Tehran, Aug 27 (AP/UNB) — Iran's president has back-pedaled on possible talks with Donald Trump and now says the U.S. president first must lift sanctions imposed on Tehran.
Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that otherwise, a meeting between the two would be just a photo op and "that is not possible."
Rouhani's change of heart came a day after Trump said Monday there's a good chance the two could meet after a surprise intervention by French President Emmanuel Macron during the G-7 summit to try to bring Washington and Tehran together.
Rouhani says that "without the U.S.'s withdrawal from sanctions, we will not witness any positive development." He added that Washington "holds the key."
Earlier on Monday, Rouhani expressed readiness to negotiate a way out of the crisis following America's pullout from the nuclear deal.
Jerusalem, Aug 26 (AP/UNB) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military on Monday to cut fuel transfers to Gaza in half in response to rocket attacks from the coastal strip, raising tensions along Israel's southern border in addition to a renewed threat from the north amid reported Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
Netanyahu also instructed his staff to prepare plans for building a new neighborhood in a West Bank settlement where a teenage Israeli girl was killed in an explosion blast last week. Israel said the blast was a Palestinian attack.
The flurry of activity comes amid a massive manhunt by Israeli troops for the 17-year-old's killers and dire warnings from Lebanon's Hezbollah leader of an imminent attack, just weeks before an unprecedented repeat Israeli election.
Netanyahu ordered the Gaza measure to take effect immediately and until further notice. The cut is expected to exacerbate the already dire flow of electricity in the impoverished coastal strip. The move follows airstrikes the military carried out overnight in the Gaza Strip, after three rockets were launched from the territory into southern Israel.
The military said the airstrikes included one on the office of a Hamas commander in the northern Gaza Strip. There were no reports of casualties.
Air raid sirens warning of an incoming attack wailed late on Sunday during an outdoor music festival in the Israeli border town of Sderot, sending panicked revelers scurrying for cover. The military said two rockets were intercepted by its missile defense system.
The rocket attack was the latest in a recent uptick following a relative lull that has threatened to unleash another round of fighting along the volatile Gaza-Israel border.
Israel accused the Iranian-backed militant Islamic Jihad group of orchestrating the rocket attacks, as part of Iran's region-wide campaign of chaos.
"Hostile elements near and far, attempting to ignite a war, are dragging you into violence and destroying the stability and security of your home," wrote Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, in a direct message to Gaza residents in Arabic on his Facebook page.
Gaza's Hamas rulers say that Israel's slow-moving approach to implementing an unofficial Egyptian-brokered truce aimed at alleviating the enclave's dire living conditions could lead to further escalation.
The continued impasse, in which Gaza's humanitarian crisis has been highlighted by the occasional outburst of violence, has also begun to spark criticism in Israel, where officials have been advocating for a stronger military response alongside a need to address the civilian needs of Gaza's impoverished 2 million residents.
"Israel's strategy over the past few years has been to maintain the situation as it is," retired general Guy Tzur told Israel's Army Radio. "Therefore we are in a strategy of 'rounds' (of violence) and this does nothing to change the situation ... we need to establish deterrence on the one hand and provide serious humanitarian relief on the other."
In the West Bank, Israel is still reeling from the deadly blast Friday at a water spring that killed Rina Shnerb, 17, from the settlement of Dolev, and wounded her brother and father. As politicians paid the family condolence visits, Netanyahu announced he has ordered his staff to prepare plans for building a new neighborhood in Dolev that would have about 300 residential housing units.
"We will deepen our roots and strike at our enemies. We will continue to strengthen and develop the settlements," Netanyahu said in a statement.
The flare-ups come as Israel has also dramatically stepped up its campaign against Iranian military aggression in the region. In recent days, Israel has acknowledged attacking targets near the Syrian capital, Damascus, to thwart what it called an imminent Iranian drone strike against Israel.
Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, most of them aimed at arms shipments believed to be headed from Iran to its Shiite proxy Hezbollah. But direct clashes between Israel and Iranian forces have been rare, and Israel has typically been wary of publicly acknowledging them for fear of sparking a fierce response that could deteriorate into all-out war.
Lebanese officials reported that Israeli warplanes also attacked a Palestinian base in eastern Lebanon near the border with Syria early Monday, a day after an alleged Israeli drone crashed in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut while another exploded and crashed nearby.
In recent days, U.S. officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.
Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy and has repeatedly vowed that it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, where Iranian troops have been supporting President Bashar Assad during the country's eight-year civil war.
Beirut, Aug 26 (AP/UNB) — Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes targeting the country's last major rebel stronghold, the northwestern province of Idlib, have killed three civilians, including a woman and her child.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the airstrikes hit in the village of Basqala on the southern edge of Idlib.
The opposition's Syrian Civil Defense rescue group, also known as White Helmets, said its members helped treat the wounded and handed over the bodies of the dead to their families in Basqala.
Syrian government forces have been on the offensive since April 30, during which they have captured all rebel-held areas in the adjoining Hama province.
The months of fighting have also displaced more than half a million toward northern parts of Idlib, already home to some 3 million people.
Dubai, Aug 24 (AP/UNB) — An Iranian-flagged oil tanker pursued by the U.S. amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington changed its listed destination to a port in Turkey early Saturday after Greece said it wouldn't risk its relations with America by aiding it.
The crew of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, updated its listed destination in its Automatic Identification System to Mersin, Turkey, a port city in the country's south and home to an oil terminal.
However, mariners can input any destination into the AIS, so Turkey may not be its true destination. Mersin is some 200 kilometers (125 miles) northwest of a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, where authorities alleged the Adrian Darya had been heading before being seized off Gibraltar in early July.
Iranian state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge the new reported destination of the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth some $130 million. Nor was there any immediate reaction from Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deals directly with Tehran and Russia over Syria's long war.
The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya's position as just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. At current speeds, it estimated the Adrian Darya would reach Mersin in about a week.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The head of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami, said Saturday it had successfully test-fired a "new missile" a day earlier, but did not elaborate on the type of weapon, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday debuted an Iran-made air-defense missile system, the Bavar-373. In June, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. President Donald Trump came close to retaliating but called off an airstrike at the last moment.
The Adrian Darya's detention and later release by Gibraltar have added fuel to the growing tensions between Washington and Tehran, after Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago over concerns about Iran's ballistic missile program and regional influence. In the time since, Iran lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the deal, as the U.S. re-imposed and created sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude oil aboard, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic.
In U.S. federal court documents, authorities allege the Adrian Grace's true owner is Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organization answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The U.S. declared the Guard a foreign terror organization in April, the first time America named a military force of a nation as such, giving it the legal power to issue a warrant for the vessel's seizure. However, that would require another nation to acknowledge the writ.
The Adrian Darya had put its intended destination as Kalamata, Greece, even though the port did not have the infrastructure to offload oil from the tanker. The State Department then pressured Greece not to aid the vessel.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to hold the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which it seized in a commando-style raid July 19 after the taking of the Adrian Darya. Analysts suggested the release of the Adrian Darya would see the Stena Impero let go, but that has yet to happen.
Dubai, Aug 24 (AP/UNB) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received the United Arab Emirates' highest civilian honor during a visit to the oil-rich Gulf nation.
Modi's induction into the Order of Zayed on Saturday shows the importance the UAE places on India, the world's third-largest consumer of crude oil, even as the Indian leader pursues stripping statehood from the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir.
India is home to a rapidly growing consumer market and labor pool that the UAE relies on for its own economy.
Activists, however, decried the UAE bestowing the award on Modi as he clamps down on the Himalayan region claimed by both Pakistan and India.
Modi is also set to travel to Bahrain to become the first Indian premier to visit the island nation.