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


Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Updated 9 sec ago
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Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

KHAN YOUNIS: In a cowshed in Gaza’s Khan Younis, zookeeper Fathi Ahmed Gomaa has created a temporary home for dozens of animals, including lions and baboons, having fled with them from Israel’s offensive in Rafah.
“We’ve moved all the animals we had, except for three big lions that remain (in Rafah),” he said.
“I ran out of time and couldn’t move them.” Ahmed abandoned his zoo in Rafah when Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of the southern Gazan city.
Before the offensive, the city on the border with Egypt had been spared a ground invasion, and more than half of the Gaza Strip’s population was sheltering there.
Now, the Israeli offensive has sent more than 800,000 people fleeing from Rafah, according to the UN, with Gomaa and his family among them.
“I am appealing to the Israeli authorities: these animals have no connection to terrorism,” Gomaa said, saying he wanted their help in coordinating with aid agencies to rescue the lions left behind in Rafah.
He fears they won’t survive long on their own.
“Of course, within a week or 10 days, if we don’t get them out, they will die because they’ll be left with no food or water.”
Gomaa said he had already lost several of his animals to the war: “Three lion cubs, five monkeys, a newborn monkey, and nine squirrels.”
And while the squawking of parrots fills the air, many of Gomaa’s other birds are no longer with him.
“I released some of the dogs, some of the hawks and eagles, some of the pigeons, and some of the ornamental birds. I released many of them because we didn’t have cages to transport them.”
In the cowshed, Gomaa is making do with what he has, using improvised fencing to raise the heights of the pens so that their new inhabitants, spotted deer, can’t leap out.
Israeli troops began their assault on Rafah on May 7, defying widespread international concern for the safety of the 1.4 million civilians sheltering in the city.


EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

Updated 12 min 27 sec ago
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EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

BRUSSELS: Talks on deploying a EU mission at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza are at a preliminary stage and the deployment will not happen without an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU foreign ministers will hold their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday, and discuss how to improve humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.
Two diplomats said the US had suggested the EU revive its EU Border Assistance Mission or EUBAM Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza.
The crossing is the main entry point for aid from Egypt and has been closed since Israeli forces took control of it from the Gazan side nearly three weeks ago.
Rafah city is now fire in an Israeli military assault, which judges at the top UN court said on Friday should immediately halt.
“Even if we now have people on the ground talking to the different parties and seeing how it could be done, we are in a very preliminary part of the story,” said the senior official.
The official said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell could be mandated by the 27 members on Monday to come up with “some kind of operative conclusions that could allow the mission to deploy.”
He said a deployment could not happen “in the current circumstances, not in war circumstances.”
“We are talking about the future,” the official said.
Three EU diplomats said the discussion would be on the table, but there was nothing concrete to discuss. One said the proposal was a “long shot.”
The mission would need unanimous approval from EU member states. Also, EUBAM is a civilian mission, and given the potentially dangerous nature of the operation, personnel and equipment would need to be adapted.
Diplomats said that such a mission could go ahead only if Egypt and Israel were also in favor.
Two US officials said Washington was reviewing options to secure the opening of the Rafah crossing, but no definitive plans have been developed yet. Israel began its offensive in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.


Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

Updated 24 May 2024
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Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

  • The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom“
  • The four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held

QAMISHLI, Syria: Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria said Friday that they had handed over a woman and three children to British representatives for repatriation, with a source saying they had been held in a camp for militants’ relatives.
Five years after the Daesh group was driven out of its last bastion in Syria, tens of thousands of the militants’ family members, including from Western countries, remain in detention camps in the Kurdish-controlled northeast.
The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom,” following a meeting with a British delegation led its Syria envoy Ann Snow.
A source within the administration told AFP the four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held.
Britain’s foreign ministry said UK officials had “facilitated the repatriation of a number of British nationals from Syria to the United Kingdom.”
“This repatriation is in line with the long-standing policy that all requests for UK consular assistance from Syria are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant circumstances including national security,” the spokesperson said.
On May 7, the United States announced it had brought back 11 Americans including five minors, as well as a nine-year-old non-US sibling of an American, from internment camps in northeastern Syria.
The United States in the same operation facilitated the repatriation of six Canadian citizens, four Dutch citizens and one Finnish citizen, eight of them children, Secretary of state Antony Blinken said.
And in December, the Kurdish administration handed over to Britain a woman and five children who had also been held in a camp.
Despite repeated appeals by the Kurdish authorities, a number of Western countries have refused to take back their citizens from the camps.
Among the most high profile cases is that of Shamima Begum, a former Briton stripped of her citizenship after leaving the country aged 15 to marry an Daesh group fighter.


Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

Updated 24 May 2024
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Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

  • Parliamentary speaker accuses Israel of ‘greed’ over Lebanese resources
  • Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day

BEIRUT: Lebanon is willing to cooperate with any international effort to stop Israeli aggression and bring security to the region, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said on Friday.
However, in a statement marking the 24th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Berri warned that Lebanon “is not ready to waive any of its sovereign rights.”
He also accused Israel of displaying “greed toward Lebanon, its resources, its entity, and its land, sea, and air borders.”
Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day.
The parliamentary speaker called for intensified international and regional efforts to halt Israel’s assault in the Gaza Strip, saying this was crucial to maintain security and stability in the entire region.
Hezbollah claims its actions have been in support of Gaza amid further Israeli threats to Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Thursday from the northern command headquarters “to carry out detailed, important and even surprising plans to return displaced settlers to the north.”
He claimed Israel had killed hundreds of Hezbollah fighters.
Benny Gantz, a minister in the Israeli war Cabinet, said: “Get ready from now on for the return of the residents of the north to their houses safely in early September by force or order.”
Berri returned from Tehran after attending the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.
In his message to the Lebanese, he renewed Lebanon’s “commitment and adherence to UN Resolution 1701, and all its terms and stipulations.”
The resolution calls for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon to be replaced by Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, and the disarmament of armed groups including Hezbollah.
Berri accused Israel of ignoring the resolution “since the moment it was issued, with over 30,000 land, sea and air violations.”
Lebanon “upholds its right to defend its land with all the available means in the face of Israeli hostilities,” he said.
He called for the liberation of “the remaining occupied territory in the Kfarchouba Hills, the occupied Shebaa Farms, the northern part of the GHajjar village, and the contested border points with occupied Palestine all the way to the B1 point in Ras Al-Naqoura.”
Caretaker Minister of Defense Maurice Slim said that Lebanon preferred peace to war.
However, “defending the land was and will be the Lebanese state’s choice through the resilience of its army and people, especially the steadfast ones who are still residing in their villages and towns to repel the aggression,” he said.
Israeli warplanes on Thursday struck the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the Bint Jbeil district.
Sirens sounded in Israeli settlements opposite the border with Lebanon amid fears of possible drone attacks.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that Hezbollah’s drones caused significant damage in the northern towns and resulted in several fatalities.
Another newspaper, Israel Hayom, said that Hezbollah’s drones are “one of the biggest threats facing Israel in the northern arena.”
The newspaper said that Hezbollah leader Mohammed Hassan Fares, who was killed by an Israeli drone strike last week in Qana, was a scientist who specialized in robotics and machine learning.


2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

Updated 24 May 2024
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2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

  • Palestinians ‘actively deprived’ of essential items as Israel steps up operations in city
  • Some in Gaza have been displaced as many as 9 times since October

LONDON: The Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that 2,000 aid trucks are stuck in Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, with Palestinians in Gaza being “actively deprived” of essential goods.
Rafah is the last remaining area of Gaza yet to come under full assault by Israeli forces, with fears now mounting of an imminent operation to take the southern city.
The NRC’s head of operations in Gaza, Suze van Meegen, told the BBC: “The city of Rafah is now comprised of three entirely different worlds: the east is an archetypal war zone, the middle is a ghost town, and the west is a congested mass of people living in deplorable conditions.”
She said medical supplies, tents, water tanks and food are being held up at the border, and in some cases Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced as many as nine times since Israel launched its military operation last October.
“People have no choice but to put their faith in so-called ‘humanitarian safe zones’ designated by the forces that have killed their family members and destroyed their homes,” she added.
Israeli journalist Amos Harel told the BBC that he believes Israel is moving ahead with plans to occupy Rafah with tacit US support.
“It’s quite clear that the Americans are no longer trying to prevent Israel from occupying Rafah. So the Israelis may proceed carefully and not too quickly. But it’s less of a question of whether the Israelis are going to occupy Rafah. It’s quite clear that they are,” he said.
It comes despite earlier warnings by US President Joe Biden against Israel attacking “population centers,” and with the International Court of Justice set to rule on the legality of the Israeli campaign in Gaza after a case was submitted by South Africa in December accusing Israel of genocide.