UK joins Israel saying Iran attacked tanker; Tehran continues to deny involvement

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 01 August 2021

UK joins Israel saying Iran attacked tanker; Tehran continues to deny involvement

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike on the tanker. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The blast killed two crew members, one British and another from Romania
  • FM Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones

LONDON: The UK joined Israel on Sunday in alleging Iran carried out a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, putting further pressure on Tehran as it denied being involved in the assault.

Calling it a “unlawful and callous attack,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country and its allies planned a coordinated response over the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street. It marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously, which crash into targets and detonate their explosive payloads. However, Israel, the UK and the responding US Navy have yet to show physical evidence from the strike or offer intelligence information on why they blame Tehran.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett went further than Raab in remarks Sunday at a Cabinet meeting, making a point to stare directly into the camera and slowly warn: “We know, at any rate, know how to convey the message to Iran in our own way.”

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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. More here.

The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a US official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing. The blast killed two crew members from the United Kingdom and Romania.

The Navy said the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher escorted the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port. On Sunday, satellite-tracking information from MarineTraffic.com showed the tanker stopped off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE.

In his statement, Raab said it was “highly likely” Iran attacked the tanker with one or more drones.

“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law by Iran,” he said. “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett offered condolences to both the United Kingdom and Romania for the killing of their citizens. He said Israeli intelligence had evidence linking Iran to the attack, but did not offer it.

“Iran is the one who carried out the attack against the ship,” he said. “Iran’s aggressive behavior is dangerous not only for Israel, but harms global interests in the freedom of navigation and international trade.”

Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the allegation Iran carried out the attack as “baseless.”

“It’s not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khatibzadeh said. “Wherever this regime has gone, it has taken instability, terror and violence with it.”

He added: “Whoever sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults. Shipping in the region began being targeted in the summer of 2019, about a year after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

The Mercer Street, owned by Japan’s Taihei Kaiun Co., is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. In early July, the Liberian-flagged container ship CSAV Tyndall, once tied to Zodiac Maritime, suffered an unexplained explosion on board while in the northern Indian Ocean, according to the US Maritime Administration.

The attack marks the first major confrontation with Iran for Bennett, who took over as premier in June after a coalition deal unseated Israel’s long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is suspected of launching a series of attacks targeting Iran, including explosions at the country’s main enrichment site and the killing of a prominent military nuclear scientist.

However, Bennett as well has made hawkish comments in the past about needing to attack “the head of the octopus” in Tehran as opposed to Iran’s regional militias like Hezbollah in Lebanon. The attack on the Mercer Street marks the first during his time as prime minister and analysts suggest he could seek a major attack in retaliation.

“Israel may wish to deliver a resounding blow; that’s the spirit of political sources’ comments in Jerusalem,” wrote Amos Harel, a longtime military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “This blow will be aimed at ending things without a tit-for-tat that could escalate. But as usual, events also depend on the other side.”


Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties
Updated 10 sec ago

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties

Johnson takes responsibility but won’t quit over lockdown parties
LONDON: A “humbled” Boris Johnson said he took full responsibility but would not quit after a damning official report on Wednesday detailed a series of illegal lockdown parties at the British leader’s Downing Street office.
Johnson has faced repeated calls to resign from opposition politicians and some in his own party over the alcohol-fueled gatherings, after it was revealed that he and officials had broken COVID-19 rules that all but banned people from socialising outside their households.
“I ... am humbled and I have learned a lesson,” Prime Minister Johnson told parliament, saying he would not quit over the scandal.
His foreign minister Liz Truss, seen as a possible successor, said she backed him “100 percent” after his apology.
The report by senior official Sue Gray did not specifically blame Johnson, but gave graphic details and included photographs from more than a dozen gatherings.
He attended some, including a party to celebrate his 56th birthday on June 19, 2020 that he was fined over but which Gray said he was unaware of in advance.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen,” the report said. “The senior leadership ...must bear responsibility for this culture.”
Johnson, who commissioned the report after revelations of boozy Downing Street events, said he was appalled by some of the behavior it had uncovered.
Gray’s interim findings were published in January, but details were withheld until the end of a police inquiry that concluded last week with 126 fines handed out.

DISMAYING BEHAVIOUR AT ‘HEART OF GOVERNMENT’
Her full report included emails and messages that showed many gatherings were planned in advance, with discussions on who would bring alcohol — drinks that “we seem to have got away with,” the then head of Johnson’s Downing Street office, Martin Reynolds, said in one message.
There were warnings from another official that people should not be “waving bottles of wine” before a gathering that coincided with a televised news conference when ministers told the public to follow the COVID rules.
At one June 2020 event, Gray said “excessive alcohol consumption” led to one person being sick and a fight between two others.
At another, the night before the April 2021 funeral for Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip, individuals partied into the early hours and damaged a swing.
“Many will be dismayed that behavior of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government,” Gray said. “The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behavior in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this.”
She cited multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff who had to remove red wine from walls after one event.
For months, evidence of the parties has dripped out into the media, forcing Johnson to apologize, change his office team and promise a reset to try to restore his authority.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was time for Johnson to quit, saying the report laid bare that the government believed that it was one rule for them and another for everyone else.
“You cannot be a lawmaker and a law-breaker,” Starmer — himself under police investigation for breaking COVID rules, told parliament. He has said he’ll resign if fined.
Johnson’s immediate fate lies in the hands of his Conservative lawmakers who can call for a leadership challenge.
Many had said they would wait for Gray’s full report before deciding whether to demand Johnson should go.
“Are you willing day in and day out to defend his behavior publicly?” Tobias Ellwood, a long-time critic of Johnson, implored of his parliamentary colleagues.
Others felt the report was less damning than it could have been. “This is all so banal,” one Conservative said on condition of anonymity.
Johnson had initially denied there had been parties or rule-breaking at Downing Street, and some lawmakers say his position is untenable if he is found to have lied to parliament, a matter under investigation by the Committee of Privileges.
By way of apology for his earlier denials, said he wanted to “correct for the record” that no rules were broken. “Clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left,” Johnson told parliament.

Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms

Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms
Updated 46 min 57 sec ago

Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms

Ukraine lawmaker calls on Germany to urgently back Kyiv with arms
  • “We have only one choice, and this is to receive modern NATO style weaponry," Radina told Reuters
  • Ukraine needs longer range arms after mainly receiving anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons at the start of the war

DAVOS, Switzerland: Western countries such as Germany must overcome reluctance to supply Ukraine with modern weapons as Kyiv risks running out of stocks in the war with Russia, lawmaker Anastasia Radina said.
“We have only one choice, and this is to receive modern NATO style weaponry because we cannot win the war with the Soviet style weaponry that we have,” Radina told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
She said stocks of Soviet-built weapons were limited around the world, and Moscow had much more of these arms than Kyiv.
“What they are doing is waiting for us to run out of weapons or (the) collective West to be less united and more preoccupied ... with their own problems,” Radina said in an interview on Tuesday.
Ukraine needs longer range arms after mainly receiving anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons at the start of the war, Radina said, adding that Kyiv has also asked for ground-based air defense systems to protect Ukrainian cities from attacks.
The German government has been considering supplying a surface-to-air defense system built by Diehl to Ukraine, according to a security source, but a deal has not yet been announced.
Radina said a system like this could help protect not only Kyiv, but also other cities like Kharkiv, Zaporizhya, Mykolaiv and Odesa: “These are cities that need proper air defense systems even more than Kyiv.”
The German government must understand that Ukraine is running out of time, the lawmaker said.
“This .. discussion about tanks is just humiliating. This poses a question with whom Germany really sides,” Radina said in reference to Gepard anti-aircraft tanks that Germany pledged a month ago but Berlin said will be delivered in July.
“It is time Germany proves in action with whom it stands. And proving in action means: Stop supplying Russia with money to basically be able to buy weapons and kill Ukrainian civilians and help Ukraine with proper ammunition.”


UNHCR chief asks world not to forget Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh

UNHCR chief asks world not to forget Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh
Updated 57 min 16 sec ago

UNHCR chief asks world not to forget Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh

UNHCR chief asks world not to forget Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh
  • Bangladesh has hosted over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since 2017 
  • Gathering support for Rohingya refugees ‘will be a bigger challenge’ than in past, UNHCR chief says

DHAKA: The Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh should not be forgotten as the world’s attention is absorbed by the Ukraine emergency, Filippo Grandi, chief of UN refugee agency the UNHCR, said on Wednesday as he concluded his visit to the South Asian country.

Bangladesh is host to more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees who fled atrocities in neighboring Myanmar. The majority live in congested camps at Cox’s Bazar, while tens and thousands have been moved to Bhasan Char — an island settlement in the Bay of Bengal several hours away from the mainland — since the end of 2020.

Following a five-day visit to Bangladesh, which included visits to refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char, Grandi said that gathering support for the Rohingya cause will be “a bigger challenge than in past years.”

“It’s very important that the world knows that this should not be forgotten,” Grandi said at a press conference in Dhaka, adding that there was the risk of “marginalization” due to the attention and resources that were being absorbed elsewhere, especially by the emergency in Ukraine. 

“I am here to remind the international community that there is not just Ukraine and new crises, that Bangladesh has been bearing the responsibility for five years and this support cannot decline."

Grandi, who also met with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during his visit, said he agreed with the premier that the solution to the crisis “can only be in Myanmar,” adding that his office is engaging with relevant authorities to resolve the situation.

“The Rohingya refugees I met reiterated their desire to return home when conditions allow. The world must work to address the root causes of their flight and to translate those dreams into reality,” Grandi said.

Grandi’s visit is expected to help restart discussions on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar after talks stalled further since Myanmar’s military took power in a coup in February 2021. 

Humayun Kabir, Bangladesh’s former ambassador to the US, described the UN official’s visit as “important,” as it allowed Grandi to assess the situation for the Rohingya refugees and what authorities in the South Asian country need to help address the crisis. 

“Through this visit, Grandi was informed about the expectations of Bangladesh’s authorities over the Rohingya crisis. Although the repatriation is yet to begin, this kind of visit and discussion has much significance to resolve the crisis,” Kabir told Arab News. 

To speed up the negotiation process over the fate of the Rohingya, Dhaka University’s international relations Prof. Amena Mohsin said the UN should work more to engage global powers. 

“The UN should unite global powers on this issue so that the repatriation process can be accelerated,” Mohsin told Arab News.


Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine

Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine
Updated 25 May 2022

Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine

Russia offers fast-track citizenship to residents of occupied Ukraine
  • The decree marks a further step towards "Russification" of the two regions
  • Putin's move extends a scheme available to residents of Donetsk and Luhansk

LONDON: President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday simplifying the process for residents of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to acquire Russian citizenship and passports.
The decree marks a further step toward “Russification” of the two regions, where Moscow’s war in Ukraine has enabled it to establish a continuous land bridge linking Russia to the Crimean peninsula which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Putin’s move extends a scheme available to residents of areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where Moscow has issued around 800,000 passports since 2019.
Russia claimed full control of the Kherson region, north of Crimea, in mid-March, and holds parts of Zaporizhzhia region to the north-east.
In Kherson, the Ukrainian governor has been ousted and the military-civilian administration said earlier this month that it planned to ask Putin to incorporate it into Russia by the end of 2022. Ukraine has pledged to recapture all of its seized territory.


Middle East countries regard Japan highly in opinion poll

Middle East countries regard Japan highly in opinion poll
Updated 25 May 2022

Middle East countries regard Japan highly in opinion poll

Middle East countries regard Japan highly in opinion poll

TOKYO: In a poll on people’s impressions of Japan conducted in several Middle Eastern countries by research firms on behalf of Japan’s Foreign Ministry, 76 percent of the respondents viewed relations with Japan as “very friendly” or “somewhat friendly.”

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan commissioned research agencies to conduct an opinion poll on impressions of Japan in the United States, Australia, India, nine ASEAN countries, four Central Asian countries and seven Middle Eastern countries from December 2021 to February 2022. 

Similarly, a YouGov study conducted by Arab News in 2019 showed that 87 percent of Arabs would love to visit Japan. 30 percent of the Arabs surveyed found Japanese people polite and only one percent thought they were friendly. 

In the Arab News YouGov study that surveyed  3,033 Arabic speakers from 18 Arab countries, it was also found that the Japanese people were described as: hardworking (61 percent), organized (54 percent) and creative (37 percent.)

For the Middle East, the poll was conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey with 1,000 respondents in Egypt and 500 respondents in each of the other six countries. Ages ranged from 18 to 69.

In the Middle East, 80 percent of the respondents answered that Japan has consistently followed the path of a peace-loving nation since the end of the World War II. 

Eighty-one percent of the respondents answered “a very important role” or “somewhat important role” on the extent Japan plays in stabilization and growth of the world economy, while 85 percent of the respondents answered “very beneficial” or “somewhat beneficial” on whether Japan’s economic and technical cooperation is good for the development of the Middle East region.

In terms of Japan’s proactive contribution to the peace and stability of the region and the international community for maintaining global peace and international order, 81 percent of the respondents answered “very valuable” or “valuable.” 

In the Arab News YouGov study, it was also shown that 56 percent of Arabs thought Japan would be an ideal mediator for Middle East peace, and had high expectations for Japanese diplomacy. It was also concluded that 44 percent of Arabs understood the power and decision making structure in Japan. 

In polls for other regions, Japan scored highly in the “friendly” category in the United States (94 percent), India (91 percent) and the ASEAN countries (93 percent), but less so in Australia and Central Asia (both 78 percent).

This story was originally published on Arab news Japan