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.


’Afraid to walk the streets’: Syria refugees face Lebanon expulsion

’Afraid to walk the streets’: Syria refugees face Lebanon expulsion
Updated 3 sec ago
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’Afraid to walk the streets’: Syria refugees face Lebanon expulsion

’Afraid to walk the streets’: Syria refugees face Lebanon expulsion
  • Standing at her husband’s vegetable stall by the side of the road outside the village of Minyara in Lebanon’s impoverished north, Janhat, 38, said she lives in a state of constant worry
MINYARA: For weeks, refugee Maryam Janhat has been living in fear of deportation as Lebanon cracks down on Syrians, with politicians ramping up calls for them to be forced home.
Refugees from Lebanon’s war-torn neighbor face a dilemma: should they stay and contend with stricter measures and growing anti-Syrian sentiment, or should they return home and risk poverty and repression?
Standing at her husband’s vegetable stall by the side of the road outside the village of Minyara in Lebanon’s impoverished north, Janhat, 38, said she lives in a state of constant worry.
“I am scared when (my husband and children) come to work at the stall. I am afraid they could take my son at any moment... we are afraid to walk the streets,” she said.
Syrians make up about half of Minyara’s 8,000 residents, the municipality says, with most living in tent camps adjacent to vast agricultural fields.
Janhat, who took refuge in the village a decade ago after fleeing violence in the central Syrian province of Homs, feels lucky to be living in a house rather than a flimsy tent.
But she and her family have been unable to renew their residency in Lebanon, and they fear being deported to Syria where she says they have “no house, no work, and no security.”
A few steps away, 70-year-old Ibrahim Mansour is offloading crates of fruit and vegetables from his van to sell.
Syrians “have stalls everywhere, competing with us in every sector,” he said.
“When they leave, the situation will improve a lot.”
Many Lebanese, including politicians, have long pushed for Syrians who have fled 13 years of civil war at home to return, blaming them for exacerbating Lebanon’s woes, including a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019.
Lebanon says it currently hosts around two million people from Syria — the world’s highest number of refugees per capita — with almost 785,000 registered with the United Nations.
In recent months, politicians have ramped up anti-Syrian rhetoric, with Hassan Nasrallah, who heads the powerful Hezbollah group, urging Beirut to open the seas for migrant boats to reach Europe to pressure for more Western aid.
Earlier this month, the European Union announced $1 billion in aid to Lebanon to help tackle illegal migration, mostly of Syrians to nearby Cyprus, the bloc’s easternmost member.
Lebanon has long heavily relied on Syrians for manual labor, especially in agriculture and construction.
Minyara mayor Antoun Abboud said Syrians were needed in the workforce but that his village cannot accommodate large numbers of refugees or provide them with basic services.
“We are not telling them to leave. We just want to reduce... and organize Syrian presence” in Lebanon, he said.

Lebanese security forces have intensified a crackdown on Syrians without residency permits, shutting down their businesses and forcing them to evacuate their homes.
“Hate campaigns, legal restrictions, and unprecedented measures to make it difficult to obtain residency” are on the rise, said Sahar Mandour, Amnesty International’s Lebanon researcher.
This means most Syrians find themselves without legal residency, she said, adding that “voluntary returns are impossible in these conditions.”
In one of the informal camps near the village, children play in the dirt, while men sit idle, too frightened to leave.
“Everyone is scared,” said herder Hajjem, 37, who declined giving his last name for security concerns.
“Syrians cannot move anymore. Even laborers in the fields are skipping work,” he said, shearing his sheep near the camp, while women around him collected the wool.
He fled to Lebanon illegally eight years ago, at the height of Syria’s war, and cannot return because he says he is wanted by Damascus.
He said he has been too scared to venture outside for work since security forces began to clamp down more forcefully on Syrians.
“I can’t sleep at night because the army or security forces could deport us at any moment,” he said.
His elderly father is also filled with worry.
“If we leave, we will die of hunger. There are no opportunities in our country,” he said.
“It would be better to throw oneself into the sea.”

No sign of attack on Raisi’s helicopter: Iran’s military

No sign of attack on Raisi’s helicopter: Iran’s military
Updated 54 min 4 sec ago
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No sign of attack on Raisi’s helicopter: Iran’s military

No sign of attack on Raisi’s helicopter: Iran’s military
  • There was no sign of anything shot at the helicopter and its flight path did not change
  • Raisi was buried in a tomb at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad on Thursday

TEHRAN, Iran: The helicopter carrying Iran’s late President Ebrahim Raisi caught fire soon after it crashed into a mountain and there was no sign it was attacked, state media reported, citing the military’s crash investigators.
The statement from the general staff of the armed forces in charge of investigating the crash was read on state television late Thursday. The first statement on the crash did not lay blame but said more details would come after further investigation.
The crash Sunday killed Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and six other people.
The general staff’s statement said the communications between the control tower and the crew of the helicopter before the crash contained nothing suspicious. It said the last communication of the crashed helicopter was between it and two helicopters accompanying it some 90 seconds before the crash.
There was no sign of anything shot at the helicopter and its flight path did not change, the statement said.
The aging Bell helicopter went down in a foggy, remote mountainous region of Iran’s northwest on Sunday. The crash site was discovered Monday morning with all eight on board dead.
Raisi was buried in a tomb at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad on Thursday.


Israel’s army says the bodies of 3 more hostages killed on Oct 7. recovered overnight from Gaza

Israel’s army says the bodies of 3 more hostages killed on Oct 7. recovered overnight from Gaza
Updated 23 min 7 sec ago
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Israel’s army says the bodies of 3 more hostages killed on Oct 7. recovered overnight from Gaza

Israel’s army says the bodies of 3 more hostages killed on Oct 7. recovered overnight from Gaza
  • The announcement comes less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7
  • Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more

TEL AVIV, Israel: The bodies of three more hostages killed on Oct 7. were recovered overnight from Gaza, Israel’s army said Friday, as the top United Nations court prepares to rule on whether Israel must halt its military operations and withdraw from the enclave.
The bodies of Hanan Yablonka, Michel Nisenbaum, and Orion Hernandez Radoux were found and their families have been notified. The army said they were killed on the day of the attack at the Mefalsim intersection and their bodies were taken to Gaza.
The announcement comes less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7.
Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducted around 250 others in the Oct. 7 attack. Around half of those hostages have since been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to both eliminate Hamas and bring all the hostages back, but he’s made little progress. He faces pressure to resign, and the US has threatened to scale back its support over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
On Friday Netanyahu said the country had a duty to do everything to return those abducted, both those killed and those who are alive.
The country is also expecting a ruling Friday afternoon by the International Court of Justice to decide on an urgent plea by South Africa to order Israel to cease operations. Israel is unlikely to comply with any such order. Even so, a ceasefire order by judges of the International Court of Justice would heap more pressure on an increasingly isolated Israel.
On the hostages, Israelis are divided into two main camps: those who want the government to put the war on hold and free the hostages, and others who think the hostages are an unfortunate price to pay for eradicating Hamas. On-and-off negotiations mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt have yielded little.
Anger is growing at home at the government’s handling of the hostage crisis.
Earlier this week a group representing the families of hostages released new video footage showing Hamas’ capture of five female Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border on Oct. 7.
The video shows several of the young soldiers bloody and wounded. In one scene, a militant tells one of the terrified women she is beautiful.
The video sparked more protests across the country calling for the hostages’ release.
The army said on Friday the hostages were found during an operation in Jabaliya. Military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a news conference that the army was able to retrieve the bodies based on “critical intelligence” uncovered last week by Israeli forces operating in Gaza.
The group representing the families of the hostages said the bodies had been returned to their families for burial.
Nisenbaum, 59, was a Brazilian-Israeli from the southern city of Sderot. He was taken hostage when he went to rescue his 4-year-old granddaughter.
Oryon Hernandez Radoux, 30, was a French-Mexican citizen taken from the Nova music festival, which he attended with his partner Shani Louk. Louk’s body was one of those found by the army nearly a week ago.
Yablonka, 42, a father of two, was also taken from the music festival. His family in December told the AP that he loved music. Yablonka’s family had no news of him for nearly two months after he’d been taken, not knowing if he was alive or dead.
Israel’s offensive since the war began has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, and has caused a humanitarian crisis and a near-famine.
While it has weakened Hamas’ capabilities, after nearly eight months of war, militants are regrouping in some of the hardest-hit areas in northern Gaza and resuming rocket attacks into nearby Israeli communities. Israel says its troops are operating in Rafah in the south, in central Gaza and in Jabaliya in the north.


Israel to stop work of Spanish consulate for Palestinians

Israel to stop work of Spanish consulate for Palestinians
Updated 24 May 2024
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Israel to stop work of Spanish consulate for Palestinians

Israel to stop work of Spanish consulate for Palestinians

JERUSALEM: Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Friday he had decided to “sever the connection” between Spain’s diplomatic mission and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, in response to Madrid’s plan to formally recognize a Palestinian state.
“I have decided to sever the connection between Spain’s representation in Israel and the Palestinians, and to prohibit the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem from providing services to Palestinians from the West Bank,” Katz said in a post on X, adding it was “in response to Spain’s recognition of a Palestinian state and the anti-Semitic call by Spain’s deputy prime minister to... ‘liberate Palestine from the river to the sea’.”


Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection

Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection
Updated 24 May 2024
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Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection

Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection
  • The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against UN and humanitarian personnel
  • The draft resolution does not single out any conflict

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote Friday on a resolution that strongly condemns attacks on humanitarian workers and UN personnel, and demands that all combatants protect them in accordance with international law.
The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against UN and humanitarian personnel along with the continuing disregard and violations of international humanitarian law by combatants.
“The goal of the resolution is as simple as it is important,” Switzerland’s UN Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s about protecting the men and women who work and risk their lives — every day — to help people affected by armed conflict.”
The draft resolution does not single out any conflict, but it is being voted on as battles rage in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and many other hotspots around the world.
It is the seven-month war in Gaza, however, that has seen the greatest number of attacks on UN and humanitarian personnel. Over 190 UN staff have been killed, a death toll unprecedented in the United Nations’ nearly 80-year history, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The war has also seen the killing of other humanitarian personnel, including seven World Central Kitchen workers who died in an Israeli airstrike last month.
Baeriswyl said in a statement to AP that the resolution is being put to a vote at a very timely moment. The Geneva Conventions, which Baeriswyl described as the cornerstone of international humanitarian law and a reflection of our common humanity, commemorates its 75th anniversary in August.
The draft resolution calls on all countries to respect and protect humanitarian and UN personnel as required by international law. And it calls on all nations and parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and their obligations under the Geneva Conventions. It “strongly condemns attacks and all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, threats and intimidation against humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”
The draft urges combatants “to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities and refrain from attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.”
The proposed resolution also urges warring parties to facilitate “full, safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access to all civilians in need, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”
On another issue, the draft condemns “disinformation, information manipulation and incitement to violence” against humanitarian and UN staff and it encourages all countries and the United Nations to take action to address these threats.
If approved, the resolution would express the council’s determination to take steps to provide for the safety and security of humanitarian and UN staff. It would ask the UN Secretary-General to make recommendations within six months on measures to prevent attacks, ensure accountability and enhance protection of humanitarian and UN staff.