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‘A time bomb’: Anger rising in a hot spot of Iran protests

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‘A time bomb’: Anger rising in a hot spot of Iran protests

SULIMANIYAH, Iraq (AP) — Growing up under a repressive system, Sharo, a 35-year-old university graduate, never thought she would hear words of open rebellion spoken out loud. Now she herself chants slogans like “Death to the Dictator!” with a fury she didn’t know she had, as she joins protests calling for toppling the country’s rulers.

Sharo said that after three weeks of protests, triggered by the death of a young woman in the custody of the feared morality police, anger at the authorities is only rising, despite a bloody crackdown that has left dozens dead and hundreds in detention.

“The situation here is tense and volatile,” she said, referring to the city of Sanandaj in the majority Kurdish home district of the same name in northwestern Iran, one of the hot spots of the protests.

“We are just waiting for something to happen, like a time-bomb,” she said, speaking to The Associated Press via Telegram messenger service.

The anti-government protests in Sanandaj, 300 miles (500 kilometers) from the capital, are a microcosm of the leaderless protests that have roiled Iran.

Led largely by women and youth, they have evolved from spontaneous mass gatherings in central areas to scattered demonstrations in residential areas, schools and universities as activists try to evade an increasingly brutal crackdown.

Tensions rose again Saturday in Sanandaj after rights monitors said two protesters were shot dead and several were wounded, following a resumption of demonstrations. Residents said there has been a heavy security presence in the city, with constant patrols and security personnel stationed on major streets.

The Associated Press spoke to six female activists in Sanandaj who said suppression tactics, including beatings, arrests, the use of live ammunition and internet disruptions make it difficult at times to keep the momentum going. Yet protests persist, along with other expressions of civil disobedience, such as commercial strikes and drivers honking horns at security forces.

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The activists in the city spoke on the condition their full names be withheld fearing reprisals by Iranian authorities. Their accounts were corroborated by three human rights monitors.

THE BURIAL

Three weeks ago, the news of the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police in Tehran spread rapidly across her home province of Kurdistan, of which Sanandaj is the capital. The response was swift in the impoverished and historically marginalized area.

As the burial was underway in Amini’s town of Saqqez on Sept. 17, protesters were already filling Sanandaj’s main thoroughfare, activists said.

People of all ages were present and began chanting slogans that would be repeated in cities across Iran: “Woman. Life. Freedom.”

The Amini family had been under pressure from the government to bury Mahsa quickly before a critical mass of protesters formed, said Afsanah, a 38-year-old clothing designer from Saqqez. She was at the burial that day and followed the crowds from the cemetery to the city square.

Rozan, a 32-year old housewife, didn’t know Amini personally. But when she heard the young woman had died in the custody of the morality police in Tehran and had been arrested for violating the Islamic Republic’s hijab rules, she felt compelled to take to the street that day.

“The same thing happened to me,” she said. In 2013, like Amini, she had ventured to the capital with a friend when she was apprehended by the morality police because her abaya, or loose robe that is part of the mandatory dress code, was too short. She was taken to the same facility where Amini later died, and fingerprinted and made to sign a declaration of guilt.

“It could have been me,” she said. In the years since then Rozan, a former nurse, was fired from the local government health department for being too vocal about her views about women’s rights.

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After the funeral, she saw an elderly woman take a step forward and in one swift gesture, remove her headscarf. “I felt inspired to do the same,” she said.

SUPPRESSION

In the first three days after the burial, protesters were plucked from the demonstrations in arrest sweeps in Sanandaj. By the end of the week, arrests targeted known activists and protest organizers.

Dunya, a lawyer, said she was one among a small group of women’s rights activists who helped organize protests. They also asked shopkeepers to respect a call for a commercial strike along the city’s main streets.

“Almost all the women in our group are in jail now,” she said.

Internet blackouts made it difficult for protesters to communicate with one another across cities and with the outside world.

“We would wake up in the morning and have no idea what was happening,” said Sharo, the university graduate. The internet would return intermittently, often late at night or during working hours, but swiftly cut off in the late afternoon, the time many would gather to protest.

The heavy security presence also prevented mass gatherings.

“There are patrols in almost every street, and they break up groups, even if its just two or three people walking on the street,” said Sharo.

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During demonstrations security forces fired pellet guns and tear gas at the crowd causing many to run. Security personnel on motorcycles also drove into crowds in an effort to disperse them.

All activists interviewed said they either witnessed or heard live ammunition. Iranian authorities have so far denied this, blaming separatist groups on occasions when the use of live fire was verified. The two protesters killed Saturday in Sanandaj were killed by live fire, according to the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights network.

Protesters say fear is a close companion. The wounded were often reluctant to use ambulances or go to hospitals, worried they might get arrested. Activists also suspected government informants were trying to blend in with the crowds.

But acts of resistance have continued.

“I assure you the protests are not over,” said Sharo. “The people are angry, they are talking back to the police in ways I have never seen.”

DISOBEDIENCE

The anger runs deep. In Sanandaj the confluence of three factors has rendered the city a ripe ground for protest activity — a history of Kurdish resistance, rising poverty and a long history of women’s rights activism.

Yet the protests are not defined along ethnic or regional lines even though they were sparked in a predominantly Kurdish area, said Tara Sepehri Fars, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. “It’s been very unique in that sense,” she said.

There have been waves of protest in Iran in recent years, the largest in 2009 bringing large crowds into the streets after what protesters felt was a stolen election. But the continued defiance and demands for regime change during the current wave seem to pose the most serious challenge in years to the Islamic Republic.

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Like most of Iran, Sanandaj has suffered as U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic devastated the economy and spurred inflation. Far from the capital, in the fringes of the country, its majority Kurdish residents are eyed with suspicion by the regime.

By the third week, with the opening of universities and schools, students began holding small rallies and joined the movement.

Videos circulated on social media showing students jeering school masters, school girls removing their headscarves on the street and chanting: “One by one they will kill us, if we don’t stand together.”

One university student said they were planning on boycotting classes altogether.

Afsanah, the clothing designer, said that she likes wearing the headscarf. “But I am protesting because it was never my choice.”

Her parents, fearing for her safety, tried to persuade her to stay home. But she disobeyed them, pretending to go to work in the morning only to search for protest gatherings around the city.

“I am angry, and I am without fear — we just need this feeling to overflow on the street,” she said.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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