EU launches Red Sea mission as US ship attacked twice

EU launches Red Sea mission as US ship attacked twice
The frigate “Hessen” leaves the port at Wilhelmshaven, Germany, February 8, 2024 for the Red Sea. (AP)
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Updated 20 February 2024
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EU launches Red Sea mission as US ship attacked twice

EU launches Red Sea mission as US ship attacked twice
  • “Europe will ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside our international partners,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on X

DUBAI: The EU formally launched a naval mission on Monday to protect Red Sea shipping from Yemen’s Houthi rebels as attacks by the group forced the crew of one vessel to abandon ship and damaged another.
The Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of war-torn Yemen, have been harassing the vital shipping lane since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The European Union aims to have the mission — called Aspides, Greek for “shield” — up and running in a “few weeks” with at least four vessels, an official said on Friday.
“Europe will ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, working alongside our international partners,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on X.
The United States is already spearheading its own naval coalition in the area and has conducted retaliatory strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, as has Britain.
The dozens of Houthi attacks have roiled shipping in the Red Sea, forcing some companies to take alternative routes including a two-week detour around the tip of southern Africa.
On Monday evening, the Houthis said they had targeted three vessels in the last 24 hours, including the British-registered Rubymar, the US-owned Sea Champion and the Navis Fortuna which they described as “American.”
Earlier, the maritime security firm Ambrey had reported that a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier was attacked twice in two hours in the gulf, which adjoins the Red Sea.
The bulk carrier reported a “missile attack” before another projectile hit the water just meters (yards) from the ship, Ambrey said.
The ship’s master reported “evidence of shrapnel and damage to paintwork” in the second incident, the Royal Navy’s UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said.
The Sea Champion is a Greek-flagged bulk carrier that was traveling from Argentina to Yemen, multiple tracking sites show.
Meanwhile, the crew of the British-registered, Belize-flagged Rubymar were forced to abandon ship following a Houthi strike.
A UK government spokesperson condemned what they called a “reckless attack” on the bulk carrier and said coalition vessels were already on the scene, Britain’s Press Association reported.
The UKMTO reported that the incident took place 35 nautical miles (65 kilometers) south of Mokha on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. The location would be toward the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
Citing “military authorities,” it said the crew had safely “abandoned the vessel” which was left at anchor with military authorities at the site and providing assistance.
The Navis Fortuna was approaching the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait on Monday afternoon, Marine Traffic, a ship tracking service, showed.
Late on Monday the UKMTO said it had received a report of an incident 60 nautical miles (110 kilometers) north of Djibouti, also near the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait.
As the attacks continued, Qatar’s energy minister called for a ceasefire in Gaza to end the insecurity in the Red Sea, which has disrupted oil deliveries along with other trade.
Saad Al-Kaabi, who is also the chief executive of state-owned QatarEnergy, said the “root of the problem” in the Red Sea “is the Israeli invasion of Gaza.”
“Hopefully there is a ceasefire soon that will stop that so that the economic impact on the entire world stops,” he said.
Separately, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said that revenues from the Suez Canal, which links the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, had fallen “40 to 50 percent” so far this year.
The canal, which brought in $8.6 billion in the 2022-23 fiscal year, is a vital source of foreign currency for Cairo, which is suffering from a severe financial crisis.
Italian top diplomat Antonio Tajani confirmed the EU mission’s launch during a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels, calling it “an important step toward common European defense.”
The overall commander of the EU mission will be Greek, while the lead officer in operational control at sea will be Italian.
So far France, Germany, Italy and Belgium have said they plan to contribute ships.
The EU says the mission’s mandate — set initially for one year — is limited to protecting civilian shipping in the Red Sea and that no attacks will be carried out “on Yemeni soil.”
An EU official said there would be “continuous military to military contact” to coordinate actions with the United States and other forces in the region.


Ukraine’s top commander says Russia aims to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9

Ukraine’s top commander says Russia aims to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9
Updated 46 sec ago
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Ukraine’s top commander says Russia aims to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9

Ukraine’s top commander says Russia aims to capture Chasiv Yar by May 9
  • Fighting getting harder on eastern front, Zelensky says
  • Russia pushing toward Donetsk region town on high ground

KYIV: Ukraine’s top commander said on Sunday Russian forces aimed to capture the town of Chasiv Yar by May 9, setting the stage for an important battle for control of high ground in the east where Russia is focusing its assaults.

The fall of the town west of the shattered city of Bakhmut by the date Moscow marks the Soviet victory in World War Two would indicate growing Russian battlefield momentum as Kyiv faces a slowdown in Western military aid.
Col. General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who warned this weekend that the situation in the east had deteriorated, said Russia was focusing its efforts west of occupied Bakhmut to try to capture Chasiv Yar before moving toward the city of Kramatorsk.
Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region lies 5-10 kilometers (3-6 miles) from Bakhmut, the devastated city captured by Russian forces in May last year after months of bloody fighting.
Kyiv’s brigades were holding back the assaults near Chasiv Yar for now and had been reinforced with ammunition, drones and electronic warfare devices, he said in a statement on the Telegram messenger.
“The threat remains relevant, taking into account the fact that the higher Russian military leadership has set its troops the task of capturing Chasiv Yar by May 9,” he said, without elaborating.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, writing on Facebook, said he visited Ukrainian units on the eastern front on Sunday and described the situation as “tense,” with Russia trying to make headway in areas west of Bakhmut.

“Despite the numerical superiority of the enemy, we effectively disrupt these plans thanks to the courage, training and professionalism of the defenders,” he wrote.
Russia marks May 9 with a big military parade on Red Square overseen by President Vladimir Putin who won a new six-year term in the Kremlin at a tightly-controlled election in March.

Attacks on the energy system
The war has escalated in recent weeks with Russia staging three massive air strikes on Ukrainian power plants and substations, raising fears over the resilience of an energy system that was hobbled in the war’s first winter.
President Volodymyr Zelensky told Ukrainians in his nightly address on Sunday: “The situation at the front during such a hot war is always difficult. But these days — and especially on the Donetsk front — it’s getting harder.”
The Ukrainian leader has warned the Kremlin may be preparing to launch a big offensive in late spring or summer.
It is unclear where that attack would come, but Russia has focused its attacking efforts in the Donetsk region.
Ukraine has this year tried to find a pressure point to strike back against the Kremlin, using domestically-produced long-range drones to bomb oil facilities deep inside Russia.
Ukraine now faces manpower challenges and artillery shell shortages.
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a think-tank in Philadelphia, said on X that Chasiv Yar would likely prove an important battle.
“Chasiv Yar is located on defensible high ground. If Russia takes the (town), they could potentially increase the rate of advance deeper into Donetsk (region) as part of an expected summer offensive,” he said.
“Russian forces will still have to cross the canal to take the (town), but they have now reached the canal southeast of the (town). Immediate increased deliveries of ammunition could prove critical.”


Police probe killer’s targeting of women in Sydney mall attack

Police probe killer’s targeting of women in Sydney mall attack
Updated 35 min 40 sec ago
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Police probe killer’s targeting of women in Sydney mall attack

Police probe killer’s targeting of women in Sydney mall attack
  • Cauchi’s assault, which lasted about half an hour, was brought to an end when solo police inspector Amy Scott shot him dead

SYDNEY: Australian police said Monday they are investigating why a 40-year-old man with mental illness appeared to target women as he roamed a Sydney shopping mall with a large knife, killing six people and injuring a dozen more.
Videos shared on social media showed unshaven itinerant Joel Cauchi pursuing mostly female victims as he rampaged through the vast, crowded Westfield shopping complex in Bondi Junction on Saturday afternoon.
Five of the six victims killed were women, as well as most of those wounded.
“The videos speak for themselves don’t they, and that’s certainly a line of inquiry for us,” New South Wales police commissioner Karen Webb said.
“That’s obvious to me, it’s obvious to detectives, that that seems to be an area of interest — that the offender had focused on women and avoided men,” she told national broadcaster ABC.
Webb stressed that police could not know what was in the mind of the attacker.
“That’s why it’s important now that detectives spend so much time interviewing those who know him.”
Cauchi’s Facebook profile said he came from Toowoomba, near Brisbane, and had attended a local high school and university.
A distinctive grey, red and yellow dragon tattoo on his right arm was used to help identify him.
The last of Cauchi’s six victims was identified Monday as Yixuan Cheng, a young Chinese woman who was a student.
The other women killed were a designer, a volunteer surf lifesaver, the daughter of an entrepreneur, and a new mother whose wounded nine-month-old baby is in hospital.
The mother, 38-year-old Ashlee Good, handed her injured baby girl to strangers in desperation before being rushed to hospital where she died of her wounds.
The baby, named Harriet, remains in a stable condition in a Sydney hospital, police said.
Good’s family described her as “a beautiful mother, daughter, sister, partner, friend, all-round outstanding human and so much more.”
“To the two men who held and cared for our baby when Ashlee could not — words cannot express our gratitude,” they said in a statement to Australian media.
The only man killed was 30-year-old Pakistani man Faraz Tahir, who had been working as a security guard when he was stabbed.
Cauchi’s assault, which lasted about half an hour, was brought to an end when solo police inspector Amy Scott shot him dead.
Following the shooting, Scott — who has been hailed as a hero — was spending time with her family to deal with the “very traumatic matter,” the state police chief said.
In a statement, Cauchi’s parents offered thoughts for the victims and said their son’s actions were “truly horrific.”
“We are still trying to comprehend what has happened. He has battled with mental health issues since he was a teenager.”
The parents also sent a message to the officer who shot their son dead.
“She was only doing her job to protect others and we hope she is coping alright,” they said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he had spoken to the families of some of the victims.
“The gender break-down is of course concerning — each and every victim here is mourned,” he told ABC radio, promising a “comprehensive” police investigation.
Cauchi is believed to have traveled to Sydney about a month ago and hired a small storage unit in the city, according to police. It contained personal belongings, including a boogie board.
He had been living in a vehicle and hostels, and was only in sporadic contact with his family via text messages, his parents said.


At UNSC meeting, Iran and US swap threats while Israel urges ‘all possible sanctions’ over attack

At UNSC meeting, Iran and US swap threats while Israel urges ‘all possible sanctions’ over attack
Updated 42 min 36 sec ago
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At UNSC meeting, Iran and US swap threats while Israel urges ‘all possible sanctions’ over attack

At UNSC meeting, Iran and US swap threats while Israel urges ‘all possible sanctions’ over attack
  • Iran envoy: If US attacks Iran, Tehran will use “its inherent right to respond proportionately” 
  • US ambassador: If Iran attacks US, it will be held responsible

NEW YORK: Iran has on Sunday said that it has no intention of engaging militarily with the US in the region, but if the latter initiates a military operation against it, its citizens, or security interests “Iran will use its inherent right to respond proportionately." 

Iran’s permanent representative to the UN Amir Saeid Iravani told a meeting of the UN Security council that his country’s Saturday attack on Israel was "precise, only targeted military objectives and was carried out carefully to minimize the potential for escalation and prevents civilian harm." 

 

 

Iran on Saturday launched dozens of drones and missiles at Israel in retaliation against an Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, which killed seven revolutionary guards, including two generals. Iran had warned that Israel would be “punished” for the strike, which took place on April 1. 

The emergency Security Council meeting was requested by Israel’s permanent representative to the UN Gilad Erdan who called council members to “unequivocally condemn Iran (and) immediately act to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.” 

Iran had said that Saturday’s attack was in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which invokes the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.” 

US ambassador Robert Wood warned that “if Iran or its proxies take actions against the United States or further action against Israel, Iran will be held responsible. " 

Wood condemned in the strongest terms "the unprecedented attack on Israel by Iran and its militant proxies and partners.” Iran's "reckless actions" not only posed a threat to populations in Israel, but also to other UN member states in the region, including Jordan and Iraq, he added.  

"Security Council has an obligation to not let Iran actions go unanswered,” said the US diplomat, adding that "for far too long, Iran has flagrantly violated its international legal obligations through the actions of its IRGC, by arming Hezbollah, by arming, facilitating and enabling Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and more recently, merchant and commercial shipping in the Red Sea.” 

 

 

Wood also accused Iran of being complicit in the October 7 attack on Israel, having provided “significant funding and training for Hamas.”  

He said the US will explore “additional measures to hold Iran accountable at the UN,” and called on the Security Council to unequivocally condemn Iran's actions and call for it “and its partners and proxies to cease their attacks. " 

Israel’s Gilad Erdan compared Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Hitler. He said that in its “plot to impose a global Shiite hegemony through its proxies, Iran has even attacked Saudi Arabia, the Aramco oil field in the UAE and anyone else they view as an obstacle.” 

"The only option is to condemn Iran and utilize every means necessary to make them pay a heavy price for their horrible crimes,” Erdan told the council, as he warned that Tehran is “barreling towards nuclear capabilities, has enriched uranium up to 60% purity, and its breakout time to produce nuclear weapons is now mere weeks away.  

“Impose sanctions on Iran before it is too late," said Erdan. 

Israel's UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan shows a video of the Iran missile attack during a meeting  of the Security Council on Middle East security on April 14, 2024. (REUTERS)

The Israeli envoy added that "we are being fired upon from all fronts, from every border. We are surrounded by Iran's terror proxies. The war in Gaza extends far broader than Israel and Hamas. All of the terror groups attacking Israel are tentacles of the same Shia octopus, the Iranian octopus." 

He warned that "while the Ayatollah regime thinks Israel is a frog in boiling water. They are wrong. This attack crossed every red line and Israel reserves the legal right to retaliate.  We are a nation of lions. Following such a massive and direct attack on Israel, the entire world let alone Israel cannot settle for inaction." 

Russia's Vasily Nebenzia accused the council of hypocrisy and double standard over its failure to convene in a similar fashion following Israel’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, or what he called the “now regular attacks by Israel against Syria and Lebanon.” 

The Russian envoy warned that “if the council’s inaction on such matters will continue "then your appeals to restraint by all parties can become futile." 

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the Security Council of hypocrisy and double standard for not convening in a similar fashion following Israel’s attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. (Getty Images/AFP)

China's deputy permanent representative Dai Bing noted Iran’s statement that its military action was in response to Israel's aggression against his diplomatic premises and “the matter can be deemed concluded." 

Dai added that "if the flames of the Gaza conflict are allowed to continue raging, then the adverse spillover is set to spread still further, making the region, even more unstable. Countries and peoples in the Middle East, have no desire for nor can they afford a larger conflict or war." 

Algeria's Deputy Permanent Representative Nacim Gaouaoui said recent developments cannot overrule the central question “which is the aggression on the Palestinian people in Gaza, and at the same time, it can never be used as a pretext or cover to launch a land attack against Rafah.  

“Algeria calls again for ceasefire, and an end to Israel's heinous killing machine.” 

Slovenia's Samuel Zbogar condemned the attacks on Israel in same way Slovenia condemned the attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus earlier in April. 

"The sequence of these events accelerates the spiral of violence, escalating into a broader conflict of unpredictable scope,” Zbogar said, as he urged all parties to “choose the path of dialogue and diplomacy, and refrain from further retaliations." 

"Slovenia continues to believe that a ceasefire in Gaza would have a calming effect on tensions in the region. Every moment we delay the risk of a broader conflict increases in these chaotic times," added Zbogar.  

Malta's UN ambassador Vanessa Frazier said the Middle East is experiencing “one of the bleakest and most volatile periods in modern history, which risks spiraling out of control if all sides do not take a step back. 

"Focus should be on defusing tensions by advocating for an immediate and permanent cease fire to the war in Gaza, facilitate immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and ensure the delivery of sustained humanitarian aid throughout Gaza. All we are witnessing, our steps in the opposite direction," lamented Frazier.  

Sierra Leone’s UN ambassador Michael Imran Kanu warned that “the escalating tension in the Middle East is dangerous and unprecedented, with the potential to destabilize not only the entire region, but impact global peace and security.” 

UK’s permanent representative to the UN Barbara Woodward condemned Iran’s attack on Israel and accused Tehran of being intent on sowing chaos in the region.   

Britain's UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, addressing the Security Council meeting, accused Iran of being intent on sowing chaos in the Mideast region. (AP)

“As we have demonstrated, the United Kingdom will continue to stand up for Israel's security, and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq.” 

France’s deputy permanent representative Nathalie Broadhurst said Iran crossed a new threshold in its destabilizing action and is risking a military escalation for which “it would be responsible.”  

Broadhurst called upon Tehran and its allies “to at long last, and without further delay cease their destabilizing activities throughout the region.” 

 


Biden in ‘very tough spot’ trying to stop Middle East escalation

Biden in ‘very tough spot’ trying to stop Middle East escalation
Updated 15 April 2024
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Biden in ‘very tough spot’ trying to stop Middle East escalation

Biden in ‘very tough spot’ trying to stop Middle East escalation
  • Biden has been trying to avoid a regional war that could suck the United States back into the Middle East ever since Hamas’s October 7 attack

WASHINGTON: Iran’s attack on Israel gives Joe Biden a familiar dilemma, but on steroids — how to balance support for a difficult ally while preventing the nightmare scenario of a wider war?
Tensions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel’s war on Gaza were papered over as the US president offered “ironclad” support, including shooting down Iranian drones.
But the White House said it would not support an Israeli counterattack and warned Israel to “think carefully” about escalation that could trigger a full-blown regional conflict.
The question then for Biden, who is facing a tough reelection battle against Donald Trump in November, is what if Netanyahu goes ahead anyway, as he has done in Gaza?
“It puts him in a very tough spot” Colin Clarke, Director of Research at the Soufan Group, told AFP.
“I think he’s suspicious of Netanyahu’s motives here... that Netanyahu is attempting to broaden the war throughout the region to deflect from how poorly the war is going for him in Gaza.”
Biden has been trying to avoid a regional war that could suck the United States back into the Middle East ever since Hamas’s October 7 attack and Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip.
The 81-year-old has, however, struggled to use the leverage provided by the United States being Israel’s main military supplier, especially given a long history of tense relations with Netanyahu.
Biden has been increasingly critical of the death toll in the Palestinian territory and even went as far as suggesting the US could limit military aid, but so far to little effect.
Iran’s attack has seen Biden go back to showing overt support — but at the same time scrambling to stop the crisis spiraling.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Netanyahu was “well aware” that Biden did not want a “wider war.”
Biden himself warned Netanyahu of the potential dangers in a call on Saturday night at a time of “heightened emotion.”
“The president had a discussion about trying to slow things down, think through things,” a US official said.
The hope was that “in the light of day” Israel would see it had had a “spectacular success” against Iran’s attack, added the official.
Washington’s calculus looks to be that Iran also got what it wanted, with a show of force in retaliation for Israel’s strike in Damascus earlier this month that killed a key Iranian general, but with minimal damage.
“However, I fear the status quo will be short-lived,” said James Ryan, Executive Director of the Middle East Research and Information Project, warning of a “dangerous spiral.”
“I expect Biden to attempt to restrain Israeli responses, but Netanyahu has already shown a willingness to test any kind of limit Biden wishes to impose,” he added.
“It’s all very cynical now, unfortunately.”
Biden’s options for restraining Israel are likely to be limited at this stage to tough language in private and making threats in public.
“They’ve got themselves into a corner in many ways,” said Clarke.
“I think they’ve overplayed their hand a little bit by saying the administration is considering cutting off weapons to the Israelis. It’s never going to happen — I think it’s an empty threat, especially in an election year.”
The US presidential election in November comes as Biden faces domestic political pressure on all sides when it comes to Israel.
Trump has led a chorus of Republicans accusing Biden of being weak on the issue — while young and left-wing voters in particular are angered by his failure to stop the bloodshed in Gaza.
Netanyahu, facing his own political and legal issues at home, would now be able to use the Iran attacks to “paper over the very real rifts that exist” with Washington on Gaza, said Clarke.
“If he can drag this out until November, he’s hoping for a Trump victory” when he would have “carte blanche” to act however he wanted in the region, said Clarke.
Another possibility, however, is that Netanyahu may decide to “accede to American urgings” for now on Iran — but with a cost, said Paul Salem, President and CEO of the Middle East Institute.
“Politically, I think they can cash in on saying, ‘okay, America, we won’t do anything, we’re being good. But in exchange, you have to, you know, give us more of a free hand in Gaza,’” he said.


G7 ‘ready to take measures’ over destabilization by Iran

G7 ‘ready to take measures’ over destabilization by Iran
Updated 15 April 2024
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G7 ‘ready to take measures’ over destabilization by Iran

G7 ‘ready to take measures’ over destabilization by Iran
  • Going forward we will reflect on additional sanctions against Iran in close cooperation with our partners: Ursula von der Leyen

ROME: G7 leaders offered their full support for Israel on Sunday following an attack by Iran, and said they were ready to “take further measures” in response to “further destabilising initiatives.”
In a statement following a video meeting, the leaders of the Group of Seven powers said they “unequivocally condemn in the strongest terms Iran’s direct and unprecedented attack against Israel.”
“We express our full solidarity and support to Israel and its people and reaffirm our commitment toward its security,” they said, in the statement published by the Italian G7 presidency.
“With its actions, Iran has further stepped toward the destabilization of the region and risks provoking an uncontrollable regional escalation. This must be avoided.
“We will continue to work to stabilize the situation and avoid further escalation.
“In this spirit, we demand that Iran and its proxies cease their attacks, and we stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilising initiatives.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a separate statement: “Going forward we will reflect on additional sanctions against Iran in close cooperation with our partners. Specifically on its drone and missile programs.”
Iran launched the attack, its first ever to directly target Israeli territory, in retaliation for a deadly air strike widely blamed on Israel that destroyed its consular building in Syria’s capital early this month.
The attack came as the Israel-Hamas war raged in besieged Gaza.
The G7 — which groups the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada — also said Sunday they would step up efforts to end that crisis.
“We will also strengthen our cooperation to end the crisis in Gaza, including by continuing to work toward an immediate and sustainable ceasefire and the release of hostages by Hamas, and deliver increased humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in need,” they said.
The Israel-Hamas war began with an unprecedented October 7 attack by the militant group against Israel, resulting in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.