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Israel appears to have been behind drone strike on Iran factory: US official

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(Last Updated On: January 30, 2023)

Israel appears to have been behind an overnight drone attack on a military factory in Iran, Reuters quoted a US official said on Sunday.

Iran claimed to have intercepted drones that struck a military industry target near the central city of Isfahan, and said there were no casualties or serious damage.

The extent of damage could not be independently ascertained. Iranian state media released footage showing a flash in the sky and emergency vehicles at the scene, read the report.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military declined to comment. Arch-foe Israel has long said it is willing to strike Iranian targets if diplomacy fails to curb Tehran’s nuclear or missile programmes, but it has a policy of withholding comment on specific incidents.

Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said no US military forces were involved in strikes in Iran, but declined to comment further, Reuters reported.

That US officials were pointing to an Israeli role in the attack was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, citing several unidentified sources. One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters it did appear that Israel was involved. Several other US officials declined to comment, beyond saying that Washington played no role.

Tehran did not formally ascribe blame for what Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian called a “cowardly” attack aimed at creating “insecurity” in Iran. But state TV broadcast comments by a lawmaker, Hossein Mirzaie, saying there was “strong speculation” Israel was behind it.

The attack came amid tension between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear activity and its supply of arms – including long-range “suicide drones” – for Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as months of anti-government demonstrations at home.

The extent of the damage could not be independently confirmed. Iran’s Defence Ministry said the explosion caused only minor damage and no casualties.

“Such actions will not impact our experts’ determination to progress in our peaceful nuclear work,” Amirabdollahian told reporters in televised remarks.

An Israeli strike on Iran would be the first under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he returned to office last month at the helm of the most right-wing government in Israeli history, Reuters reported.

In Ukraine, which accuses Iran of supplying hundreds of drones to Russia to attack civilian targets in Ukrainian cities far from the front, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy linked the incident directly to the war there.

“Explosive night in Iran,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. “Did warn you.”

Iran has acknowledged sending drones to Russia but says they were sent before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Moscow denies its forces use Iranian drones in Ukraine, although many have been shot down and recovered there.

“Around 23:30 (2000 GMT) on Saturday night, an unsuccessful attack was carried out using micro Aerial Vehicles (MAVs) on one of the ministry’s workshop sites,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement carried by state TV.

It said one drone was shot down “and the other two were caught in defence traps and blew up. It caused only minor damage to the roof of a workshop building. There were no casualties.”

A military official in the region said given the location of the strike in central Iran and the size of the drones, it was likely that the attack was staged from within Iran’s borders.

Separately, IRNA reported early on Sunday a massive fire at a motor oil factory in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It later said oil leakage caused that blaze, citing a local official.

Iran has accused Israel in the past of planning attacks using agents inside Iranian territory. In July, Tehran said it had arrested a sabotage team made up of Kurdish militants working for Israel who planned to blow up a “sensitive” defence industry centre in Isfahan.

Several Iranian nuclear sites are located in Isfahan province, including Natanz, centrepiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which Iran accuses Israel of sabotaging in 2021. There have been a number of explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial sites in recent years, Reuters reported.

Talks between Iran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal have stalled since September. Under the pact, abandoned by Washington in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, Tehran agreed to limit nuclear work in return for easing of sanctions.

Iran’s clerical rulers have also faced internal turmoil in recent months, with a crackdown on widespread anti-establishment demonstrations spurred by the death in custody of a woman held for allegedly violating its strict Islamic dress code.

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Saudi crown prince, US national security adviser meet on Gaza, bilateral deal

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(Last Updated On: May 19, 2024)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met to discuss a broad bilateral agreement and Israel’s war in Gaza, the Saudi state news agency reported on Sunday.

The meeting in the Saudi city of Dhahran reviewed “the semi-final version of the draft strategic agreements between the two countries, which are almost being finalised,” a statement read.

Washington and Riyadh have been discussing U.S. security guarantees and civilian nuclear assistance as part of a broader deal that the U.S. hopes would lead to normalising Saudi-Israeli relations.

The de facto Saudi leader and President Joe Biden’s top security aide also discussed the need to find a “credible track for bringing about the two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians, stop the war against Hamas militants in Gaza and facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid, the statement said.

The Biden administration and Saudi Arabia have been seeking to finalise the nuclear agreement, Reuters reported early this month, even as Israel-Saudi normalisation, part of a Middle East “grand bargain”, remains elusive.

The White House said on Friday that Sullivan would visit Saudi Arabia and Israel to discuss bilateral and regional matters, including Gaza and efforts to achieve lasting peace and security in the region.

Saudi Arabia, as the world’s largest oil exporter, is not an obvious candidate for a nuclear pact typically aimed at building power plants.

But the kingdom is seeking to generate substantial renewable energy and reduce emissions under an ambitious long-term plan, while critics say Riyadh might want nuclear expertise in case it someday wished to acquire nuclear weapons, despite safeguards enshrined in any deal with Washington to prevent this.

 

(Reuters)

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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2024)

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south Hamas attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armour had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance, Reuters reported.

“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.

Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Hamas re-grouping there.

In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.

“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north towards the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.

As the fighting raged, the U.S. military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land – disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah – were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

U.S. aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.

Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade”.

The White House said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.

A group of U.S. medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive”.

A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

“The 7th Brigade’s fire control centre directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.

Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.

In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honourable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”

Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘TRAGIC WAR’

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

UNRWA, the main U.N. aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.

“They’re moving to areas where there is no water – we’ve got to truck it in – and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.

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EU adds Russian media outlets to sanctions list despite Kremlin warning

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2024)

European Union countries on Wednesday agreed in principle to add four Russian state media outlets to the EU’s list of entities under sanctions, accusing them of propaganda, as the Kremlin vowed repercussions for Western journalists in Moscow, Reuters reported.

“Four Kremlin-linked propaganda networks (have been) added to the sanctions list: Voice of Europe, RIA Novosti, Izvestija and Rossiyskaya Gazeta”, EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said on social media platform X.

The outlets include newspapers and online media, read the report.

Russia earlier warned the European Union against the move. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Kremlin would retaliate against Western correspondents in Moscow.

“If these measures are taken against the Russian media, Russian journalists, then, despite the fact that Western correspondents will not want to, they will also have to feel our retaliatory measures,” Zakharova said.

“We will respond with lightning speed and extremely painfully for the Westerners,” she said.

The EU did not immediately specify the measures applying to the media outlets but media sanctioned previously lost broadcasting rights in the EU, Reuters reported.

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