US confiscates Iran oil cargo on tanker amid Tehran tensions

In this frame grab from video footage released Friday April 28, 2023 by the Iranian Navy, Iranian marines rappel onto the Advantage Sweet, a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker's deck in the Gulf of Oman. (Iranian Navy via AP)
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Updated 29 April 2023
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US confiscates Iran oil cargo on tanker amid Tehran tensions

  • Cargo seizure latest escalation between Washington and Tehran
  • US Navy said Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday

WASHINGTON: The US confiscated Iranian oil on a tanker at sea in recent days in a sanctions enforcement operation, three sources said, and days later Iran seized another oil-laden tanker in retaliation, according to a maritime security firm.
As oil markets remain jittery, the cargo seizure is the latest escalation between Washington and Tehran after years of sanctions pressure by the US over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran does not recognize the sanctions, and its oil exports have been rising.
Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes while Washington suspects Iran wants to develop a nuclear bomb.
Maritime security company Ambrey said the US confiscation took place at least five days before Iran’s action on Thursday. “Ambrey has assessed the seizure by the Iranian Navy to be in response to the US action,” it said in an advisory to clients.
“Both tankers were Suezmax-sized. Iran has previously responded tit-for-tat following seizures of Iranian oil cargo.”
The sources familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Washington took control of the oil cargo aboard the Marshall Islands tanker Suez Rajan after securing an earlier court order. The tanker’s last reported position was near southern Africa on April 22, ship tracking data showed.
The vessel’s Greece-based manager, Empire Navigation, and the US Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The US Navy said Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, the latest seizure or attack by Tehran on commercial vessels in sensitive Gulf waters.
Iranian state TV said on Friday the tanker ignored radio calls for eight hours following a collision with an Iranian boat, which left several crewmen injured and three missing.
“Before using force, we tried to call the vessel ...to stop but they did not cooperate,” Iranian deputy navy commander Rear Admiral Mostafa Tajodini told the broadcaster.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was aware of the Gulf of Oman seizure and reaffirmed support for international maritime law, a UN spokesperson said on Friday.
Last year the US tried to confiscate a cargo of Iranian oil near Greece, which prompted Tehran to seize two Greek tankers in the Gulf. Greece’s supreme court ordered the cargo returned to Iran. The two Greek tankers were later released.
In a step likely to exacerbate tensions, 12 US senators on Thursday urged President Joe Biden to remove Treasury Department policy hurdles that have prevented the Department of Homeland Security from seizing Iranian oil shipments for more than a year.
In 2020, Washington confiscated four cargoes of Iranian fuel aboard foreign ships that were bound for Venezuela and transferred them with the help of undisclosed foreign partners onto two other ships which then sailed to the US


Palestinians say Israeli troops kill teen in West Bank

Updated 57 min 25 sec ago
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Palestinians say Israeli troops kill teen in West Bank

  • Naeem Abdullah Samha, 15, was killed “by occupation (Israeli army) bullets” in the city of Qalqilya
  • He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead of his wounds there

JERUSALEM: The Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, amid escalating violence in the territory since the war in Gaza began on October 7.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
Naeem Abdullah Samha, 15, was killed “by occupation (Israeli army) bullets” in the city of Qalqilya, the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah said in a statement.
The Palestinian official news agency Wafa, citing local sources, reported that Samha was shot in the chest.
He was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead of his wounds there, the agency said, which gave no reason for the shooting.
The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has for more than a year experienced a rise in deadly incidents, but particularly since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the West Bank in what it says is a bid to thwart militant groups.
At least 547 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli troops or settlers since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The West Bank is home to about 490,000 Israeli settlers who live in communities considered illegal under international law.


Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 31 min 43 sec ago
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Netanyahu criticism on US weapons deliveries ‘vexing’: White House

  • Netanyahu said that “it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel”

WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism this week over US weapons deliveries to his country is “vexing,” the White House said on Thursday.
“Those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists.
In a video statement, Netanyahu said that while he appreciated America’s support during the Gaza war, “it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
The United States however has said that there is only one shipment of 2,000 pound bombs that is under review because of concerns about their use in densely populated areas.
Kirby separately said that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is due to meet his Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer on Thursday.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has conducted more than eight months of operations against Hamas.
The war was triggered by an unprecedented October 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.


Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

Updated 20 June 2024
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Cyprus rejects Hezbollah claim on Israel and airports

  • “Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis said
  • He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken“

NICOSIA: Cyprus on Thursday rejected as “groundless” allegations by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement that airports on the east Mediterranean island might be used by Israeli warplanes if the Israel-Hamas war spreads.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in a televised address on Wednesday threatened Cyprus in the event that total war erupts in the region.
“Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war,” he said, referring to Hezbollah.
The government in Nicosia swiftly denied any Cyprus military involvement in Israel’s war against Hezbollah ally Hamas.
“Cyprus is not involved, nor will it become involved, in any military conflicts,” government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis told state radio on Thursday.
He called Nasrallah’s comments “not pleasant,” adding that “all necessary diplomatic steps will be taken.”
The island is home to two British military bases, but these are on sovereign UK territory and not controlled by the Cyprus government.
The British Akrotiri air base on the south coast has been used by the Royal Air Force which has joined the US Air Force in targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen who have attacked shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
The Houthis say they are doing so in solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas movement.
Over the past decade, Cyprus has built stronger ties with Israel, particularly in the search for new energy sources and in tourism.
Cyprus is the European Union’s easternmost member, and is less than 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Lebanon.
President Nikos Christodoulides has denied there has been any Cypriot involvement in the Israel-Hamas war except as “part of the solution” as a staging post for humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip via a maritime corridor.
“Cyprus is not part of the problem. As it is widely acknowledged, its diplomatic footprint is part of the solution,” government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis added in a separate written statement on Thursday.
“Any public allegations that refer to an involvement of Cyprus through its infrastructure or its territory in the event of a confrontation that relates to Lebanon are totally groundless,” the statement said.
“Cyprus has never facilitated and will not facilitate any aggressive action or attack against any country.”
On the street, reactions to the Hezbollah leader’s remarks were mixed.
“It’s a very tense moment all over the world,” Brazilian tourist Glaussia, 54, told AFP, not giving her last name.
She added that it was important that “everybody make an effort for peace.”
Nicosia resident Costas stressed that his country’s only involvement in the current conflict was to provide “humanitarian help to the people over there.”
He said the government would not become involved in the war in any military capacity.
“Cyprus is a credible enabler of stability, and an acknowledged regional hub for humanitarian operations, based on excellent relations with all the countries in the region,” government spokesman Letymbiotis said in his statement.


UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

Updated 20 June 2024
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UN experts say firms sending arms to Israel could be complicit in abuses

  • The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel
  • The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah

GENEVA/LONDON: A group of United Nations experts on Thursday warned arms and ammunitions manufacturers against taking part in the transfer of weapons to Israel, saying it could make them complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.

The group of 30 experts, including several UN Special Rapporteurs, said arms manufacturers supplying Israel should halt their transfers of war materiel, “even if they are executed under existing export licenses.”

“These companies, by sending weapons, parts, components, and ammunition to Israeli forces, risk being complicit in serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian laws,” the experts said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Israel which has repeatedly denied carrying out abuses during its Gaza operations, saying it is acting to defend itself and is fighting Hamas militants, not the Palestinian population.

The UN experts said on Thursday the risk to arms firms had increased since the International Court of Justice ordered Israel last month to halt its military offensive in Rafah in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, in a landmark emergency ruling in South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide.

“In this context, continuing arms transfers to Israel may be seen as knowingly providing assistance for operations that contravene international human rights and international humanitarian laws and may result in profit from such assistance,” the experts said.

Israel has rejected the genocide accusations as false and grossly distorted.

Also on Thursday, British weapons manufacturers were warned that their selling of military equipment to Israel could lead to criminal charges for failing to prevent war crimes amid the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Four anti-arms trade campaign groups, including the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), highlighted “potential criminal liability for atrocity crimes currently taking place in Gaza” in a letter to 20 UK firms who contribute parts or software used in F-35 fighter jets being used by the Israeli air force to bomb the Hamas-held Palestinian enclave.

The letter cited a section in the 2001 International Criminal Court Act, where it is states it is an offense under English and Welsh law “to engage in ‘conduct ancillary’ to a war crime or a crime against humanity” in foreign jurisdictions.

The firms targeted by the activists include the UK arm of Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, the Guardian reported.

The UN human rights office said on Wednesday that Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict. Israel dismissed the findings as flawed.

Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.

Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

* With Reuters


Hezbollah fires ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israel after drone attack kills fighter

Updated 6 min 51 sec ago
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Hezbollah fires ‘dozens’ of rockets at Israel after drone attack kills fighter

  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that ‘no place’ in Israel would be spared if authorities in the country declared all-out war against his group
  • Nasrallah warned the Cypriot government that ‘opening its airports and bases to the enemy to target Lebanon means it has become part of the war’

BEIRUT: Hezbollah said it fired “dozens” of Katyusha rockets targeting a barracks in northern Israel on Thursday in retaliation for a deadly strike in southern Lebanon that killed a member of the militant group in the village of Deir Kifa.

It came after fears of a wider regional conflict grew on Wednesday when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned that “no place” in Israel would be spared if authorities in the country declared all-out war against his group. He also threatened to target Cyprus if the island nation allowed Israel to use its air bases.

Israel and Hezbollah have traded cross-border fire on an almost daily basis since the Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas that triggered the war in the Gaza Strip.

In the attack by Israeli forces on Thursday, a combat drone hit a car on the Deir Kifa-Srifa road, killing its driver, Abbas Ibrahim Hamadeh. The Israeli army described him as a “Hezbollah operations commander in the Jouaiyya area.”

Elsewhere, Ammar Jomaa, the son of cleric Mohammed Jomaa, a Hezbollah official, died when a drone hit the car he was driving on the road to the town of Houmine El-Faouqa. And two people were seriously injured when an Israeli drone struck a pickup truck in the town of Hanouiyeh in the Tyre district.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces attacked four Hezbollah sites. It came shortly after the departure of Amos Hochstein, the US president’s envoy for Lebanon and Israel, who had visited Tel Aviv on Monday and Beirut on Tuesday in an attempt to calm the situation.

On Thursday morning, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the Jish settlement in the Upper Galilee, near the border with Lebanon, had been evacuated.

Nasrallah’s comments on Wednesday raised concerns on both sides about a possible escalation of hostilities.

Michael Malchieli, the Israeli minister of religious services, told Channel 14 news that his ministry, which is responsible for burials, “is preparing for significant scenarios in the north.”

Avichay Adraee, a spokesperson for the Israeli army, said the war in the north is “defensive but has offensive aspects in southern Lebanon. The army leadership discussed plans for confrontation in Lebanon and approved them, and we are awaiting the decision of the political leadership. Our current goal is to keep Hezbollah away from our borders, which we achieve through our strikes against its leaders and interests.”

Eitan Davidi, head of the Margaliot settlement council, said no place in Israel is safe.

“What worries us is the laxity and weakness of the Israeli government on the northern front,” he told Israeli radio news.

Nasrallah threatened during his speech to target all parts of Israel and said Hezbollah had obtained “new weapons that will be seen in action.”

He added: “We have prepared ourselves for the most challenging times. There is an unprecedented human power in the resistance, as we have far exceeded 100,000 members.

“There will be no place in Israel safe from our drones and missiles. The enemy knows very well that we have prepared ourselves for the most difficult days and the enemy knows what it will face. If war is imposed, the resistance will fight without constraints, rules or limits.”

He warned the Cypriot government that “opening its airports and bases to the enemy to target Lebanon means it has become part of the war.”

This threat to Cyprus caused concern in Lebanon and prompted criticism of Hezbollah for its unilateral declaration of war and threats against countries considered friendly.

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry said: “Lebanese-Cypriot relations are built on a rich history of diplomatic cooperation … bilateral communication and consultations are ongoing at the highest levels between the two countries.”

Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, during a call to his Cypriot counterpart, Constantinos Kombos, expressed “Lebanon’s constant reliance on the positive role that Cyprus plays in supporting regional stability.”

The Cypriot minister affirmed that his country “hopes to be part of the solution and not the problem,” adding that “Cyprus doesn’t want to be involved in the ongoing war in the region in any way.”

In a message posted on social media platform X, the former leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, wrote: “Cyprus has been a refuge for Lebanese for decades in times of distress.”

MP Ghassan Hasbani described Nasrallah’s threat as “very dangerous” and added: “This party had previously threatened the brotherly Gulf states and isolated Lebanon. Today, it expanded that threat to include the EU through Cyprus, since it is a bloc member.”

The National Liberal Party warned that “dragging Lebanon into a full-scale war gives Israel a reason to achieve its goal and destroy the country.”

It added: “Taking Lebanon and the Lebanese to a place that the majority don’t want is considered an outside decision to hold the country hostage, which serves Iran’s doctrinal plan in the Arab region.”

It was reported on Thursday that the Cypriot embassy in Beirut had closed its doors to visa applicants. However, embassy officials said “the consulate didn’t receive on Thursday any visa applications or papers for processing, for one day only.”

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry confirmed that this had nothing to do with the comments by Nasrallah: “The decision was predetermined for administrative reasons related to raising the visa fee and the embassy’s work will resume on Friday.”