Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
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Above, the oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa in this Jan. 2, 2016 photo. The ship was attacked off the coast of Oman on Thursday that killed two people. (AP)
Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 25, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 01 August 2021

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation.

Bennett’s statement came after Iran rejected Israel’s “baseless accusations” it was responsible for the attack that killed two crewmen, and Tehran vowed to defend its interests after its arch-foe pushed for UN action against it.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh made comments on the attack from Tehran and denied any involvement, saying Israel “must stop such baseless accusations,” and noting “it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran.”

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck Thursday off the Omani coast.

“The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake,” the Israeli premier said at the weekly cabinet meeting in remarks conveyed by his office.

“In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett slammed Iran’s “cowardly” denial, saying he could “determine with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship.”

“Iran’s aggressive conduct is dangerous not only to Israel, but also harms global interests, freedom of navigation and international trade,” he said.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the oil tanker, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

The UK on Sunday denounced Iran's “deliberate, targeted” attack on the tanker after assessing Tehran was behind the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the attack “unlawful and callous” and said the UK was working with its international partners on a concerted response to what he called an “unacceptable” strike.

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and agreed to work with other allies "to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps", a State Department statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP and AP) 


Last 2 of 6 Palestinians inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Updated 6 sec ago

Last 2 of 6 Palestinians inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinians inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
  • The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank
  • The six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6, exposing security flaws from the vaunted "Israeli Guantanamo"

JERUSALEM: The last two of six Palestinian prisoners who escaped a maximum-security Israeli prison two weeks ago were rearrested early Sunday, the Israeli military said.
The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, closing an intense, embarrassing pursuit that exposed security flaws after the six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6.
Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city, but a spokesperson for Israeli police said the two escapees, Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kamamji, were arrested without resistance from a house where they had taken refuge and were taken for questioning.
Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”
The escapes set off a massive pursuit operation that captured the first four inmates in two separate operations in northern Israel. All six inmates come from Jenin.
Five of the prisoners are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences, and the sixth is a member of the secular Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas.
For the Palestinians, the prisoners who dug the tunnel for months and escaped were “heroes.” For Israel, they were “terrorists” who took part or planned attacks that targeted the Israeli military and civilians.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
  • The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
“The violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty makes me sad,” Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: “But I’m not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”
The Tehran-aligned group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.
Meanwhile, authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media said.
Ammonium nitrate is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area. He said: “We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe.”
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.


Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
  • Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined”

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday reasserted the Islamic republic’s longstanding ban on competitive sport with Israelis, and promised support for athletes disciplined by international bodies for respecting it.
Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents, whether by forfeiting the match or by simply not participating.
“Any Iranian athlete worthy of the name cannot shake hands with a representative of the criminal regime in order to win a medal,” Khamenei told a reception for Iran’s medallists from the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The illegitimate, bloodthirsty ... Zionist regime tries to win legitimacy by taking part in international sporting events attended by the world arrogance (Washington and the West), and our athletes cannot just stand idly by,” he added, in comments posted on his official website.

BACKGROUND

In Tokyo, Iran won seven Olympic medals, three of them gold, as well as 24 Paralympic medals.

Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined.”
He was referring to Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine, who withdrew from the Tokyo Games after the draw set him on course for a possible matchup against an Israeli opponent, prompting his suspension from international competition.


North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million

TUNIS: Weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases overwhelmed intensive care units across North Africa with severe oxygen shortages sparking public anger, case numbers are sharply declining.
Images of intensive care units overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in July sparked outrage in Tunisia, which has suffered the region’s highest number of deaths per head from the virus, with around 24,500 in a population of 11.7 million.
Authorities responded to the surge with a strict early evening curfew and travel restrictions. Neighboring Libya closed its border with Tunisia. Those measures have now been eased.
“There’s the effect of mass vaccination of the population,” said Hechmi Louzir, director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, who is a member of the country’s scientific committee on the pandemic.
More than a quarter of Tunisians are now fully inoculated.
Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million. The kingdom is ahead of its Maghreb neighbors in inoculations, with 46.7 percent fully vaccinated.
Health Ministry official Abdelkrim Meziane Bellefquih said this week that infections were down for a fifth straight week. But in comments carried by the official MAP news agency, he warned that “high rates of critical cases and deaths continue to be recorded.”
With an official toll of 5,650 deaths, Algeria announced a target in September to vaccinate 70 percent of its 43.9 million population by the end of the year.
But AFP figures show that this week, barely 13 percent of the population had received a first vaccine jab, with fewer than 10 percent fully vaccinated.
The country’s caseload peaked in the last week of July with over 10,000 infections, but has since plummeted. While the first week of August saw 268 deaths, the last seven days saw 132.


Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
  • 20 tons of ammonium nitrate seized after raid on fertilizer warehouse in eastern Bekaa Valley
  • Shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at Beirut Port caused a massive blast, killing 214 people, last year

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media reported on Saturday.
Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
At least 214 people were killed and some 6,500 others wounded on August 4, 2020 when a shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused a massive blast.
On Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, who visited the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area.
“We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe,” the NNA quoted him as saying.
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.
“One of our employees informed the relevant authorities that we have ammonium nitrate, so they raided the warehouses on Friday,” one of the company heads told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The name of the firm that owns the fertilizer has not been made public pending investigations.
“We have been working in the feed and fertilizer industry for 40 years,” the company official added.
When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups for improvised explosives.
Lebanese authorities are still investigating the circumstances in which hundreds of tons of the chemical ended up in the Beirut port for years, before the monster explosion that levelled swathes of the city.