Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seizes a container ship near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Israel

Update Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seizes a container ship near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Israel
An image grab from a video shows a helicopter targeting a ship near the Strait of Hormuz on April 13, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 13 April 2024
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seizes a container ship near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Israel

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seizes a container ship near Strait of Hormuz amid tensions with Israel
  • Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries linked with Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group
  • Iran’s IRNA said special forces unit of IRGC’s navy carried out attack on vessel

TEHRAN/DUBAI: Commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled down from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel Saturday, the latest in a series of attacks between the two countries.
The Middle East had braced for potential Iranian retaliation over a suspected Israeli strike earlier this month on an Iranian consular building in Syria that killed 12 people, including a senior Guard general who once commanded its expeditionary Quds Force there.
The Israeli war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip meanwhile is now 6 months old and is inflaming decades-old tensions across the whole region. With Iranian-backed forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Yemen’s Houthi rebels also involved in the fighting, any new attack in the Mideast threatens to escalate that conflict into a wider regional war.
Iran’s state-run IRNA said a special forces unit of the Guard’s navy carried out the attack on the vessel, the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime.
Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Geneva-based MSC later acknowledged the seizure and said 25 crew had been aboard the vessel. IRNA said the Guard would take the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.
Earlier, a Middle East defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, shared a video of the attack with The Associated Press. In it, the Iranian commandos are seen rappelling down onto a stack of containers sitting on the deck of the vessel.
A crew member on the ship can be heard saying: “Don’t come out.” He then tells his colleagues to go to the ship’s bridge as more commandos come down on the deck. One commando can be seen kneeling above the others to provide them potential cover fire.
The video corresponded with known details of the MSC Aries. The helicopter used also appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthis of Yemen have used in the past to conduct commando raids on ships.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations described the vessel as being “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah, without elaborating.
The MSC Aries had been last located off Dubai heading toward the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. The ship had turned off its tracking data, which has been common for Israeli-affiliated ships moving through the region.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on nations to list the Guard as a terrorist organization.
Iran “is a criminal regime that supports Hamas’ crimes and is now conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law,” Katz said.
Iran since 2019 has engaged in a series of ship seizures and attacks on vessels have been attributed to it amid ongoing tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear program.
Since November, Iran had dialed back its ship attacks as the Houthis targeted ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Houthi attacks have slowed in recent weeks as the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan ended and the rebels have faced months of US-led airstrikes targeting them.
In previous seizures, Iran has offered initial explanations about their operations to make it seem like the attacks had nothing to do with the wider geopolitical tensions — though later acknowledging as much. In Saturday’s attack, however, Iran telling offered no explanation for the seizure other than to say the MSC Aries had links to Israel.
For days, Iranian officials up to and including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been threatening to “slap” Israel for the Syria strike. Western governments have issued warnings to their citizens in the region to be prepared for attacks.
However, Iran in the past largely has avoided directly attacking Israel, despite it carrying out the targeted killing of nuclear scientists and multiple sabotage campaigns against Iran’s atomic sites. Iran has however targeted Israeli or Jewish-linked sites through proxy forces over the decades.
Earlier this week, Guard Gen. Ali Reza Tangsiri, who oversees its naval forces, criticized the presence of Israelis in the region and in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE reached a diplomatic recognition deal with Israel in 2020, something that long has enraged Tehran.
“We know that bringing Zionists in this point is not merely for economic work,” Tangsiri reportedly said. “Now, they are carrying out security and military jobs, indeed. This is a threat, and this should not happen.”
The US, Israel’s main backer, has stood by the country despite growing concerns over Israel’s war on Gaza killing more than 33,600 Palestinians and wounding over 76,200 more. Israel’s war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.
On Friday, President Joe Biden warned Iran not to attack Israel and said he felt an Iranian attack on Israel likely would happen “sooner than later.”
“We will help defend Israel, and Iran will not succeed,” Biden added.
The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all globally traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the United Arab Emirates’ eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
Since 2019, the waters off Fujairah have seen a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy blamed Iran for limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers. The UAE meanwhile has sought to mend ties with Iran and issued a statement condemning the suspected Israeli attack in Syria.


Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead

Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead
Updated 23 May 2024
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Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead

Two-day Israeli raid on West Bank city leaves 12 Palestinians dead
  • Israeli troops withdrew from the city after carrying out raids in the city’s refugee camp and exchanging fire with masked gunmen
  • Four children among the dead, and 25 wounded during the fighting

JeNIN: A two-day Israeli raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin killed at least 12 Palestinians, health authorities and an AFP correspondent said Thursday.
Israeli troops withdrew from the city early Thursday, the correspondent said, after carrying out raids in the city’s refugee camp and exchanging fire with masked gunmen in a nearby neighborhood in the city center.
The Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah said Israeli forces had killed 12 people including four children, and wounded 25 during the fighting which began on Tuesday morning.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa and medical charity Doctors Without Borders reported that surgeon Usaeed Jabareen, from Jenin’s Khalil Suleiman government hospital, was among those killed on Tuesday.
An AFP correspondent on Thursday saw five bodies at the hospital morgue, including Jabareen’s.
A schoolteacher and a student were also among the dead, Wafa reported, quoting hospital director Wissam Bakr.
Several of the bodies were draped in flags and carried among crowds of Palestinians, including armed militants, through the streets as gunfire rang out.
Both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Palestinian militant group Hamas condemned the raid.
Israel’s army said on Wednesday troops had “exchanged fire with armed men and killed a number of terrorists, including two terrorists who threw explosives at the forces.”
The army said it had raided the house of Ahmed Barakat, who was suspected of involvement in an attack on an Israeli civilian last year.
Meir Tamari, 32, was killed in May 2023 at the entrance to a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, medics and military officials said at the time.
Jenin has long been a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups, and the Israeli army routinely carries out raids in the city and adjacent camp.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has seen a surge in violence for more than a year, but especially so since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
At least 518 Palestinians have been killed in the territory by Israeli troops or settlers since the Gaza war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 12 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The Gaza Strip has been gripped by more than seven months of war since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source

Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source
Updated 23 May 2024
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Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source

Hezbollah fighter killed in Israeli strike on south Lebanon: source
  • Hezbollah announced the death of its member Muhammad Ali Nasser Faran from Nabatieh

BEIRUT: An Israeli drone strike killed a Hezbollah fighter in southern Lebanon, a source close to the powerful Islamist movement said on Thursday.
Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has traded near daily cross-border fire with Israeli forces since the Palestinian group’s October 7 attack on southern Israel sparked the war in Gaza.
Hezbollah later announced the death of its member Muhammad Ali Nasser Faran, from Nabatieh, and a source close to Hezbollah said he was killed in the strike.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency had reported that a “drone targeted a car on the road leading to Nabatieh,” a city close to Lebanon’s border with Israel.
“The driver was killed,” it said, noting that three children in a nearby school bus were injured.
A member of the civil defense told AFP that the children received “light injuries as a result of the broken windows of the bus that was taking them to school” and that they were taken to hospital.
Since the start of the cross-border fighting, at least 429 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly militants but also including 82 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
The violence has raised fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.


Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid
Updated 23 May 2024
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Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid

Top UN court to rule Friday on South Africa Gaza ceasefire bid
  • The rulings of the ICJ are binding but it has no power to enforce them

THE HAGUE: The UN’s top court said it will rule Friday on a request by South Africa to order Israel to implement a ceasefire in Gaza.
South Africa has petitioned the International Court of Justice for emergency measures to order Israel to “cease its military operations in the Gaza Strip” including in Rafah city, where it is pressing an offensive.
The rulings of the ICJ, which rules on disputes between states, are binding but it has no power to enforce them — it has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine to no avail, for example.
But a ruling against Israel would increase the international legal pressure after the International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor said Monday he was seeking arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders.
In hearings last week, South Africa charged that what it described as Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza had hit a “new and horrific stage” with its assault on Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion.
The Rafah campaign is “the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people,” argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.
“It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order,” he added.
Lawyers for Israel hit out at South Africa’s case as being “totally divorced” from reality that made a “mockery” of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention it is accused of breaching.
“Calling something a genocide again and again does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” top lawyer for Israel Gilad Noam said.
“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” he added.
Israeli troops began their ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which voiced fears for the more than one million civilians trapped in the city.
Israel has ordered mass evacuations from the city, where it has vowed to eliminate Hamas’s tunnel network and its remaining fighters.
The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.


Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on
Updated 23 May 2024
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Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on

Israel says ready to resume truce talks as Gaza war grinds on
  • The week started with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants over war crimes
  • Newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants

Jerusalem: Israel bombed Gaza on Thursday even as it said it was ready to resume stalled talks on a truce and hostage release deal with Hamas to pause the war raging since October 7.
Global pressure for a ceasefire has mounted on Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as three European countries said Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state.
The week started with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court seeking arrest warrants over war crimes against Netanyahu and his defense minister as well as three Hamas leaders.
Israel has angrily rejected those moves, voicing “disgust” over the ICC move and labelling a recognition of the State of Palestine now a “reward for terrorism.”
But domestic pressure has also risen as supporters of hostages trapped in war-torn Gaza again rallied outside Netanyahu’s office, passionately demanding steps to free them.
A newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants during the attack more than seven months ago.
The three-minute clip, taken from a militant’s body camera footage, was released by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum on Wednesday after the Israeli army lifted censorship on it.
“The footage reveals the violent, humiliating and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction, their eyes filled with raw terror,” the forum said.
Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting Hamas to “ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again,” and more bombardment rained down overnight on targets in the devastated Gaza Strip.
But his office also said that the war cabinet had asked the Israeli negotiating team “to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages.”
The previous round of truce talks, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, ended shortly after Israel launched its attack on Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah early this month.
Israel went ahead with the assault on the last Gaza city so far spared a major ground offensive in defiance of global opposition, including from top ally the United States.
Washington voiced concerns that 1.4 million Palestinians who had been trapped in crowded tent cities and shelters there would be caught in the line of fire.
Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from the city, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Wednesday the Rafah operation “has been more targeted and limited” than feared and “has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas.”
But he stopped short of saying that Israel had addressed US concerns, adding that Washington was closely watching ongoing Israeli actions.
Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi has meanwhile given a bleak assessment of the war so far to a meeting of the parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 13.
He reportedly said that Israel has “not achieved any of the strategic aims of the war — not conditions for a hostage deal, we haven’t toppled Hamas, and we haven’t allowed residents of the (Gaza) periphery to return safely home.”
The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,709 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Heavy fighting raged again in Gaza, where an AFP team reported fresh strikes early Thursday around Rafah.
Troops in the city had “dismantled a number of tunnel shafts and launchers in the area, and eliminated several terrorists during close-quarters encounters,” said the military.
Urban combat has also flared again in northern areas, including Jabalia, which Israeli forces first entered several months ago.
Israeli forces there “targeted several Hamas terrorists during strikes on military compounds” and located AK-47 and sniper rifles, grenades and other weaponry, the military said.
Israel has also imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza’s 2.4 million people of most drinking water, food, medical and fuel supplies.
The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces took control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
Jordan and others have kept up aid airdrops, and relief goods have been shipped in via a US-built pier, but many trucks were quickly swarmed by desperate crowds.
Israel has faced ever greater opposition to the bloody war around the world, and pro-Palestinian protests have swept US and other university campuses.
Israel reacted with fury after Ireland, Norway and Spain said they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, a move praised by Palestinians and across the Arab world.
Israel recalled its envoys to Dublin, Oslo and Madrid and summoned their ambassadors for a rebuke.
Most Western governments say they are willing to recognize Palestinian statehood one day, but not before thorny issues such as final borders and the status of Jerusalem are settled.
The White House said Biden opposed unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, saying it should be realized “through direct negotiations.”
Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris called the October 7 attack “barbaric” but stressed that “a two-state solution is the only way out of the generational cycles of violence.”


Vessel targeted by ‘missile’ attack off Yemen: security firms

Vessel targeted by ‘missile’ attack off Yemen: security firms
Updated 23 May 2024
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Vessel targeted by ‘missile’ attack off Yemen: security firms

Vessel targeted by ‘missile’ attack off Yemen: security firms
  • The vessel was “suspiciously approached” 68 nautical miles (125 kilometers) off Hodeidah
  • No injuries or damages reported

SANAA: A missile attack targeted a commercial vessel transiting southwest of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah without causing any damage or casualties, maritime security firms said on Thursday.
The vessel was “suspiciously approached” 68 nautical miles (125 kilometers) off Hodeidah, Ambrey said, without identifying the ship or the flag that it was flying.
“The vessel had undergone what she described as a ‘missile attack’ at the location,” it added, noting that “no injuries or damages were reported.”


The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, run by the Royal Navy, also reported an incident at the same location, with “a missile impacting the water in close proximity” to the ship.
“Vessel and all crew are safe and proceeding to next port of call,” it said in an advisory.

Ambrey separately sent another advisory note after saying a merchant vessel reported a projectile impact on the water approximately 33 nautical miles south of Yemen’s Mocha.
“The projectile reportedly impacted the water 0.2 NM aft of the vessel. 2.5 hours prior another merchant vessel had reported a ‘missile attack’ west of Mocha,” Ambrey added.
The two vessels were transiting at a distance of 2-5 NM from each other during the incidents, it said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have launched a flurry of attacks against ships since November.
The group, which controls the Yemeni capital Sanaa and much of the country’s Red Sea coast, say their campaign is in solidarity with Palestinians amid the Gaza war.
Their attacks have prompted US and British reprisal strikes and the formation of an international naval coalition to protect the vital trade route.
On Wednesday, US military forces shot down four drones in Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said.
“It was determined these systems presented an imminent threat to US coalition forces, and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM posted on social media platform X.