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.


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372
Updated 58 min 33 sec ago
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,372
  • The toll includes at least 25 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Tuesday that at least 37,372 people have been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 25 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that a total of 85,452 people had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.


US envoy says diplomacy ‘urgent’ to stop Israel-Lebanon border clashes

US envoy says diplomacy ‘urgent’ to stop Israel-Lebanon border clashes
Updated 18 June 2024
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US envoy says diplomacy ‘urgent’ to stop Israel-Lebanon border clashes

US envoy says diplomacy ‘urgent’ to stop Israel-Lebanon border clashes
  • US envoy Amos Hochstein: ‘The conflict... between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough’

BEIRUT: US envoy Amos Hochstein Tuesday called for the “urgent” de-escalation of cross-border exchanges of fire between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israeli forces raging since the start of the Gaza war.

“The conflict... between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough,” the presidential envoy said on a visit to Beirut.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to resolve it quickly and diplomatically — that is both achievable and it is urgent.”

The powerful Iran-backed armed group, an ally of the Palestinian militant movement Hamas, stepped up attacks on northern Israel last week after an Israeli strike killed one of its senior commanders.

But since Saturday afternoon, Hezbollah has not claimed any attacks against Israel, despite Israeli strikes on the border area in Lebanon’s south including one on Monday that killed a fighter.

Hochstein met with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a day after holding talks in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Speaker Berri and I had a very a good discussion,” Hochstein said.

“We discussed the current security and political situation in Lebanon as well as the deal on the table right now with respect to Gaza, which also presents an opportunity to end the conflict across the Blue Line,” the demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon.

US President Joe Biden last month outlined a truce proposal which Hochstein said would “ultimately the end of the conflict in Gaza.”

“A ceasefire in Gaza and, or, an alternative diplomatic solution could also bring the conflict across the Blue Line to an end” and allow the return of displaced civilians to southern Lebanon and northern Israel, the envoy added.

Hezbollah last week said it has carried out more than 2,100 military operations against Israel since October 8, the day after Hamas’s attack that sparked the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

The Israel-Lebanon border violence has killed at least 473 people on the Lebanese side, most of them fighters but also including 92 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan

UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan
Updated 18 June 2024
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UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan

UAE allocates $70 million in humanitarian aid for Sudan
  • Since the onset of the crisis, the UAE has launched an air bridge with Sudan and Chad

DUBAI: The UAE has said 70 percent of the $100 million pledge it announced for UN agencies last April will go towards supporting humanitarian aid efforts in Sudan, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the funds would be directed to key UN partners, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Health Organization. The money will provide food and health support, protect women and children, and offer livelihoods and shelter in emergencies.
Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem bint Ibrahim Al-Hashemi emphasized the UAE’s commitment to humanitarian support for the Sudanese people. She highlighted ongoing efforts to provide aid in cooperation with the WFP, including operations in El-Fasher and other areas in Sudan.
Since the onset of the crisis, the UAE has launched an air bridge with Sudan and Chad, delivering 9,500 tons of food and medical supplies through 148 relief flights and a ship carrying some 1,000 tons of urgent supplies. Additionally, the UAE has supported Sudanese refugee camps in Chad and South Sudan by providing food.


Major blaze rips through northern Jordan

Major blaze rips through northern Jordan
Updated 39 min ago
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Major blaze rips through northern Jordan

Major blaze rips through northern Jordan
  • The fire affected over 320,000 square meters of trees and dry grass

DUBAI:  Civil Defense teams on Monday extinguished a fire that spread from the Zamal area in the Koura District to the Anaba area in the Northern Mazar District.

Koura District Superintendent Bassem Al-Khalayleh informed the Jordan News Agency that the fire affected over 320 dunams (320,000 square meters) of trees and dry grass. He praised the quick response of the Civil Defense, which contained and extinguished the fire, preventing it from spreading to neighboring areas.

Al-Khalayleh urged citizens to clean the areas surrounding their homes, remove waste and dead vegetation that pose safety risks, ensure the presence and readiness of fire extinguishers, and educate individuals about fire hazards. He emphasized the dangers of throwing cigarette butts in forests, leaving flammable waste unattended, lighting fires in grassy areas, and using fireworks near forests or residential areas.

Jordan is currently experiencing a severe heatwave, with temperatures soaring to record highs of 45 degrees Celsius in several regions.

The Jordan Meteorological Department reported that the heatwave is expected to persist over the coming days, particularly impacting the desert areas, Jordan Valley, Dead Sea, and Aqaba. Residents are advised to stay indoors during peak sunlight hours, stay hydrated, and avoid strenuous outdoor activities.


Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants

Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants
Updated 18 June 2024
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Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants

Tunisian security units foil 59 sea border crossing attempts, rescue 1,806 migrants
  • At least 18 Tunisians were rescued on June 15 and 16 with the remainder being from sub-Saharan countries

DUBAI: Security units in Tunisia thwarted 59 attempts to illegally cross its sea borders and rescued 1,806 individuals, state news agency Tunis Afrique Press reported on Monday.

At least 18 Tunisians were rescued on June 15 and 16 with the remainder being from sub-Saharan countries, the Directorate General of the National Guard announced in a statement.

Two bodies were also recovered, and 24 wanted individuals, including smugglers and middlemen, were detained. In addition, the authorities seized boats and outboard motors used in illegal migration operations.