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Pompeo blames Iran for Gulf tanker attacks

US secretary of state says incident Thursday is ‘only the latest in a series of attacks instigated’ by Tehran and its proxies against America, allied countries

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the India Ideas Summit in Washington on June 12, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the India Ideas Summit in Washington on June 12, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Iran questions timing of reported attacks on Japan-tied tankers

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammd Javad Zarif says that reported attacks today on two tankers off the Iranian coast just as Japan’s prime minister held Tehran talks are more than suspicious.

“Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM @AbeShinzo was meeting with Ayatollah @khamenei_ir for extensive and friendly talks. Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” Zarif tweets.

— AFP

Norwegian tanker denies it was sunk in reported attack

OSLO, Norway — Norwegian tanker Front Altair is still afloat after a reported attack in the Gulf of Oman Thursday, the chief executive of the company that owns the vessel tells AFP, denying reports it had sunk.

“I can confirm that the vessel has NOT sunk,” Frontline chief executive Robert Hvide Macleod writes in a text message to AFP.

The 23 people who were on board were “all safe,” he adds.

Iran’s official news agency IRNA had previously reported that the Front Altair had sunk.

The 111,000-tonne oil tanker, a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, was “attacked” on Thursday morning in the Gulf of Oman, with three explosions but no injuries reported on board, the Norwegian Maritime Authority said.

Frontline provides no other details. According to the Norwegian Maritime Authority, the ship’s crew has boarded a passing vessel.

Norwegian authorities call on its ships in the region to exercise extra caution in the region, and “to stay well clear of Iranian waters until further notice.”

— AFP

Egypt officials say roadside bomb wounds 6 police in Sinai

EL-ARISH, Egypt — Egyptian security officials are saying that six policemen were wounded by a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol vehicle in the restive northern Sinai province.

The officials say Thursday that the bomb was detonated remotely near the city of El-Arish. They say Islamic militants had set up ambushes along the highway leading to El-Arish where they had kidnapped at least 14 civilians over the course of the last 24 hours. The officials speak on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak to the media.

Egypt has battled Islamic militants for years in northern Sinai, where an affiliate of the Islamic State jihadist group is based.

Last week, the group claimed responsibility for the killing of eight policemen in an assault on a checkpoint near El-Arish.

— AP

EU legal adviser: Goods from areas captured by Israel should be labeled

LUXEMBOURG — A senior adviser to the EU’s top court says today it was his legal advice that products from territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war must be clearly labeled as such to avoid misleading consumers.

The European Court of Justice is not obliged to follow Advocate General Gerard Hogan’s advice, but the former Irish judge’s legal opinions are seen as highly influential in the bench’s deliberations.

The ECJ is considering a request from France’s top tribunal for clarification of rules on labeling goods from the West Bank, including annexed East Jerusalem, which the international community considers occupied Palestinian land, as well as the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

View of the fields at the Psagot vineyard in the West Bank near the city of Ramallah on December 13, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In legal advice to the court, Hogan says that, under EU rules, labels must make it clear if products originate in those territories, and in particular if they come from Israeli settlements in those areas.

“EU law requires, for a product originating in a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, the indication of the geographical name of this territory and, where it is the case, the indication that the product comes from an Israeli settlement,” an ECJ statement outlining Hogan’s legal opinion says.

France published guidelines in 2016 saying products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights must carry labels making their precise origin clear, but this was challenged by the Organisation Juive Europeene (European Jewish Organisation) and Psagot, a company that runs vineyards in the West Bank.

— AFP

Foreign Ministry spox rebukes German FM: Anne Frank diary not about ‘pseudo universal values’

Foreign Minister spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon issues a strong rebuke of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas over remarks on Anne Frank’s diary.

In a tweet yesterday, Germany’s foreign ministry quoted a statement from Maas marking Frank’s birthday that said the Dutch Holocaust victim’s diary as “is more relevant than ever before as a warning against discrimination, marginalization and persecution and as a symbol of humanity.”

“Anne Frank’s diary is NOT a warning about wishy washy pseudo universal values,” Nahshon writes on Twitter. “The attempt to ‘universalize the lessons of the Shoah’ is nothing less than a dishonest rewriting of history.”

https://twitter.com/EmmanuelNahshon/status/1139107049688752129

AG to new justice minister: It is a duty to obey court rulings

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit responds to new Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s suggestion yesterday that the government is not bound by all High Court rulings.

In statement, Mandelblit says in Israel “the duty to obey court rulings is axiomatic, that serves as a guarantee for the protection of the rights of every citizen in the state.”

“This is not a possibility given to choice,” the attorney general adds. “This is a duty incumbent upon every citizen and every governmental authority, whichever it is.”

UK minister signs extradition order for Assange, says court will decide his fate

LONDON — British Home Secretary Sajid Javid says he has signed an extradition order that would send imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States if British courts favor the move.

Javid tells BBC radio Thursday courts will decide whether Assange must face espionage charges in the US.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being taken from court, where he appeared on charges of jumping British bail seven years ago, in London, May 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Assange is scheduled to face an extradition hearing Friday on the US request. A decision is likely months away.

He is serving a 50-week sentence in London’s Belmarsh Prison for jumping bail in Britain.

The 47-year-old was too ill to take part in a recent hearing. He is expected to participate in Friday’s proceeding via video link.

The US plan to prosecute him for espionage has raised free speech issues. Assange asserts he is a journalist shielded by the First Amendment.

— AP

Iran TV airs video showing damaged tanker aflame

Iran’s Press TV releases footage appearing to show one of two oil tankers reportedly attacked today in the Gulf of Oman ablaze.

In the video, a large fire can be seen coming from the hull of the oil tanker.

Boris Johnson takes strong lead in race for next UK leader

LONDON — Boris Johnson takes a commanding lead in the contest to become Britain’s next prime minister, winning by far the largest share of support in first-round voting by Conservative Party lawmakers.

Johnson, a former foreign secretary and leading Brexit campaigner, secures 114 of the 313 votes cast in the round, which reduced the field of candidates from 10 to seven. His successor as foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, trails with 43 votes, followed by Environment Secretary Michael Gove with 37.

Johnson thanks supporters and tweets: “I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go.”

A person dressed as a chicken stands outside as British Conservative Party lawmaker Boris Johnson leaves his home in London, June 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The result exceeded the expectations of Johnson’s team and makes him almost certain to be among the final two candidates who will be put to a vote of 160,000 party members nationwide. The winner will become Conservative leader and British prime minister.

Three candidates were eliminated. Lawmakers Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrea Leadsom all failed to reach the threshold of 17 votes needed to get to the next round.

The contest is dominated by the issue of Britain’s stalled departure from the European Union, with all the contenders promising to succeed where May failed and lead the country out of the bloc.

In addition to Johnson, Hunt and Gove, four other contenders remain in the race: ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart.

— AP

Troops nab suspect transporting M-16 in West Bank

Israeli troops operating in the West Bank take a suspect into custody after a M-16 was found in his car.

According to the army, soldiers spotted a suspicious vehicle near the West Bank village of Ras Karkar, northwest of Ramallah, and upon searching the vehicle discovered the rifle.

The IDF says both the suspect and the weapon were handed over for investigation.

After suspected attacks, ships operating in Gulf region urged to take extreme caution

BERLIN — Governments and maritime agencies are urging an abundance of caution for ships operating in the Persian Gulf region after two oil tankers were damaged today in suspected attacks near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Though details of the suspected attack on the ships in the Gulf of Oman of the coast of Iran are still vague, the incident comes amid growing friction between Washington and Tehran in an area already fraught with tension.

“The shipping industry views this as an escalation of the situation, and we are just about as close to a conflict without there being an actual armed conflict, so the tensions are very high,” says Jakob P. Larsen, the head of maritime security for the shipping association BIMCO, which represents some 60 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, including owners of the two damaged tankers.

Michio Yube, right, director and general manager at the Kikuka Sankyo Co., LTD., speaks to media after one of their ships, the Kokuka Courageous, was attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, at Kikuka Sankyo Co., LTD., June 13, 2019, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The vessels involved have been identified as the MT Front Altair, a Marshall Islands-flagged crude oil tanker owned by Norway-based Frontline, and Kokuka Courageous, managed by a Singapore company.

Norway’s Foreign Ministry says “is concerned about the situation in Oman Bay” and “this type of incident further increases tension in the region.”

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy, put out an alert early Thursday urging “extreme caution” after the incident.

The Strait of Hormuz is the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the ocean, however, making it one of the world’s most important sea lanes.

— AP

New Golan community honoring US president to be called ‘Ramat Trump’

A new planned community in the Golan Heights honoring US President Donald Trump for his recognition of the area as Israeli territory will be called “Ramat Trump.”

The name, one of two reportedly being weighed for the community, literally translates as “Trump Heights.”

A copy of the bill approving the establishment of the community describes Ramat Trump “as an expression of thanks for the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights that President Donald Trump led.”

A spokesperson for the Golan Regional Council says the government will hold a special cabinet meeting at the site of Ramat Trump on Sunday, when the cornerstone of the new community will be laid.

Aerial view of the small village of Kela Alon in the Golan Heights, near the site of a new community to be renamed to honor US President Donald Trump. (Golan Regional Council)

Kohavi names new IDF spokesman after initial pick withdrew candidacy

Army chief Aviv Kohavi names Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman as the next spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, after the previous candidate for the role refused the nomination amid controversy over his previously unknown role assisting police in a corruption investigation in 2015.

In a few months, Zilberman will succeed Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, who has served as IDF spokesman for the past two years.

Zilberman currently serves as the head of the planning division of the IDF Planning Directorate.

— Judah Ari Gross

Twitter deletes thousands of accounts linked to Iran

Twitter says it has deleted nearly 4,800 suspect accounts linked to Iran that the company says secretly pushed that government’s agenda.

Most of these were found to be spreading news stories angled to support Iranian geopolitical interests or to be fake user profiles designed to manipulate online debate.

A smaller sub-group, originating in Iran, exclusively “engaged with discussions related to Israel.”

Twitter is adding these accounts and their tweets to a public database it launched last year to track its battle against government-linked misinformation. It is also adding a smaller number of deleted accounts linked to Russia, Venezuela and the Catalonia region of Spain.

Twitter says the removals are meant to prevent election interference while preserving valid political speech.

The company confirmed last month it had removed about 2,800 of the Iranian accounts that were using fake personas.

— Agencies

White House says Trump briefed on suspected tanker attacks

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump has been briefed on the mysterious apparent attacks against two oil tankers near Iran, the White House says.

“The president has been briefed on the attack on ships in the Gulf of Oman. The US government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders says in a statement.

The Norwegian Maritime Authority said three explosions were reported on the Norwegian-owned tanker Front Altair after it was “attacked,” along with the Singapore-owned ship Kokuka Courageous.

The incident, the second involving shipping in the strategic sea lane in only a few weeks, came amid spiraling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has pointed the finger at Iran over earlier tanker attacks in May.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the timing of the apparent attacks was “beyond suspicious.”

— AFP

US official says ‘highly likely’ Iran behind suspected tanker attacks

A US defense official tells CBS News it’s “highly likely” that Iran was behind suspected attacks today on a pair of tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

The unnamed official calls Iran’s claim to have rescued the crews of both ships “patently false,” saying 21 of the crewmen were aboard the USS Bainbridge guided missile destroyer.

Numerous officials tell the network that those “rescued” were by Iran were not given a choice on whether to board the Iranian ships.

Another official also says the US expects to recover enough debris to determine who was behind the attacks and that any response will be determined in accordance with whether the evidence points to Iran, as well as the stances of US allies in the Gulf.

A picture obtained by AFP from Iranian News Agency ISNA on June 13, 2019, reportedly shows fire and smoke billowing from a tanker said to have been attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman. (ISNA/AFP)

After suspected attacks, UN chief says world can’t afford major conflict in Gulf

UNITED NATIONS — The world cannot afford a major confrontation in the Gulf, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says following suspected attacks today on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

The latest incident, the second in the strategic sea lane in a few weeks, came amid spiraling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has pointed the finger at Iran over earlier tanker attacks in May.

“I strongly condemn any attack against civilian vessels,” Guterres tells a Security Council meeting on UN cooperation with the Arab League.

“Facts must be established and responsibilities clarified,” he says. “If there is something the world cannot afford is a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit warns both the targeting of oil tankers and attacks against Saudi Arabia are “dangerous developments.”

Also today, Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels said they had fired missiles on an airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia.

“Some parties in the region are trying to instigate fires in our region and we must be aware of that,” Gheit tells the council.

He urges the UN body to “act against those responsible to maintain security and stability in the region.”

— AFP

At US request, UN Security Council to discuss situation in Gulf

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council will discuss today the situation in the Gulf following suspected attacks on two oil tankers, at the request of the United States, diplomats says.

The closed-door meeting is called after a Norwegian-owned tanker and a Singapore-owned ship were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, a month after explosions damaged four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

— AFP

Japanese tanker operator says crew aboard US warship, refuting Iranian claim

The Japanese operator of a tanker that was damaged in a suspected attack in the Strait of Hormuz says all of its crewmembers are now safe onboard a US Navy warship.

The chemical tanker Kokuka Courageous, operated by Kokuka Sangyo Co., was apparently attacked as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz toward Singapore and Thailand destinations to deliver methanol.

All of its 21 Filipino crewmembers escaped on a life boat and were initially rescued by a Dutch ship that was headed to the United Arab Emirates.

Company executive Michio Yube says the crewmembers are now on an US warship, which a US official told CBS News was the USS Bainbridge guided missile destroyer. One of the crewmembers received treatment for his injury sustained during the attacks.

Iran had claimed it rescued all 44 crew members aboard both the Kokuka Courageous and the Norwegian-owned Front Altair.

— with AP

Interior minister grilled again over corruption accusations

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri was again questioned by police investigators this morning as part of an ongoing corruption probe.

Deri was also grilled last week by investigators from the Lahav 433 national fraud unit.

In November, police recommended filing charges against Deri on suspicion of committing fraud, breach of trust, obstructing court proceedings, money laundering and tax offenses involving millions of shekels. Some of the incidents allegedly occurred while Deri was a cabinet minister.

He is suspected of diverting hundreds of thousands of shekels in state funds to NGOs run by members of his immediate family, as well as suspected tax fraud linked to the sale of apartments to his brother.

Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, would have to resign his ministerial post if prosecutors press charges. He already served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002, after he was convicted of taking bribes as interior minister in the 1990s.

Interior Minister and Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri gives a statement to the press during a Shas faction meeting in the Knesset, Jerusalem, May 30, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Smotrich says he’s willing to take a back seat if national religious parties unite

Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich urges national religious factions on the right to run on a joint slate in the September 17 Knesset elections, saying he is willing to give up his spot as No. 2 on URWP’s list to make it happen.

“I announce here that I’d be the first to give up his place or position in order for this joint run to succeed,” Smotrich says during a conference at Bar-Ilan University.

“I will do this again and again with great happiness in order for religious Zionism and for everyone to the right of Likud to go together on one [ballot] slip,” he adds.

Smotrich says that with such an alliance, “we can advance everything that is important to us, including [Israeli] sovereignty” in the West Bank.

Separately, lawmakers from Jewish Home, whose leader Rafi Peretz heads the URWP, say they will keep the same electoral slate for the September vote and not hold primaries among party members. Jewish Home’s central committee will vote on the proposal next week.

“In a period of political turmoil there is a need for stability,” the party says in a statement.

While a number of national religious politicians have issued unity calls light of the failure of the New Right and Zehut parties to clear the vote threshold in April’s elections, they have continued to chirp at each other in recent weeks over who should lead the electoral alliance and which figures should be included in it.

Rebuking justice minister, Netanyahu says court rulings ‘binding upon everyone’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says all Israelis must obey court verdicts, after the justice minister he recently appointed came under fire for suggesting the government was not always required to honor High Court rulings.

“Court decisions are binding upon everyone,” Netanyahu writes on his personal Twitter account.

After appearing to suggest in a TV interview yesterday that not all court rulings need be adhered to, Justice Minister Amir Ohana was forced to clarify he would respect High Court decisions.

Nevertheless, his remarks were sharply rebuffed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Ohana, a member of the ruling Likud party and Netanyahu loyalist, was tapped by the premier for the post last week and sworn in yesterday, making him the first openly gay government minister in Israel’s history.

Iranian state TV airs footage showing crewmen from damaged tanker in Iran

Iranian state TV is airing footage of crewmembers on one of the tankers damaged in a suspected attack in the Sea of Oman in a room watching English language news on television.

The video shows apparent crewmembers, including one woman, sitting on couches and watching TV in the Iranian port of Jask.

Two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, were damaged in suspected attacks earlier today, the US Navy says, with one adrift and on fire amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran.

— AP

US official to CNN: Navy sailors spotted unexploded mine on tanker

A US defense official tells CNN that sailors aboard a US naval destroyer spotted an unexploded mine on one of two tankers damaged in the Gulf of Oman this morning in a suspected attack.

Limpet mines, which are attached to ships using magnets, are also suspected of being used in the attack last month on four oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates. The US has accused Iran of being behind that attack.

The US official says more navy vessels are expected to sail to the area, where today’s incident took place, to provide security, conduct patrols, help sailors return to port and tow the damaged tankers back to port if need be.

Rocket warning sirens heard in Sderot, Gaza border communities

Rocket warning sirens are sounded in the southern city of Sderot and the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, the army says.

Building in Sderot apparently hit by Gaza rocket

A rocket fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip appears to have struck a building in the town of Sderot, causing damage.

There are no immediate reports of injuries.

— Judah Ari Gross

Sderot confirms building housing religious school hit by Gaza rocket

The municipality of Sderot confirms that a building in the city was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, causing damage but no injuries.

The building housed a Jewish religious school.

— Judah Ari Gross

Jordan FM suggests still no decision on attending US-led peace workshop in Bahrain

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi suggests that Jordan has not decided whether to attend the US-led economic workshop in Bahrain in late June.

Safadi’s comments appear to contradict those of a senior White House official, who said on Tuesday that Amman informed the US administration that it would attend the conference.

“We did not announce an official position regarding the Bahrain workshop because we are exercising our right to evaluate, discuss and consult with our brothers and friends,” Safadi tells Al Mamlaka TV, a state-funded channel. “When we make a decision, we will announce it. If we participate, we would be participating to affirm our principles and clearly and confidently state our position…And if we do not participate, we would have made a decision based on our evaluation.”

Jordan, one of two Arab states that has signed a peace treaty with Israel, has long supported the two-state solution, including the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Safadi adds that the conference in Bahrain “is a workshop at the end of the day,” contending it “is not the beginning or the end of history.”

— Adam Rasgon

Pompeo blames Iran for Gulf tanker attacks

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is blaming Iran for attacks on a pair of tankers earlier today in the Gulf of Oman.

“This is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests,” Pompeo tells reporters at the State Department.

“On April 22, Iran promised the world it would interrupt the flow of the oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It is now working to execute on that promise,” he adds, referring to the narrow waterway separating the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Iran.

Trump says too early ‘to even think’ about negotiating with Iran

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Thursday says it is too early even to consider entering negotiations with Iran, despite soaring tensions between Washington and Iran.

Trump says that while he appreciated a mediating mission by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal. They are not ready, and neither are we!”

— AFP

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Rocket warning sirens heard in Sderot, Gaza border communities

Rocket warning sirens are sounded in the southern city of Sderot and the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, the army says.