US launches fresh sanctions targeting Iran Revolutionary Guard

US launches fresh sanctions targeting Iran Revolutionary Guard
A handout picture made available by the Iranian presidential office on Feb. 2, 2024 shows Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (C) visiting the Iranian revolutionary guards corps (IRGC) navy base in Bandar Abbas, southern Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 02 February 2024
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US launches fresh sanctions targeting Iran Revolutionary Guard

US launches fresh sanctions targeting Iran Revolutionary Guard
  • The US Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on six officials in the cyber-electronic command of IRGC
  • The moves come shortly after President Joe Biden blamed “radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq” for the Sunday drone attack

WASHINGTON: The United States announced new sanctions Friday aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, as Washington prepares retaliation after a strike killing three Americans in Jordan that was blamed on Iran-backed militias.
The US Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on six officials in the cyber-electronic command of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), over activities targeting critical infrastructure.
In a separate notice, the Treasury added that it was also hitting a network of suppliers providing “materials and sensitive technology for Iran’s ballistic missile and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) programs.”
The moves come shortly after President Joe Biden blamed “radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq” for the Sunday drone attack on a base in Jordan that killed three American troops.
He has pledged to hold “all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing.”
The casualties were the first US military deaths in an attack in the region since the Israel-Hamas war started.
But Iran said it had nothing to do with the strike, with its president vowing it would “respond firmly” to any attack.
In issuing the latest US sanctions on Friday, the Treasury said IRGC-affiliated cyber actors recently hacked and posted images on screens of controllers manufactured by an Israeli company, Unitronics.
“Unauthorized access to critical infrastructure systems can enable actions that harm the public and cause devastating humanitarian consequences,” the department said.
A State Department spokesperson added that “actors used default credentials to display an anti-Israel message” on the controllers’ interface.
Separately, the United States sanctioned four Iran- and Hong Kong-based entities, saying they “operated as covert procurement entities” for individuals actively supporting Iranian military organizations like the IRGC.
Another target was Hong Kong-based China Oil and Petroleum Company, allegedly involved in selling “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Iranian commodities” for the benefit of the IRGC Quds Force — the foreign operations arm of the Revolutionary Guards.
As a result of the sanctions, all property of designated individuals in the United States is blocked and must be reported.


Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
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Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
  • The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call: UKMTO
  • The incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia launched an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Red Sea on Saturday morning, striking an oil tanker traveling from Russia to China, according to US Central Command, the latest in a series of Houthi maritime strikes. 

CENTCOM said that at 1 a.m. on Saturday, a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile struck a Panamanian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated oil tanker named M/T Wind, which had just visited Russia and was on its way to China, causing “flooding which resulted in the loss of propulsion and steering.”

Slamming the Houthis for attacking ships, the US military said: “The crew of M/T Wind was able to restore propulsion and steering, and no casualties were reported. M/T Wind resumed its course under its power. This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

Earlier on Saturday, two UK naval agencies said that a ship sailing in the Red Sea suffered minor damage after being hit by an item thought to be a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia from an area under their control.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors ship attacks, said on Saturday morning that it received an alarm from a ship master about an “unknown object” striking the ship’s port quarter, 98 miles south of Hodeidah, inflicting minor damage.

“The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in its notice about the incident, encouraging ships in the Red Sea to exercise caution and report any incidents.

Hours earlier, the same UK maritime agency stated that the assault happened 76 nautical miles northwest of Hodeidah.

Ambrey, a UK security firm, also reported receiving information regarding a missile strike on a crude oil tanker traveling under the Panama flag, around 10 nautical miles southwest of Yemen’s government-controlled town of Mokha on the Red Sea, which resulted in a fire on the ship.

The Houthis did not claim responsibility for fresh ship strikes on Saturday, although they generally do so days after the attack.

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk another, and claimed to have fired hundreds of ballistic missiles at international commercial and naval ships in the Gulf of Aden, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Red Sea in what the Yemeni militia claims is support for the Palestinian people.

The Houthis claim that they solely strike Israel-linked ships and those traveling or transporting products to Israel in order to pressure the latter to cease its war in Gaza.

The US responded to the Houthi attacks by branding them as terrorists, forming a coalition of marine task forces to safeguard ships, and unleashing hundreds of strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.

Local and international environmentalists have long warned that Houthi attacks on ships carrying fuel or other chemicals might lead to an environmental calamity near Yemen’s coast.

The early warning came in February when the Houthis launched a missile that seriously damaged the MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship carrying 22,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate-sulfate NPS fertilizer and more than 200 tonnes of fuel while cruising in the Red Sea. 

The Houthis have defied demands for de-escalation in the Red Sea and continue to organize massive rallies in regions under their control to express support for their campaign. On Friday, thousands of Houthi sympathizers took to the streets of Sanaa, Saada, and other cities under their control to show their support for the war on ships.

The Houthis shouted in unison, “We have no red line, and what’s coming is far worse,” as they raised the Palestinian and militia flags in Al-Sabeen Square on Friday, repeating their leader’s promise to intensify assaults on ships.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni government soldier was killed and another was injured on Saturday while fending off a Houthi attack on their position near the border between the provinces of Taiz and Lahj.

According to local media, the Houthis attacked the government’s Nation’s Shield Forces in the contested Hayfan district of Taiz province, attempting to capture control of additional territory.

The Houthis were forced to stop their attack after encountering tough resistance from government troops.

The attack occurred a day after the Nation’s Shield Forces sent dozens of armed vehicles and personnel to the same locations to boost their forces and repel Houthi attacks. 


Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
  • “Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said

CARACAS: Iran on Saturday said it will send experts to its ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators in hospitals it said had been stopped due to Western sanctions.
Venezuela requested Iran’s help, according to a message on the social media platform X by the Iranian government attributed to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said.
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients.
Venezuela is also an ally of Russia and China.
The return of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry has made its alliance with Iran critical to keeping its lagging energy sector afloat. Washington last year temporarily relaxed sanctions on Venezuela’s promise to allow a competitive presidential election. The US now says only some conditions were met. 

 


Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
  • Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said

BUCHAREST: Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said.
The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.
The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.
After receiving an alert at “around 4:00am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.
The cause of the accident was unclear.
According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat for ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.
Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
 

 


Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
  • A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s lawmakers failed to elect a speaker on Saturday as neither of the two main candidates secured a majority during a tense session of parliament.
It is the latest in a series of failed attempts to replace the former head of parliament who was dismissed in November, with political bickering and divisions between key Sunni parties derailing every attempt so far.
Saturday’s vote was the closest yet to selecting a new head of the 329-member parliament, with 311 lawmakers showing up for the session and the leading candidate falling just seven votes short.
The parliament’s media office announced that 137 lawmakers chose Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, the oldest MP, while 158 picked Salem Al-Issawi.
However, candidates require at least 165 votes to win.
Many lawmakers did not return for a second attempt on Saturday, with local media sharing videos of a brief brawl between MPs and reporting that at least one of them was injured.
The parliament’s media office then announced that the session had been adjourned.
Iraq, a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, is governed by complex power-sharing arrangements.
The largely ceremonial role of president traditionally goes to a Kurd, that of prime minister to a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is usually Sunni.
But parliament is dominated by a coalition of pro-Iran Shiite parties, reflecting the country’s largest religious group.
A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc.
The new speaker will replace Halbussi, the influential politician dismissed by Iraq’s top court in November last year after a lawmaker accused him of forging a resignation letter.
Halbussi had been the country’s highest-ranking Sunni official since he first became a speaker in 2018.
The new speaker’s stint will not last long with the general election due in 2025.
 

 


Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
Updated 19 May 2024
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Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli

Libyan armed groups clash near capital Tripoli
  • Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east

TRIPOLI: Clashes between Libyan armed groups broke out on Friday night in the city of Zawiya, some 40 kilometers west of the capital Tripoli, a security official told AFP.
An official at the city’s security directorate told AFP the clashes were ongoing but “intermittent” on Saturday.
“The southern areas of the city of Zawiya have been witnessing clashes between armed groups since last night,” the official said.
Libya is still struggling to recover from years of war and chaos after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
On Saturday morning, schools in Zawiya were suspended as some roads leading to the city were shut down amid a “casual” exchange of fire between the groups, the official said.
Media reports said the fighting left casualties, but authorities in Tripoli have yet to confirm any.
The Tripoli-based health ministry said in a statement it was working to evacuate parts of the city and taking injured people to hospitals.
The Libyan Red Crescent said it had evacuated some families from areas affected by the fights.
Authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind the fight.
Videos shared since Friday night on social media, which AFP could not verify, showed armed men in SUVs firing heavily at other armed groups.
Other videos showed smoke rising from parts of the city.
Although relative calm has returned to the oil-rich country in the past few years, clashes periodically occur between its myriad armed groups.
Last month, clashes broke out in the capital Tripoli, sparking panic among locals who were celebrating the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
In August 2023, Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year left 55 people dead when two powerful groups fought.
Libya is divided between the UN-recognized Tripoli-based government and a rival administration in the country’s east.