million years ago, but it’s still a little creaky now and again,“ he said.„More recently, in the 1970s and early 1980s, earthquake risk along the Ramapo Fault received attention because of its proximity to Indian Point,“ according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website.Historically, critics of the Indian Point Nuclear facility in Westchester County, New York, did cite its proximity to the Ramapo fault line as a significant risk.In 1884, according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website, the Rampao Fault was blamed for a 5.5 quake that toppled chimneys in New York City and New Jersey that was felt from Maine to Virginia.„Subsequent investigations have shown the 1884 Earthquake epicenter was actually located in Brooklyn, New York, at least 25 miles from the Ramapo Fault,“ according to the New Jersey Geological Survey website.
by Neil Hyatt and Sarah Burkhard
November 30, 2020
Satellite imagery available on Google Earth show that an interesting and previously undocumented expansion of the nuclear fuel reprocessing / plutonium separation facility at the Chashma nuclear complex in Pakistan began in mid-2018. The extension’s exterior appears completed as of September 2020. The reprocessing plant was first identified by ISIS in 2007 and considered to be potentially operational in 2015 2,3 The development of this extension and allied facilities at the Chashma reprocessing plant are analysed herein.
Pakistan first developed plans to acquire reprocessing technology in the 1960s. In 1972, Pakistan entered into talks with Saint Gobain Technique Nouvell (SGN) of France to procure a reprocessing facility with a design capacity of 100 tons of heavy metal (tHM) per year.4 A contract for a basic design was signed in 1973, and another for a detailed design in 1974, but France eventually cancelled the deal in 1978, due to U.S. government concern that the facility would benefit Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. However, construction of the reprocessing facility had already commenced and a considerable amount of design and specification information had already been transferred by SGN to the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Pakistan stated its intent to complete the facility, but failed to find another supplier.5 Construction stalled. Historic imagery shows that the plant became overgrown and remained dormant for many years. No further progress was apparently made until construction resumed some time between 2000 and 2002.6 In the interim, Pakistan built the smaller New Labs reprocessing facility at PINSTECH, near Islamabad, to reprocess spent fuel from the unsafeguarded Khushab I heavy water reactor. In parallel to the resumption of construction at Chashma, an expansion at PINSTECH began which appeared to be a second reprocessing facility, roughly doubling the reprocessing capacity at that location.7
The investment in additional reprocessing capabilities occurred in parallel with the construction of three additional unsafeguarded heavy water reactors at the Khushab site from 2001 – 2015, Khushab II, III, and IV. All four Khushab reactors are believed to be operational and dedicated to plutonium production.8 With the additional Khushab reactors, located approximately 80 km east from Chashma, and 200 km from the New Labs facility, the need for a larger plutonium separation capability is credible.
Additionally, at the Chashma site, four 300 MWe pressurised water reactors (CHASNUPP 1 – 4) were constructed and brought into operation from 2000 – 2017, with a fifth unit planned.9 These reactors operate under IAEA safeguards. A 2019 PAEC slide presentation to an IAEA conference stated an intention for on-site dry storage of the spent nuclear fuel from the CHASNUPP reactors.10 It stated that currently, all spent fuel from Pakistan’s safeguarded reactors is in wet storage. An associated graphic indicates with a question mark that the decision whether to pursue reprocessing of the spent fuel had not yet been made. Already a few years prior, in 2014, a PAEC slide presentation had stated that after dry and wet storage, the fate of the spent fuel had “yet to be decided.”11
Figure 1, a May 2020 Google Earth satellite image, gives an overview of the Chashma nuclear complex, highlighting the four CHASNUPP reactor units and the reprocessing plant. Also highlighted is the likely Kundian fuel production plant (the Kundian Nuclear Complex 1) which manufactures fuel for the KANUPP reactor.
The majority of the apparent construction of the Chashma reprocessing plant and associated facilities lasted from 2002 to 2013 and was documented by ISIS.12 For the reasons given above, the plant’s primary purpose is assumed to be plutonium separation from unsafeguarded heavy water reactors at the Khushab site. The plant may have become operational around 2015, 13 but it is unknown whether the facility continued to operate during the most recent and possibly still on-going constructions.
Figure 1. Overview of the Chashma Nuclear Complex.
Figure 2 shows the reprocessing facility in 2017; a tall, windowless building of concrete construction, and an associated high stack. The building is contained within a security fence, which is further secured by three outer perimeter fences. These signatures are consistent with those expected of such a facility, and open source information locating a reprocessing plant at Chashma14, as previously reported by ISIS.15 Of note is a 5 x 3.5 meters engraved flag of Pakistan at the front personnel entrance to the Chashma facility, first apparent in imagery dated 21 November 2017, which evidently communicates the national significance of the facility. The site further features an ornamental garden, similar to one near New Labs at PINSTECH (see inset in Figure 2). The garden is one of several visible parallels between the two sites.
Figure 2. The Plutonium Separation Facility in 2017, before visible work on the extension began.
Recent Expansion of the Reprocessing Plant
Figure 3, a Google Earth image dated 9 May 2020 shows the presence of a new and previously undocumented extension of the facility near the tall stack.
Imagery shows that construction of the extension started at some point between April and September 2018. Figure 4, dated 19 September 2018, shows the ornamental garden and the paved road adjacent to the reprocessing facility have been removed, and foundations for the new extension, covering an area of approximately 30 x 30 m, have been laid in concrete, with development of exterior and interior walls. The area had been cleared and levelled beforehand, with large amounts of dirt removed and stockpiled across the street. It is evident by the steep slope on the north side, the ramp-like access to the foundation, the staggered levels of earth on the south side, and the amount of dirt piled outside of the construction area that at least part, if not the majority, of the building are designed to be underground.
The construction area has been enclosed by a new fence with two vehicle access points; a vehicle access point to the construction area has also been created in the perimeter security fence. Within the enclosed construction area, a canopy shelter, steel reinforcements, and building materials are visible. A possible connection or entrance to the main reprocessing building on the east face is apparent on magnification, which is more clearly visible in the subsequent Google Earth image dated 10 October 2018 (see inset to Figure 4). Figure 5, the full 10 October 2018 image of the facility, shows that construction had not progressed significantly.
Over a year later, Figure 6, dated 3 January 2020, shows the development of exterior walls to the extension, which are supported by buttresses. Steel reinforcement is observable within the interior of the extension which appears to define three large compartments.
In the following two months, construction of the extension progressed rapidly, as shown by Figure 7, dated 2 March 2020. The exterior walls of the building have been established, as well as an upper floor, which contains two sets of three cells separated by an access way running the length of the extension. The exterior walls, and interior compartment walls, are estimated to be 0.8 m thick and of apparent concrete construction, consistent with a purpose that requires shielding. A Google Earth image dated 9 May 2020 (see Figure 3 and Figure 8) shows further development of the above-ground portion of the extension building, which covers the compartments previously observed. Additional wall structures are visible, which could plausibly be mechanical and electrical plant rooms. On the north side of the extension appear to be three large access ports, which align with the three internal compartments identified in earlier imagery. Figure 9, the most recent Google Earth image, dated 13 September 2020, shows that the exterior and roof of the extension has been completed and the fencing around the construction area has been removed.
Figure 3. The extension to the Plutonium Separation Facility is near external completion in May 2020.
Figure 4. The construction of the extension to the Plutonium Separation Facility at an early stage in September 2018.
Figure 5. By October 2018, a 30 x 30 m foundation for the extension below ground level is visible in Google Earth imagery.
Figure 6. More than a year later, in January 2020, construction of the extension has progressed in height with steel reinforcement.
Figure 7. In this March 2020 Google Earth image the layout of one of the upper stories is visible: six cells with double concrete walls, and a hallway.
Figure 8. The extension is near external completion in May 2020, with a roof structure covering roughly half of the extension.
Figure 9. The extension is externally complete in September 2020.
The new extension has evidently been carefully designed and constructed to assimilate with the main reprocessing facility building, suggesting that it has an integral function. The interior compartments and moderately thick concrete walls suggest the purpose of the extension is to facilitate handling of high dose rate materials, such as spent nuclear fuels or radioactive wastes within shielded containers. The three large access points, and the fact that the extension appears to adjoin an existing access point to the main reprocessing facility building, suggest that the new extension could function to receive and unload irradiated fuel into the processing lines, and shear a different fuel type, such as LWR fuel, prior to chemically processing. Alternatively, or additionally, it could serve to export solid radioactive wastes, such as sheared fuel cladding. There are no other access points to the main reprocessing facility that could serve such a purpose visible in the available Google Earth satellite images.
Historical imagery shows three spur lines emerging from the main railway line which runs to the west of the reprocessing facility (see Figure 10.) In a 2002 image, the earliest available in Google Earth, the tracks and rails have been removed but their signature outline remains. As shown by Figure 10, one of the spur lines bears directly on the reprocessing facility and would have potentially terminated at the tall tower construction highlighted in Figures 5-8. This arrangement suggests that the design of the reprocessing facility intended to receive incoming fuel at the east face by rail transport, consistent with the siting and hypothetical purpose of the new extension building. The tower construction could plausibly house lifting gear or an elevator to move fuel skips from the reception area to the head end cave on an upper floor for shearing.
The original rail transport lines are thought to have been intended to transport fuel from the KANUPP reactor in Karachi – a distance of 900 km. The removal of the rail lines supports the conclusion that the Chashma reprocessing facility is instead separating plutonium from irradiated fuel from the Khushab reactors, located only approximately 80 km due east, or possibly in the future also from nearby Chashma reactors. There is no rail link between the two nuclear sites, which would require spent fuel from Khushab to be transported by road: the features of the extension building appear consistent with this mode of spent fuel reception.
Figure 10. A 2002 image of the Plutonium Separation Facility indicates that spent fuel was originally to be transported by rail and received near the tall tower at the same building side as the new extension.
Analysis of other facilities co-located with the reprocessing plant
Figure 11 compares the reprocessing area in 2002 and 2020, highlighting co-located buildings which appear to be primarily of concrete construction and which may have a support function, given the external signatures and connection to the reprocessing plant via a network of trenches, identified by ISIS in 2015.16
Within the secure area is a building (labelled Building A, 58 x 45 m) which is co-located with a bank of five external cooling fans, to which it appears to be connected by a system of piping, as shown in Figure 11 and 12. This building is observed to have three small stacks mounted to the north face, which is at least one story greater in height than the main building. These signatures are consistent with the need to provide cooling for heat generating activities within the building, the reprocessing facility, or the adjacent structures. The small size of the building relative to the cooling fans seems more consistent with a support function. Alternatively, the building could possibly function as a fissile material store, for which recent modifications to the west face, including a new white roofed structure which could function as an access control point. The adjacent building (B, 82 x 32 m) has a double height section covering most of the footprint. The double height section and its aspect ratio, roof mounted stacks, and large entrance on the east face, are plausibly consistent with a spent fuel storage facility, which would need to accommodate a crane gantry for movement of fuel skips. However, neither of these two buildings (A and B) shows clear external signatures of additional security measures that might be expected if used for storage of fissile materials, such as a further security fence and access checkpoint.
Buildings A and B are present in the earliest available satellite image available on Google Earth, dated 19 October 2002, and the surrounding area appears overgrown, suggesting that they were part of the original phase of development. Indeed, the reprocessing facility and buildings A, B and D are all observable in the earliest available Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper (TM) imagery (30 m resolution) dated to 1988. Notably, no spur line approaching Building B is apparent in the 2002 Google Earth image, which, given the evident intention for spent nuclear fuel to be delivered by rail, may suggest its function as a spent fuel storage facility is less likely. Alternatively, the building could possibly function as a support laboratory.
Outside of the secure area are located a tall concrete building with an associated stack (C, 95 x 40 m) and a low building with what appears to be at least part concrete construction with a (damaged) panelled roof (D, 100 x 30 m). Figure 13 shows the two buildings in May 2020. Both buildings appear to be connected to the reprocessing facility by a concrete lined trench system largely covered by concrete shielding, consistent with transport of high-level waste (HLW). The situation of these buildings outside of the security fence which defines the reprocessing area, suggests that the function of these facilities is not associated with handling of fissile materials. Adjacent to the low building (D), a small building and three large cooling fans are visible, which were constructed during 2009-11. These signatures are consistent with the low building being a tank storage facility for liquid HLW, which requires active cooling to remove decay heat. Also of interest are two approximately one kilometre long trenches connecting this facility with two possible disposal wells beyond the outer perimeter fence, visible in October 18, 2002, imagery shown in Figure 14. These trenches are difficult to identify in more recent imagery, due to overgrowth and the shorter trench being obscured by new development. These trenches may signify an original intention to dispose of some higher activity liquid wastes by borehole injection to the subsurface, as was previously practiced in Russia, for example.
Construction of the tall concrete building (C) and stack was reported by ISIS in 2015, using commercial satellite imagery, at which time the exterior of the building was complete.17 Using historic imagery available in Google Earth, the construction of this facility can be analysed in new and revealing detail, as shown in Figure 15. The first available image showing construction of this facility is dated November 19, 2009; it shows the foundation for the building which is evidently constructed in two wings, each symmetrical about a central spine. The foundations appear to be set at basement level, as shown by the downward slope to the excavation area and shadow profile. The earliest image showing the facility to be externally complete is dated November 26, 2013. The front (west facing) wing of the building is shown in later imagery to have windows and small internal structures, which suggest the presence of shielded compartments at basement level (possibly for radioactive wastes). The rear wing contains at least one very heavily shielded section with external (0.8 m thick) and internal (1.3 m thick) walls, which may be utilised to the full height of the building. This section, uniquely, contains a roof vent, which interfaces with a roof mounted service building with two inlets or outlets; a small additional vent may also be present. This section appears to be connected to the neighbouring annex by underground pipes and an additional pipe to the roof mounted service building. The annex itself has two small stacks mounted on the west wall and exterior pipework is visible on the north wall which may connect to the four fans. Within the large rear wing, internal cells are visible within one of the larger forward sections, which could function as hot cells. Taken together, the external and internal signatures of the rear wing of the building are plausibly consistent with those of a high level waste vitrification facility, which would require: heavy shielding for operational activities; cooling for stored vitrified waste containers; a stack for release of volatile radionuclides (e.g. iodine, ruthenium) and gas emissions; and a buffer store of liquid HLW (located in the adjacent building with co-located cooling fans). The front wing of the building could plausibly accommodate process engineers, managers and support laboratories. Open source information documents a project by PAEC to procure vitrification technology for the immobilisation of high level radioactive wastes arising from nuclear fuel reprocessing, which was in progress during 2007. This information is consistent with Google Earth satellite imagery dated 17 August 2007, which appears to show ground clearance in preparation for construction of the possible vitrification facility, the foundations of which are present in the subsequent imagery dated November 19, 2009.
The scale of this facility deserves comment. If the footprint of the rear wing (40 x 67 m, or 2,680 m2) is assumed to include the vitrification plant itself and storage facility for vitrified HLW canisters (plausibly, the heavily shielded, ventilated, rear section), then it is comparable with the Tokai Vitrification Facility (TVF), Japan, for which these functions are accommodated in a plant occupying a footprint of 2,600m2 (in a five storey building, including two basement levels).18 The TVF plant entered operation in 1992, to immobilise HLW from the Tokai Reprocessing Plant. The design capacity of the Tokai Reprocessing Plant was 90 tHM / year (for LWR fuel), similar to the estimated 100 thM capacity of the Chashma plant (for PHWR fuel). Thus, the footprint of the possible vitrification facility is plausibly consistent with that required to support sustained operation of the Chashma reprocessing plant.
There is no open source information persuasive of indigenous development of HLW vitrification technology in Pakistan. The sheer scale of the possible HLW vitrification plant at Chashma would therefore imply a hitherto unknown research and development programme, and facilities, associated with the pilot scale New Labs reprocessing facility at PINSTECH, or the contribution of expert foreign support. Furthermore, the expansion of the waste management area facilities demonstrates preparation for treatment and storage of a substantial waste inventory arising from the reprocessing facility.
Some internal and external signatures of the possible HLW vitrification facility are also consistent with a second reprocessing plant, spent fuel storage, or intermediate level waste treatment plant. However, the absence of a security fence and features associated with a fuel receipt capability, with respect to a reprocessing and fuel storage function, and the presence of the emissions stack with regard to the spent fuel storage and intermediate level waste treatment function, mean these are less plausible hypotheses.
Figure 11. A comparison of the buildings associated with the Plutonium Separation Facility in 2002 and 2020. Three of the four key buildings appear to have been part of the original design of the site; the fourth was added to the site in 2007-2009.
Figure 12. Visible key features of two of the original buildings associated with the Plutonium Separation Facility.
Figure 13. The buildings of interest are connected to one another and the Plutonium Separation Facility by a network of trenches, some of which are concrete-shielded.
Figure 14. One of original buildings of interest (here shown in 2002) shows features consistent with a HLW tank storage facility.
Figure 15. One of the buildings of interest was added to the site more recently; construction was first visible in Google Earth in 2009 imagery and external construction was largely complete by 2011. This figure shows the building from 2009 to 2018 (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right).
Development of possible waste management area
ISIS previously identified a possible waste management area, connected to the reprocessing plant in 2007,19 which has developed considerably over the last decade, as shown in Figure 16. In this area, some buildings of concrete construction, possibly lightly shielded waste treatment facilities, are linked to the reprocessing plant by a trench network. These trenches are not concrete lined and are filled in with earth, rather than covered by concrete shielding, suggesting the transport of low or intermediate level liquid wastes. The waste management area has been progressively developed over the last decade at least, with refurbishment and possibly re-roofing of original surface disposal cells in 2011, construction of new storage facilities between 2013-2020, and development of new access roads.
Open source information reports the development of a regional interim waste storage facility at the CHASNUPP 1 (C-1) site,20 which refers to the location of the safeguarded PWR reactor. The facility, reported to be under construction in 2014, includes over-packing and storage facilities. The over-packing building (22 x 22 x 5m) is dedicated to cement over-packing of mild steel waste drums of solid / solidified wastes, in reinforced concrete containers, with concrete capping. The storage building (65 x 22 x 5 m) is stated to accommodate 1,000 reinforced concrete containers, stacked thee high. These buildings were located on the CHASNUPP 1 site, as shown in Figure 16, and construction is verified to have been in progress in November 2013, using historical Google Earth imagery. The dimensions of these facilities match that of four new buildings on the waste management site, developed between 2013-2020, and one original building, suggesting these may have an identical function. Also visible in the most recent image of the waste management area are characteristic yellow coloured mild steel waste drums, present on the concrete apron of the surface storage and disposal facilities, which are documented to be used for cement encapsulated solid waste and disposed in near surface trenches at PINSTECH.21 Therefore, the other buildings of concrete construction in the waste management area are likely to be cement encapsulation facilities, which would be required to manage the stripped fuel cladding and other wastes from the reprocessing facility in line with international practice.
Figure 16. A possible waste management area, connected to the reprocessing facility, has developed considerably over the last decade. This figure shows the possible waste management area over time from 2002 to 2020 (top left, top right, middle left, middle right, and bottom left) and identified new storage facilities which appear externally identical to a storage facility as CHASNUPP-1 (bottom right).
Analysis of recent and historic public domain satellite imagery has identified a significant and previously undocumented extension to the Chashma reprocessing plant and considerable development of co-located infrastructure over the last decade. The siting and both internal and external signatures of the new extension building suggest that its function may be an increased capacity to receive spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing transported by road. If this is indeed the function of the extension, then it can be reasonably interpreted to signal an intention to scale up fuel throughput and reprocessing (which may have already commenced, at least in a commissioning capacity). At a minimum, the extension to the plutonium separation plant and associated facilities at Chashma demonstrates an on-going commitment to invest in and operate plutonium separation technology at industrial scale. It is not clear from satellite imagery whether the Chashma reprocessing plant has continued to operate during the construction. If not, the pace and scale of recent infrastructure developments signal that resumption of reprocessing activity may be expected in the near future.
This is supported by the wider development of the site infrastructure. A review of historic imagery has recognised external and internal signatures of previously identified buildings as consistent with those expected of a HLW tank storage facility and HLW vitrification facility.
By Justine Calma on November 30, 2020 11:42 am
It’s just been crazy,” says Allison Wing an assistant professor of meteorology at Florida State University. “For the forecasters and scientists involved I think everyone is really just a bit tired at this point and kind of ready for it to be over.”
“ THIS WAS THE MOST ACTIVE ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON EVER DOCUMENTED”
This was the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever documented. Thirteen storms strengthened into hurricanes, the second highest number in recorded history. Thirty storms grew strong enough to earn a name, beating 2005’s record of 28 storms. The World Meteorological Organization actually ran out of storm names by September, turning to the Greek alphabet for labels for the first time since 2005. For comparison, an average season only has a dozen named storms.
Researchers knew this year would be a doozy from the beginning. “All of the things pointed in the direction of having a very active season, and then it came to fruition,” says Matthew Rosencrans, a meteorologist at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
Sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic were warmer than usual, fueling stronger storms. The West African monsoon, a major wind system that can influence storms over the Atlantic, was also stronger this year. There was also weaker vertical wind shear over the Atlantic, which is good news for hurricanes since stronger wind shear can tear the storms apart. The season became even busier when a La Nina climate pattern developed in September and weakened the wind shear even more.
“ “ONE OF THE MOST NOTABLE THINGS ABOUT 2020 IS JUST ALL THESE STORMS RAPIDLY INTENSIFYING.”
While a busy season was predictable, nine storms this season threw additional curveballs at forecasters when they rapidly intensified as they approached land. “To me, that’s one of the most notable things about 2020 is just all these storms rapidly intensifying up to or almost up to the point of landfall,” says Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.
Storms that gain power so quickly can be especially dangerous because it gives people less time to prepare for the fierce winds and rising waters. There are only two other years — 1995 and 2010 — with nine rapidly intensifying storms on the books, according to Klotzbach. Unfortunately, rapid intensification appears to be happening more often as global average temperatures continue to rise.
The fury of these intense storms was not evenly distributed. Some places got hit repeatedly, with barely any room between storms to brace themselves. Eta and Iota devastated Nicaragua and Honduras within two weeks of each other this November. Iota, the strongest hurricane on record to strike Nicaragua, triggered catastrophic flooding and landslides; at least 40 people have died across Central America and Columbia as a result. Louisiana was hard hit, too. Five storms, nearly half of all of the storms that made landfall in the US this year, struck the state. The most devastating was Hurricane Laura, which made landfall with category 4 strength and killed at least 23 people in the state. Iota and Laura pushed tens of thousands more from their homes.
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season was horrible, but by some measures, it still pales in comparison to 2005. While 2020 had more storms, 2005 had stronger storms. Thankfully, no single storm this year matched the pain wrought by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina which killed well over 1,000 people.
“ FORECASTERS ARE STILL AT WORK”
Now, the season is formally over, but 2020 isn’t one to stick with formalities. Officially, the season begins on June 1st each year and ends on November 30th. But this year, the first named storm, Arthur, developed in May. That made this the sixth consecutive year that a storm earned its name before June 1st. Normally, the Atlantic’s season follows a curve, with the busiest part of the season in September before gradually tapering off. This year, some of the strongest hurricanes — Eta and Iota — struck unusually late, and they may not be the last storms to form. Just like it disregarded the official start to the season, 2020 may persist past its official end. There’s no guarantee that we won’t see more stragglers through December.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — At least seven people died and more than 60 were wounded on Friday and Saturday during clashes between protesters and supporters of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Nasiriyah.
Protesters in the city’s Habboubi Square were reportedly forced out of their tents and shot at by Sadr supporters, leaving at least seven people dead and scores wounded in a city which has significant bloodshed since demonstrations began last October.
“Sadrists armed with guns and pistols came to try to clear our tents. We fear that more violence could take place,” Mohammad al-Khayyat, a leader of the anti-government movement told AFP.
On November 28 last year, more than three dozen people died in protest-related violence at Nasiriyah’s Zeitun Bridge.
Iraqi counter-terror services were sent to the city on the orders of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to rescue a kidnapped activist in September.
Tens of thousands of Sadr supporters took to the streets of Baghdad and Nasiriyah at the weekend to express their support for the Shiite cleric – also head of the Sairoon Coalition, the largest parliamentary bloc – ahead of next year’s elections.
Sadr called on his supporters last week to gather at Baghdad’s Tahrir square – the epicenter of Iraq’s protest movement – to perform Friday prayers, hoping that this would clean up the “atheism” that he said has taken over the city’s streets.
“After Tahrir Square became a place for infidelity and disobedience of God… it is our duty as believers to raise the name of God in the square,” Sadr wrote on Monday.
He then took to Twitter on Friday to thank his supporters for mobilizing.
“Today, you gave me hope that the upcoming elections are in good hands, and Iraq will be taken out of the hands of corrupt people from outside and inside Iraq,” Sadr tweeted.
However, the cleric later called for an end to violence, asking the people of Nasiriyah to “not fight among themselves.”
“The people need to come together for the upcoming democratic process for their rights to not be taken away from them,” he added.
The cleric previously threatened a “million person march” back in February, amid delays appointing a government cabinet.
Eleven people died and more than 200 were injured after Sadr supporters stormed a Najaf protest camp in February.
The prime minister’s office on Sunday announced the formation of a body led by National Security Advisor Qassim Al-Araji to “restore stability” in Dhi Qar province.
The US Embassy in Baghdad also expressed concern regarding the “unjustifiable” violence.
“The United States condemns the violence against peaceful protestors that took place in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar today. These unjustifiable acts of violence have no place in a democracy,” the embassy said on Saturday.
“The United States joins the international community in calling for those responsible to be held accountable, and for the government to provide protection for protestors and others engaged in the legitimate exercise of free speech,” it added.
Iran intends to give a “calculated and decisive” response to the murder of its top nuclear scientist. A top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently claimed that the country intends to respond soon.
“Undoubtedly, Iran will give a calculated and decisive answer to the criminals who took Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh from the Iranian nation,” Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, announced in a statement.
Fakhrizadeh was for long suspected to be at the helm a secret nuclear weapons programme for Iran by the West and Israel.
On Friday, he was gunned down in his car after a group of assailants ambushed him. Top leaders in Iran have repeatedly blamed Israel for the killing. The country has blamed Israel for a series of murders of Israeli scientists since 2010.
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged ‘punishing’ those who were behing Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s killing. Fakhrizadeh was a top nuclear scientist in Iran and was assassinated on Friday. Khamenei added that Fkhrizadeh’s work must be taken forward.
Khamenei called for “following up on this crime and certainly punishing the perpetrators and those responsible, and … continuing the scientific and technical efforts of this martyr in all of the fields he was working in”. His statement was published on his official website.
Khamenei called Mohsen Fakhrizadeh a “prestigious nuclear and defence scientist” and said he was “martyred by the hands of criminal and cruel mercenaries”.
“This unparallelled scientist gave his dear and valuable life to God because of his great and lasting scientific efforts, and the high prize of martyrdom is his divine reward,” he added.
Fakhrizadeh was “martyred” after being seriously wounded when assailants targeted his car and engaged in a gunfight with his bodyguards outside the capital Tehran on Friday, according to Iran’s defence ministry. The ministry said that the scientist, who headed its research and innovation organisation, died after medics failed to revive him.
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Marnell Maglasang directs an F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) on Nov. 27, 2020. Nimitz, the flagship of Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean and three critical chokepoints to the free flow of global commerce. (Cheyenne Geletka/U.S. Navy)
The aircraft carrier Nimitz and its strike group have returned to the Persian Gulf region amid rising tensions with Iran over the killing of a top nuclear scientist, the Pentagon and the U.S. 5th Fleet said Friday.
In statements, both the Defense Department and a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said the return of the Nimitz was to provide security for the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
The announcement of the carrier’s presence came as Iran vowed retaliation for the ambush east of Tehran Friday that killed nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
The deployment of the Nimitz “ensures we have sufficient capability available to respond to any threat and to deter any adversary from acting against our troops during the force reduction” in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Pentagon officials.
“There were no specific threats that triggered the return of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group,” Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet, said in a statement.
The Nimitz and its strike group arrived in the region in July. Earlier in November, left the Gulf area for naval exercises with India, Australia and Japan, according to the Navy.
In a message Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameinei called Fakhrizadeh a martyr and ordered “the definite punishment of those who perpetrated and ordered it,” Iran’s Fars news agency reported.
Without naming those responsible, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), said “harsh revenge and punishment is on the agenda for them,” Fars reported.
Other Iranian officials blamed Israel and its Mossad spy agency for the attack.
In a Cabinet meeting Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country would “respond to the assassination of Martyr Fakhrizadeh in a proper time,” Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported.
“The Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the Zionists. They are thinking to create chaos,” Rouhani said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
Phil Harris29 November 2020
By Sean Buchanan
LONDON (IDN) – “The UN said some three years ago that it expects Gaza to become ‘unliveable’ by 2020,” recalls Majed Abusalama, award-winning Palestinian journalist, scholar, campaigner and human rights defender.
“Since then, Israel not only refused to take action to reverse Gaza’s rapid deterioration into a post-apocalyptic wasteland but intensified its attacks on the Strip, hindering efforts by activists, NGOs and locals to keep this open prison habitable for a little longer. With the novel coronavirus now spreading throughout refugee camps and communities across Gaza, we cannot afford to wait any longer for the world to acknowledge our suffering and take action.”
In the light of a recent UNCTAD report, Abusalama’s words ring prophetic.
The report, entitled ‘Economic costs of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people: the Gaza Strip under closure and restrictions’, notes that Gaza’s economy is on the verge of collapse, with damage from Israel’s military operations estimated at around six times the Palestinian enclave’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, or 107 per cent of the total Palestinian GDP.
Israeli military operations and the prolonged closure of the Gaza Strip caused economic damage of 16.7 billion dollars between 2007 and 208, driving the poverty rate up almost fourfold compared with what it might have been otherwise, said the report published on November 25
Gaza’s poverty rate stood at 40 per cent in 2007 but would have fallen to 15 per cent in 2017 if not for the prolonged military operations; instead, it has now risen to 56 per cent.
The depth of inequality is also far more severe than it could have been, says the report. The “poverty gap”, a measure of how far from the poverty line households are on average, was 20 per cent in 2017 but would have been around 4.2 per cent if not for the impact of military operations.
Between 2007 and 2017, Gaza’s economy grew by five per cent, or less than half a percentage point per year and its share in the overall Palestinian economy halved from 37 per cent to 18 per cent, UNCTAD’s Coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, Mahmoud Elkhafif, told a press conference.
The report aimed to quantify the impact of three major rounds of Israeli military hostilities since 2008 and the prolonged economic and movement restrictions imposed since Hamas took control in the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Since then, two million Palestinians have been subject to a prolonged Israeli closure and severe economic and movement restrictions that in effect amount to a blockade in the 365 square kilometres Gaza Strip. Moreover, the Gaza Strip has been the subject of three major rounds of military hostilities since 2008.
“The result is the near-collapse of the regional Gaza economy while trade is severely restricted from the rest of the Palestinian economy and the world,” says the report.
“Lifting what amounts to the blockade of Gaza is essential for it to trade freely with the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the world and restore the right to free movement for business, medical care, education, recreation and family bonds. Only by fully lifting the debilitating closure, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1860 of 2009, can we hope to sustainably resolve the humanitarian crisis.”
Most people in Gaza have no access to safe water, regular and reliable electricity supply or even a proper sewage system.
UNCTAD’s analysis of the potential economic upside of ending Israeli military operations and travel restrictions did not include wider benefits to the Palestinian people, such as the income from a natural gas field off the shores of Gaza.
The report recommends the Palestinian government should be allowed to develop those energy resources, and Gaza’s economic potential should be boosted with investments in seaports, airports and water and electricity projects.
Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies, said the two million Palestinians living in Gaza are now facing a health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he added that there was “cautious optimism” that the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden could lead to a positive change of tone in Washington, DC.
“That obviously raises hopes that there may be changes in the relationship between Israel and Palestine,” he said.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on November 18, UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov told ambassadors that Gaza remains the most pressing concern as the territory is ill-equipped to face a major spike in COVID-19 cases due to poor living conditions and a fragile healthcare system.
He warned that any major outbreak of the disease would have a catastrophic impact on the two million Palestinians living there, who are already affected by severe movement and access restrictions, cycles of violent escalation, and years of humanitarian crisis.
“For these reasons, I welcome the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civilian and security coordination with Israel. I express my appreciation to Israel for confirming that existing bilateral agreements continue to govern relations between both parties, particularly in the context of economic, security and civilian affairs.” He said.
Mladenov reported that the UN and its partners continue to provide critical humanitarian development and assistance in Gaza, as unemployment and hunger have soared during the pandemic.
Roughly 121,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs, while some 40 per cent of all households have seen their incomes drop by more than half.
Assistance provided by the UN and partners has included the delivery of nearly 85,000 COVID-19 tests, advanced laboratory equipment, ventilators, monitors and other items.
However, Mladenov also expressed hope that the restart of coordination will bring an end to temporary measures brokered by the UN which have facilitated the transfer of patients out of Gaza and allowed for humanitarian supplies to be imported into the territory.
COVID-19 is only the latest suffering to have afflicted a beleaguered Palestinian territory and the situation its inhabitants face day after day is summed up by activist Abusalama.
“Growing up in Gaza, I always felt a sense of emergency. My family was always prepared for the worst because the worst could knock on our door at any time, as it did during the attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014.
“As a child, I knew that living in fear every single day was not normal. In my heart, I rejected the normalisation of everyday horrors, because I did not want to lose touch with my humanity. Yet I eventually had to come to terms with the situation I was born into and my surroundings.
“Now, my niece and thousands of other children living under Israeli siege in Gaza, are growing up with the same fears and the same sense of constant emergency. As they try to sleep through the sounds of bombs and protect their toys from the horrors that are just outside the door, they are being forced to accept as normal a violent reality that no child should ever even witness.
“In recent years, there has barely been a day in which Israel did not bomb, shoot into, or physically invade what is not only one of the most densely populated areas on the planet but also a place which has been besieged for more than 13 years, with major shortages of the basics required for normal human life. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 November 2020]
Photo: Families in Gaza receive food baskets through the UNRWA home delivery programme. Credit: UNRWA/Khalil Adwan