China, Russia, Iran hold joint naval drills in Gulf of Oman

In this file photo provided by the Iranian Army, warships sail in the Sea of Oman during the second day of joint Iran, Russia and China naval war games on December 28 2019. (Photo courtesy: AP/FILE)
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Updated 15 March 2023
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China, Russia, Iran hold joint naval drills in Gulf of Oman

  • All three countries are at odds with the United States of America over various issues
  • White House not concerned by naval drill, says US National Security Council spokesperson

BEIJING: Naval forces from China, Iran and Russia — countries at odds with the United States — are staging joint drills in the Gulf of Oman this week, China’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

Other countries are also taking part in the “Security Bond-2023” exercises, the ministry said without giving details. Iran, Pakistan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates all have coastline along the waterbody lying at the mouth of the strategic Arabian Gulf.

“This exercise will help deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries’ navies ... and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability,” the ministry statement said.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday that the White House was not concerned by the joint training exercise. Kirby said the US and other nations conduct training exercises all the time and this won’t be the first time that the Russians and Chinese have trained together.

“We’re going to watch it, we’ll monitor it, obviously, to make sure that there’s no threat resulting from this training exercise to our national security interests or those of our allies and partners in the region,” Kirby said on CNN. “But nations train. We do it all the time. We’ll watch it as best we can.”

The exercises scheduled for Wednesday through Sunday come amid heightened tensions between the US and China over a range of issues, including China’s refusal to criticize Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine and continuing support for the Russian economy.

The US and its allies have condemned the invasion, imposed punishing economic sanctions on Russia and supplied Ukraine with defensive arms. Iran and the US have been adversaries since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the taking of US diplomats as hostages.

China has dispatched the guided missile destroyer Nanning to take part in the drills centered on search and rescue at sea and other non-combat missions. China maintains its only foreign military base, complete with a navy pier, in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti, located just across the Gulf of Oman.

The three countries held similar drills last year and in 2019, underscoring China’s growing military and political links with nations that have been largely shunned by the US and its partners.

Last week, China hosted talks between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival Saudi Arabia that resulted in an agreement between them Friday to restore full diplomatic relations after seven years of tensions.

China’s hosting of the Iran-Saudi talks placed it in the unusual role of mediator in regional conflicts, one that Beijing appears to be keen to capitalize on under the rubric of President Xi Jinping’s “Global Security Initiative.”

The country’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Affairs Xue Bing on Tuesday “further affirmed China’s readiness to work with countries in the region to contribute to peaceful regional development and build a closer China-Africa community with a shared future by implementing the outlook,” the official Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying on a visit to Ethiopia.

China opposes “geopolitical competition by external forces (and) has no intention to and will not seek to fill the so-called vacuum or put up exclusive blocs,” Xue was quoted as saying.


UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024
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UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.
 


Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet at the site of Qiz Qalasi.
Updated 19 May 2024
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Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024
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Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024
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US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”


Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

Updated 19 May 2024
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Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

  • Rescue workers continuing to search for missing people under the rubble
  • Heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s civil defense agency said Sunday that an Israeli air strike targeting a house at a refugee camp in the center of the Palestinian territory killed at least 31 people, updating an earlier toll.

“The civil defense crew were able to recover 31 martyrs and 20 wounded from a house belonging to the Hassan family, which was targeted by the Israeli occupation forces in the Nuseirat camp,” Gaza civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told journalists.

He said rescue workers were continuing to search for missing people under the rubble.

Earlier on Sunday the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital had said it had received the bodies of 20 people killed in the strike which witnesses said occurred around 3:00 am local time.

The Israeli army when contacted by AFP asked for specific coordinates of the strike.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported that the wounded included several children.

Fierce battles and heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp since the military launched a ground operation on the southern city of Rafah in early May.

Palestinian militants and Israeli troops have also clashed in north Gaza’s Jabalia camp for days now.

Witnesses said several other houses were targeted in air strikes during the night across Gaza, and that strikes and artillery shelling also hit parts of Rafah during the night.

The Israeli military said two more soldiers were killed in Gaza the previous day.

The military said 282 soldiers have been killed so far in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.