US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
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In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs, the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar is seen in the southern Red Sea near the Bay Al-Mandab Strait leaking oil after an attack by Yemen's Houthi militia on Feb. 20, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
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In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs, the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar is seen in the southern Red Sea near the Bay Al-Mandab Strait leaking oil after an attack by Yemen's Houthi militia on Feb. 20, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
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Updated 24 February 2024
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US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
  • The Belize-flagged Rubymar was damaged Sunday by a missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels
  • It was transporting 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, says Roy Khoury, the CEO of Blue Fleet CEO

WASHINGTON: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels is taking on water and has left a huge oil slick, in an environmental disaster that US Central Command said Friday could get worse.

Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in a Sunday missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury told AFP.
CENTCOM said the ship is anchored but slowly taking on water and has left an 18 mile oil slick.
“The M/V Rubymar was transporting over 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, which could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster,” it said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The ship’s operator said Thursday the ship could be towed to Djibouti this week.
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury had said there was “no risk for now, but always a possibility.”
The attack on the Rubymar represents the most significant damage yet to be inflicted on a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.
 


UN security council meets over Iran attacks on Israel amid warnings and calls for restraint 

UN security council meets over Iran attacks on Israel amid warnings and calls for restraint 
Updated 10 min 43 sec ago
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UN security council meets over Iran attacks on Israel amid warnings and calls for restraint 

UN security council meets over Iran attacks on Israel amid warnings and calls for restraint 
  • 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. 

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." 

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.   

“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.” 

 


Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 57 min 48 sec ago
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Israelis rattled by Iranian attack, fear escalation

A man crosses an empty street in Jerusalem on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

JERUSALEM: The first direct attack on Israel by Iran has shaken Israelis and left them fearful that a bigger war is looming.
While the population has long been used to sirens warning of attacks from Hamas, the hundreds of drones and missiles sent from Iran over Saturday night marked a new element in the over-lapping Middle East conflicts.
Israel reported modest damage on Sunday after the military said it shot down almost all of the more than 300 drones and missiles launched by Iran.
But the attack still rattled Israelis, whose army has fought Hamas for years in Gaza but never engaged in direct warfare with regional superpower Iran. Iranian weapons and interceptors could be seen flashing over the sky at night.

I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop no.

Jeremy Smith, Resident of Tzur Hadassah

“I think it was quite scary when we started hearing booming in the middle of the night, and we did not know what it was. I mean, we knew what it was, but we didn’t know to what extent it would be,” said Jerusalem resident Cecile Smulowitz.
“But thank God the Israeli army came through, and so far it’s quiet, and we hope it will continue that way.”
Iran mounted its attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli air strike on Tehran’s embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, which killed 13 people. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied carrying out the attack but is widely believed to have done so.
Following Iranian senior leader Ali Khamenei’s promise to hit back, Israelis were put on high alert.
Iran warned Israel and the US on Sunday of a “much larger response” if there was any retaliation for its mass drone and missile attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly told the world that Iran is an existential threat to the Jewish state, vowed Israel would achieve victory.
The threat of open warfare erupting between Iran and Israel and dragging the US into the conflict has put the region on edge.
Some Israelis said they did not want an escalation, but with the stakes so high, they are nervous despite having the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the region.
“I hope there won’t be a big war; none of us in Israel wants a big war, so I hope that’s it, and I hope Iran would stop now,” said Jeremy Smith, 60, a resident of Tzur Hadassah.
“I imagine Israel will respond because, I mean, our whole country was covered in missiles and drones. So what can you do? But we have to stop it somehow.”
Before the Iranian attack, Israeli authorities had instructed the public not to hold large gatherings, to close all schools and venues for children’s camps during the Jewish holiday of Passover, and to close some beaches and travel sites.
“We didn’t want the war with Hamas. They attacked us. We don’t want a war with Iran, they attack us,” said Jerusalem resident Amy Friedlang Morgans, 71.
“We don’t want a war with Iran. They, somehow, cannot accept Jewish people living here. This is our homeland. It’s written in the Bible.”
The Iranian attack took place against the background of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in which Israeli forces have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry figures.

 


Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
Updated 15 April 2024
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Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’

Ambrey says Israel intercepted UAV ‘launched from Yemen’
  • Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said

CAIRO: British security firm Ambrey said on Sunday that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) intercepted an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) near Eilat, stating that it assessed the UAV was launched from Yemen.
Ambrey said it also observed unprecedented levels of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS)interference off Eilat and neighboring Aqaba, Jordan, on Sunday.
“These were due to electronic warfare counter-measures,” the statement said.
“A Sa’ar 6-class corvette successfully intercepted a UAV that approached Israeli territory from the southeast using the ‘C-Dome’ Defense System earlier this evening,” the IDF posted on X.
Israel used its seaborne missile defense system for the first time on Tuesday to shoot down a drone approaching from the Red Sea that had set off sirens in the port city of Eilat, the military said.
Eilat has been a frequent target for launches by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as a show of support for Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza and is also backed by Iran.

 


US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
Updated 15 April 2024
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US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes

US judge tosses out lawsuits against Libyan commander accused of war crimes
  • The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A US judge has tossed out a series of civil lawsuits against a Libyan military commander who used to live in Virginia and was accused of killing innocent civilians in that country’s civil war.
At a court hearing Friday, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema said she had no jurisdiction to preside over a case alleging war crimes committed in Libya, even though the defendant, Khalifa Haftar, has US citizenship and lived for more than 20 years in the northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital as an exile from the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
The ruling was a significant reversal of fortune for Haftar. In 2022, Brinkema entered a default judgment against Haftar after he refused to sit for scheduled depositions about his role in the fighting that has plagued the country over the last decade.
But Haftar retained new lawyers who persuaded the judge to reopen the case and made Haftar available to be deposed. He sat for two separate depositions in 2022 and 2023 and denied orchestrating attacks against civilians.
Once a lieutenant to Qaddafi, Haftar defected to the US during the 1980s. He is widely believed to have worked with the CIA during his time in exile.
He returned to Libya in 2011 to support anti-Qaddafi forces that revolted against the dictator and killed him. During the country’s civil war, he led the self-styled Libyan National Army, which controlled much of the eastern half of Libya, with support from countries including Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He continues to hold sway in the eastern half of the country.
In the lawsuits, first filed in 2019, the plaintiffs say family members were killed by military bombardments conducted by Haftar’s army in civilian areas.
The lawsuits also alleged that Haftar and his family owned a significant amount of property in Virginia, which could have been used to pay off any judgment that would have been entered against him.
While the lawsuits were tossed out on technical issues over jurisdiction, one of Haftar’s lawyers, Paul Kamenar, said Haftar denied any role in the deaths of civilians.
“He’s not this ruthless figure that everyone wants to portray him as,” Kamenar said in a phone interview Sunday.
Faisal Gill, a lawyer for plaintiffs in one of the three lawsuits that Brinkema tossed out Friday, said he plans to appeal the dismissal.
Mark Zaid, lawyer for another set of plaintiffs, called Brinkema’s ruling perplexing and said he believes that the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case had already been established at an earlier phase of the case.
“A US citizen committed war crimes abroad and thus far has escaped civil accountability,” Zaid said Sunday in an emailed statement.
In court papers, Haftar tried to claim immunity from the suits as a head of state. At one point, the judge put the cases on pause because she worried that the lawsuits were being used to influence scheduled presidential elections in Libya, in which Haftar was a candidate. Those elections were later postponed.


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.