Palestinians injured during Israeli bombardment  on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, wait to receive medical treatment at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah in Gaza on Saturday.—AFP
Palestinians injured during Israeli bombardment on the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, wait to receive medical treatment at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah in Gaza on Saturday.—AFP

• Biden cuts weekend trip short for urgent Middle East consultations
• Tehran says Israel ‘in complete panic’ over Syria attack response
• Gaza death toll rises by 52

TEHRAN: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a container ship “related to the Zionist regime (Israel)” in the Gulf on Saturday, state media reported, with tensions soaring in the region.

The ship’s operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, later confirmed Iranian authorities had boarded it.

A container ship “was seized by the Sepah (Guards) Navy Special Forces by carrying out a heliborne operation,” state news agency IRNA reported, naming it as the MSC Aries.

It added that the operation took place “near the Strait of Hormuz” and “this ship has now been directed towards the territorial waters” of Iran.

MSC confirmed the Aries had “been boarded by Iranian authorities via helicopter as she passed the Strait of Hormuz” on Saturday morning.

It said that 25 crew were on board and that it was “working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel”.

The Aries is leased by international shipping line MSC from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, Zodiac said in a statement, adding that MSC is responsible for all vessel activities. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

The Strait of Hormuz connects the Gulf with the Indian Ocean and, according to the US Energy Information Admin­istra­tion, more than a fifth of annual global oil consumption passes through it each year.

A video shared on social media appeared to show people descending from a helicopter onto the deck of the Aries using a rope.

Vessel tracking websites, vesselfinder.com and marinetraffic.com, say MSC Aries is a Portuguese-flagged container ship and gave its last reported position as in the Gulf.

The United States on Friday said it was sending military reinforcements to the region, after Iran vowed retaliation for a strike on its embassy.

 A screengrab shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rappelling down onto the container ship near the Strait of Hormuz.—AFP
A screengrab shows Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rappelling down onto the container ship near the Strait of Hormuz.—AFP

Biden cuts trip short

US President Joe Biden cut short a weekend trip to Delaware on Saturday to return to Washington for urgent consultations on the Middle East, the White House said, amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel.

“The President is returning to the White House this afternoon to consult with his national security team about events in the Middle East,” the White House said.

Israel ‘in complete panic’

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader said that Israel is ‘panicking’ over a possible retaliatory response after the strike on its embassy.

“It has been a week that the Zionists are in complete panic and are on alert,” Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. “They don’t know what Iran wants to do, so they and their supporters are terrified,” he said.

However, Israel warned Iran would suffer the “consequences for choosing to escalate the situation”.

Another 52 killed in Gaza

The surging tensions come against the backdrop of Israel’s attacks in Gaza. In recent months, Israeli forces have killed at least 33,686 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry. The toll rose by 52 over the last 24 hours, the ministry said.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

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