US warns of further retaliation if Iran-backed militias continue their attacks

US warns of further retaliation if Iran-backed militias continue their attacks
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Screen grab from US Navy video showing a missile launched from the destroyer USS Gravely to counter a Houthi cruise missile targetting global shipping in the Red Sea. (X: @CENTCOM)
US warns of further retaliation if Iran-backed militias continue their attacks
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In this screen grab from a US Navy video, sailors watch as a fighter jet launches from the naval carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in support of strikes on Iranian-backed Houthi targets in Yemen. (X: @CENTCOM)
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Updated 05 February 2024
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US warns of further retaliation if Iran-backed militias continue their attacks

US warns of further retaliation if Iran-backed militias continue their attacks
  • Iran should expect “a swift and forceful response” if it “chose to respond directly” against the US, says security adviser Jake Sullivan
  • Iran warns US against targeting two cargo ships long suspected of serving as forwarding operating bases for Iranian commandos in the Red Sea

JERUSALEM: After a weekend of retaliatory strikes, the United States on Sunday warned Iran and the militias it arms and funds that it will conduct more attacks if American forces in the Mideast continue to be targeted, but that it does not want an “open-ended military campaign” across the region.

“We are prepared to deal with anything that any group or any country tries to come at us with,” said Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser. Sullivan said Iran should expect “a swift and forceful response” if it — and not one of its proxies — “chose to respond directly” against the US.
Sullivan delivered the warnings during a series of interviews with TV news shows after the US and Britain on Saturday struck 36 Houthi targets in Yemen. The Iran-backed militants have fired on American and international interests repeatedly in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

American forces also carried out air strikes against five missiles in Yemen on Sunday — one designed for land attack and the others for targeting ships, the US military's Central Command (CENTCOM) said on social media.
The strikes came a day after US and UK forces launched a wave of air raids against the Houthis — their third round of joint military action in response to the rebels’ persistent attacks on shipping.
US forces “conducted a strike in self-defense against a Houthi... land attack cruise missile,” and later struck “four anti-ship cruise missiles, all of which were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea,” Central Command (CENTCOM) said on social media.

 

 

American forces “identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM added.
An air assault Friday in Iraq and Syria targeted other Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for the drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan last weekend. The US fired again at Houthi targets on Sunday.
“We cannot rule out that there will be future attacks from Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria or from the Houthis,” Sullivan said. He said the president has told his commanders that “they need to be positioned to respond to further attacks as well.”
The US has blamed the attack at the Tower 22 base in Jordan on Jan. 28 on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias. Iran has tried to distance itself from the drone strike, saying the militias act independently of its direction.
Biden “is not looking for a wider war,” Sullivan said, when questioned about the potential for strikes inside Iran that would expand the conflict in the volatile region. But when asked about the possibility of direct escalation by the Iranians, he said: “If they chose to respond directly to the United States, they would be met with a swift and forceful response from us.”
While pledging to respond in a “sustained way” to new assaults on Americans, Sullivan said he “would not describe it as some open-ended military campaign.”
Still, he said, “We intend to take additional strikes and additional action to continue to send a clear message that the United States will respond when our forces are attacked or our people are killed.”
There will be more steps taken, he said. “Some of those steps will be seen. Some may not be seen.”
The US attack on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria hit more than 85 targets at seven locations. These included command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, rockets and missiles, drone and ammunition storage sites and other facilities that were connected to the militias or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, the expeditionary unit that handles Tehran’s relationship with, and arming of, regional militias.
The Biden administration has so far appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the Quds Force within its borders.
The US military does not have any confirmation at this time of civilian casualties from those strikes, Sullivan said. “What we do know is that the targets we hit were absolutely valid targets from the point of view of containing the weaponry and the personnel that were attacking American forces. So, we are confident in the targets that we struck.”
Some of the militias have been a threat to US bases for years, but the groups intensified their assaults in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 27,000 people have been killed by Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the territory’s Health Ministry has said.
The Houthis have conducted almost daily missile or drone attacks against commercial and military ships transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and they have made clear that they have no intention of scaling back their campaign despite a new international force to protect vessels in the vital waterway.
US strikes overnight Sunday struck across six provinces of Yemen held by the Houthi rebels, including in Sanaa, the capital. The Houthis gave no assessment of the damage but the US described hitting underground missile arsenals, launch sites and helicopters used by the rebels.
“These attacks will not discourage Yemeni forces and the nation from maintaining their support for Palestinians in the face of the Zionist occupation and crimes,” Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree said. “The aggressors’ airstrikes will not go unanswered.”

Iran's floating armories

Meanwhile, Iran warned the US over potentially targeting two cargo ships in the Mideast long suspected of serving as forwarding operating bases for Iranian commandos. The statement from Iran on the Behshad and Saviz ships appeared to signal Tehran’s growing unease over the US strikes across the region.
The ships are registered as commercial cargo ships with a Tehran-based company the US Treasury has sanctioned as a front for the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The Saviz, then later the Behshad, have loitered for years in the Red Sea off Yemen, suspected of serving as spy positions for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
In the video statement by Iran’s regular army, a narrator describes the vessels as “floating armories.” The narrator describes the Behshad as aiding an Iranian mission to “counteract piracy in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.” But Iran is not publicly known to have taken part in any of the recent campaigns against rising Somali piracy in the region off the back of the Houthi attacks.
Just before the new campaign of US airstrikes began, the Behshad traveled south into the Gulf of Aden. It’s now docked in Djibouti in East Africa just off the coast from a Chinese military base in the country.
The statement ends with a warning overlaid with a montage of footage of US warships and an American flag.
“Those engaging in terrorist activities against Behshad or similar vessels jeopardize international maritime routes, security and assume global responsibility for potential future international risks,” the video said.
The US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet declined to comment over the threat.
The Saviz is now in the Indian Ocean near where the US alleges Iranian drone attacks recently have targeted shipping.
Sullivan appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “This Week,” CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
(With AFP)

 


Omani diplomat chosen to head UN mission in Iraq

Omani diplomat chosen to head UN mission in Iraq
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Omani diplomat chosen to head UN mission in Iraq

Omani diplomat chosen to head UN mission in Iraq
  • Mohammed Al-Hassan takes over as the secretary-general’s special representative for Iraq from Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who became special coordinator for Lebanon in May
  • He has been Oman’s permanent representative to the UN since 2019, prior to which he held various positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Muscat

NEW YORK CITY: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday appointed Omani diplomat Mohammed Al-Hassan to be his new special representative for Iraq and head of the UN mission there.

Al-Hassan succeeds Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, a former Dutch defense minister who was appointed the UN’s special coordinator for Lebanon in May.

“Mr. Al-Hassan brings to the position a broad range of diplomatic experience, with a career spanning over 30 years working on preventive diplomacy, peacebuilding and development,” a UN spokesperson said.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq was established following the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. It was handed a robust mandate to help develop Iraqi institutions, support political dialogue and elections, and promote human rights.

The Security Council voted in May this year to end the mission by 2025. The decision was welcomed by the Iraqi government, which had requested that it be terminated on the grounds it was no longer needed because the nation had made significant progress toward stabilization.

Al-Hassan has served as the Sultanate of Oman’s permanent representative to the UN since 2019. Prior to that, he held various positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Muscat, including acting undersecretary for diplomatic affairs (2016), chief of staff (2015) and head of the Minister’s Department (2012).

He also served as the nation’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, and as nonresident ambassador to Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova, and as deputy permanent representative of Oman to the UN in Geneva.

Al-Hassan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Washington in Seattle, a Master of Science degree in international relations from St. John’s University in New York, and a doctorate in Economics from Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics and Informatics. He speaks Arabic, English, Norwegian and Russian.


Egypt condemns terrorist bombing in Mogadishu as death toll rises to 9

Egypt condemns terrorist bombing in Mogadishu as death toll rises to 9
Updated 15 July 2024
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Egypt condemns terrorist bombing in Mogadishu as death toll rises to 9

Egypt condemns terrorist bombing in Mogadishu as death toll rises to 9
  • Egypt expressed its full solidarity and support for Somalia’s efforts to confront all forms of extremism and terrorism
  • Death toll from the car bombing at the cafe that was packed with football fans watching the Euro 2024 final has risen to nine

CAIRO: Egypt on Monday condemned the terrorist bombing that targeted a cafe in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu late on Sunday. 

Egypt expressed its full solidarity and support for Somalia’s efforts to confront all forms of extremism and terrorism, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emigration, and Egyptian Expatriates.

The death toll from the car bombing at the cafe that was packed with football fans watching the Euro 2024 final has risen to nine, security sources in Somalia said on Monday.

Egypt expressed its sincere condolences to the government and people of Somalia and the families of the victims, wishing a speedy recovery for the injured.

The popular Top Coffee restaurant, which is located near the presidential palace in the center of Mogadishu, was thronged with young men watching the final.


Syria’s Assad says will only meet Turkiye’s Erdogan if ‘core’ issues addressed

Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on May 29, 2023, Syria’s President Bashar Assad in Damascus on July 16, 2023.
Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on May 29, 2023, Syria’s President Bashar Assad in Damascus on July 16, 2023.
Updated 15 July 2024
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Syria’s Assad says will only meet Turkiye’s Erdogan if ‘core’ issues addressed

Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on May 29, 2023, Syria’s President Bashar Assad in Damascus on July 16, 2023.
  • Erdogan said earlier in July he would extend an invitation to Assad “any time” for possible talks to restore relations
  • “What is the basis for the meeting? Would it be ending the reasons for the problem, which are supporting terrorism and withdrawing from Syrian lands?”: Assad

DUBAI: Syria’s President Bashar Assad said on Monday he would only meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan if the two countries could focus on the core issues of Ankara’s support for “terrorism” and the pullout of Turkish forces from Syrian territory.
“The problem is not the meeting, but its content,” a video clip released by the presidency showed Assad telling reporters in Damascus.
Turkiye severed ties with Syria in 2011 after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, in which it supported rebels looking to oust Assad. The Syrian leader views the rebels as terrorists.
Ankara also established a “safe zone” in northern Syria where Turkish troops are now stationed, and it has carried out several cross-border military operations against militants it says threaten Turkiye’s national security.
Erdogan said earlier in July he would extend an invitation to Assad “any time” for possible talks to restore relations.
“What is the basis for the meeting? Would it be ending the reasons for the problem, which are supporting terrorism and withdrawing from Syrian lands?... This is the core of the problem.”
“If there were no discussion about the core of (the problem), what would such a meeting mean?“
Assad added that he would respond positively to any initiative aimed at improving bilateral ties but that the basis for such talks must be set first.


Azerbaijan reopens its embassy in Iran as the two countries try to ease tensions

An Iranian worker paints Azerbaijan’s sign on the entrance gate to the new Azeri embassy in Tehran, Iran, 15 July 2024. (EPA)
An Iranian worker paints Azerbaijan’s sign on the entrance gate to the new Azeri embassy in Tehran, Iran, 15 July 2024. (EPA)
Updated 15 July 2024
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Azerbaijan reopens its embassy in Iran as the two countries try to ease tensions

An Iranian worker paints Azerbaijan’s sign on the entrance gate to the new Azeri embassy in Tehran, Iran, 15 July 2024. (EPA)
  • Relations between Tehran and Baku, which have been tense for a long time, soured further after a gunman in January 2023 stormed Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran

TEHRAN: The embassy of Azerbaijan in Tehran resumed its work Monday after more than a year of negotiations between the two countries to ease tensions, Iran’s semi-official media outlets reported.
A source in the Azeri embassy in Tehran told The Associated Press that the embassy has resumed its operations in the Iranian capital, but said it won’t be officially announced until the Iranian foreign ministry confirms the development.
But an Azeri website news.az Monday quoted Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry as saying that its embassy in Iran has restarted work at a new address in Tehran. The report added that the embassy reopened following negotiations between Azerbaijan and Iran.
Relations between Tehran and Baku, which have been tense for a long time, soured further after a gunman in January 2023 stormed Azerbaijan’s embassy in Iran’s capital, killing its security chief and wounding two guards.
Iran said the attack was based on a personal cause, and said the gunman’s wife had disappeared after a visit to the embassy, but Azeri President Ilham Aliyev called the assault a “terrorist attack.” Baku accused Tehran of supporting hard-line extremists who tried to overthrow its government, a charge Tehran denied.
In April 2023, Azerbaijan expelled four Iranian diplomats from Baku. A month later, Iran expelled four Azeri diplomats, who had been working in Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in the northwestern city of Tabriz.
The attack spiked long-simmering tensions between the two neighboring countries.
Relations between the two also remain tense because Azerbaijan in March 2023 opened an embassy in Israel. Azerbaijan also maintains close ties to Israel, which Tehran views as its top regional enemy. Iran has repeatedly opposed improving relations between Azerbaijan and Israel.
Azerbaijan borders Iran’s northwest and belonged to the Persian Empire until the early 19th century. There are over 12 million Ethnic Azeris in Iran who represent the Islamic Republic’s largest minority group. That means maintaining good relations with Baku is even more important for Tehran.
There have been tensions between the two countries as Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Iran also wants to maintain its 44-kilometer (27-mile) border with landlocked Armenia — something that could be threatened if Azerbaijan seizes new territory through warfare.
Iran-Azerbaijan’s relations improved during the era of the late Ebrahim Raisi. In May, Iran and Azerbaijan inaugurated a dam of Qiz Qalasi, or Castel of Girl in Azeri, on a joint border river in northwest Iran. Aliyev attended the inauguration.
During the ceremony, Raisi said that the relationship between Tehran and Baku is beyond neighboring and is “unbreakable.”
Raisi died in a helicopter crash — that also killed the country’s foreign minister and others — just after the inauguration ceremony. His body was found a day after the crash.


Israel hits Gaza from land, sea and air as Hamas halts talks

A Palestinian woman reacts next to a child after an Israeli air strike on a UN school sheltering displaced people.
A Palestinian woman reacts next to a child after an Israeli air strike on a UN school sheltering displaced people.
Updated 15 July 2024
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Israel hits Gaza from land, sea and air as Hamas halts talks

A Palestinian woman reacts next to a child after an Israeli air strike on a UN school sheltering displaced people.
  • Eyewitnesses said the Israeli army had shelled the Al-Mughraqa area and the northern outskirts of the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza
  • Hamas said on Sunday it was withdrawing from ceasefire talks

GAZA STRIP: Israel hammered the Gaza Strip from the air, sea and land Monday as the war in the Palestinian territory showed no sign of abating, with Hamas saying it was pulling out of truce talks.
Shells rained down on the neighborhoods of Tal Al-Hawa, Sheikh Ajlin and Al-Sabra in Gaza City, AFP correspondents reported, while eyewitnesses said the Israeli army had shelled the Al-Mughraqa area and the northern outskirts of the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.
Paramedics from the Palestinian Red Crescent said they had retrieved the bodies of five people, including three children, after Israeli air strikes in the Al-Maghazi camp, also in the central Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, eyewitnesses reported Israeli gunship fire east of Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza, and shelling and Apache helicopter attacks in western areas of the southernmost city of Rafah.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it was continuing its activity throughout the coastal territory, and said it had conducted raids in Rafah and central Gaza that killed “a number of” militants, as well as air strikes throughout the strip over the past day.
It also said its naval forces had been firing at targets in Gaza.
The relentless bombardments came as prospects dwindled for a truce and hostage release deal being secured any time soon.
Hamas said on Sunday it was withdrawing from ceasefire talks.
The decision followed an Israeli strike targeting the head of Hamas’s military wing, Mohammed Deif, which the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said killed 92 people.
Deif’s fate remains unknown, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying there was “no certainty” he was dead while a senior Hamas official told AFP that Deif was “well and directly overseeing” operations.
Speaking after the strike on Al-Mawasi, a second senior official from the militant group cited Israeli “massacres” and its attitude to negotiations as a reason for suspending negotiations.
But according to the official, Haniyeh told international mediators Hamas was “ready to resume negotiations” when Israel’s government “demonstrates seriousness in reaching a ceasefire agreement and a prisoner exchange deal.”
Last week, US President Joe Biden had suggested a deal might be close, saying at a NATO summit that both sides had agreed to a framework he had set out in late May.
Hamas on Monday lashed out at the US, accusing it of supporting “genocide” by supplying Israel with “internationally banned” weapons.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the... American disdain for the blood of the children and women of our Palestinian people... by providing all types of prohibited weapons to the ‘Israeli’ occupation,” a statement from the Hamas government media office said.
Talks between the warring parties have been mediated by Qatar and Egypt, with US support, but months of negotiations have failed to bring a breakthrough.
The war was sparked by Hamas’s surprise October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,584 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Gaza health ministry.
The war and accompanying siege have devastated the Palestinian territory, destroying much of its infrastructure, leaving the majority of its 2.4 million residents displaced and causing a dire shortage of food, medicines and other basic goods.
Among the devastated facilities have been multiple schools. On Sunday, Israeli forces struck a UN-run school in Nuseirat camp that was being used as a shelter for displaced people but which the military said “served as a hideout” for militants.
The civil defense agency in Gaza said 15 people were killed in the strike, the fifth attack in just over a week to hit a school used as shelter by displaced Palestinians.