Dubai, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — Drones launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked a massive oil and gas field deep inside of Saudi Arabia's sprawling desert on Saturday, causing what the kingdom described as a "limited fire" in the second-such recent attack on its crucial energy industry.
The attack on the Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day, again shows the reach of the Houthis' drone program as Shaybah sits only a few kilometers (miles) from the kingdom's border with the United Arab Emirates. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been in a yearslong, bloody war against the Houthis, who hold Yemen's capital, Sanaa.
The drone assault also comes amid heightened tensions in the wider Mideast between the U.S. and Iran, whose supreme leader hosted a top Houthi official days earlier in Tehran.
State media in Saudi Arabia quoted Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih as saying production was not affected at the oil field and no one was wounded in the attack Saturday. The state-run Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known widely as Saudi Aramco, issued a terse statement acknowledging a "limited fire" at a liquid natural gas facility at Shaybah.
Their acknowledgement came hours after Yahia Sarie, a military spokesman for the Houthis, issued a video statement claiming the rebels launched 10 bomb-laden drones targeting the field in their "biggest-ever" operation. He threatened more attacks would be coming.
"This is in response to their aggression toward us and our people in Yemen," Sarie said.
Al-Falih linked the attack to a May assault by Houthi drones that targeted the kingdom's crucial East-West Pipeline, a 1,200-kilometer (746-mile) link between its eastern oil fields and the Red Sea. He also mentioned recent explosions on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz that the U.S. blames on Iranian-planted limpet mines. Iran denies being behind those attacks.
"This act of terrorism and sabotage is only an extension of those acts that have recently targeted the global oil supply chains, including oil pipelines in the kingdom, and oil tankers," al-Falih said. "This cowardly attack once again highlights the importance of the international community's response to all terrorist actors who carry out such acts of sabotage, including the Houthi militias."
The oil field at Shaybah is in the Arabian Peninsula's Empty Quarter, a sea of sand where temperatures routinely hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Saudi Aramco on its website refers to the field as "the most remote treasure on Earth," home to reserves of 14.3 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet.
The site is some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) from rebel-held territory in Yemen, demonstrating the range of the Houthi's drones. U.N. investigators say the Houthis' new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). That puts Saudi oil fields, an under-construction Emirati nuclear power plant and Dubai's busy international airport within their range.
Unlike sophisticated drones that use satellites to allow pilots to remotely fly them, analysts believe Houthi drones are likely programmed to strike a specific latitude and longitude and cannot be controlled once out of radio range. The Houthis have used drones, which can be difficult to track by radar, to attack Saudi Patriot missile batteries, as well as enemy troops.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE launched their war against the Houthis in March 2015 to back the country's internationally recognized government. The UAE recently began withdrawing troops from the conflict while UAE-allied separatists recently seized the city of Aden, further complicating a war seen as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Jerusalem, Aug 17 (AP/UNB) — Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib said Friday she would not visit her grandmother in the occupied West Bank, despite being granted an Israeli permit on humanitarian grounds, saying Israel's "oppressive" conditions aimed to humiliate her.
Israel barred Tlaib and another Democrat, Rep. Ilhan Omar, from visiting Jerusalem and the West Bank over their support for the international boycott movement following an unprecedented appeal from President Donald Trump to deny them entry.
Israel had said Tlaib could visit relatives in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds. But then the Interior Ministry released a letter purportedly signed by Tlaib in which she promised not to advocate boycotts during her visit. That appears to have led to her decision to cancel the visit.
"Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother's heart," she said in a statement. "Silencing me with treatment to make me feel less-than is not what she wants for me — it would kill a piece of me that always stands up against racism and injustice."
Tlaib and Omar had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank next week on a tour organized by a Palestinian group. The two are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and support the Palestinian-led international movement boycotting Israel.
The two newly elected Muslim members of Congress have sparred with Trump, who tweeted before the decision that it would be a "show of weakness" to allow them in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Mideast war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced early Friday that Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank to see relatives. The U.S.-born Tlaib's family immigrated from the West Bank.
Deri's office released what it said was Tlaib's request, written on congressional stationery and dated Thursday, in which she said she wanted to visit her grandmother, who is in her 90s.
"This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit," she said. Tlaib's office could not immediately be reached for comment on the letter's authenticity.
Shortly after the announcement, Tlaib tweeted that she wouldn't allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to "bow down to their oppressive & racist policies."
"When I won (in 2018), it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can't allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me," she wrote.
Bassam Tlaib, an uncle who lives in the West Bank, expressed support for her decision.
"If Rashida's visit to her homeland is under conditions, we reject that," he said. "It's Rashida's right as a Palestinian to come and visit her family and country."
Some Palestinians had expressed disappointment with the letter. Ali Abunimah, a prominent Palestinian activist, tweeted that Tlaib should have used her platform to highlight Israel's restrictions "instead of writing that humiliating letter asking the occupier to treat her as an exception in exchange for abiding by its 'restrictions.'"
Deri, the interior minister, said after the cancellation that her initial request was apparently a "provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel."
"Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother," he tweeted.
Trump's request to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected U.S. officials — and Israel's decision to do so — were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress. Critics said it risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.
Tlaib and Omar are known as supporters of "boycott, divestment and sanctions," or BDS, a Palestinian-led global movement. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel's military rule over the occupied territories, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.
The two congresswomen are part of the "squad" of liberal newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for re-election. He subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to "go back" to their "broken" countries. They are U.S. citizens.
Trump's recruitment of a longtime U.S. ally to punish his domestic rivals was a glaring departure from the tradition of American politicians leaving such disputes at the water's edge.
Israel announced the ban Thursday after Trump tweeted that "it would show great weakness" if the two were allowed to visit. Asked later if he had spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, "I did talk to people over there," without elaborating.
In a tweet, Omar disputed Netanyahu's claim that she and Tlaib didn't ask to meet with Israeli government or opposition officials. She said they planned to meet with Jewish and Arab members of the Israeli parliament plus other Israeli officials.
For Israel, the willingness to side so pointedly with Trump marks a deeper foray into America's bitterly polarized politics and risks its relationship with Congress.
Netanyahu's embrace of Trump has yielded major gains for the Israeli right, including the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Trump's acceptance of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 war, provided a boost to Netanyahu ahead of April's elections.
Netanyahu might be hoping for a similar jolt ahead of next month's polls, which were called after he failed to form a coalition government. Reactions in the Israeli media to the decision to bar the congresswomen were split, with Netanyahu's opponents accusing him of kowtowing to a divisive U.S. president and endangering bilateral relations and supporters saying he had no choice but to fully back an important ally in the White House.
"Just like Trump's base in America does not like the extreme left-wing elements of the Democratic Party, (Netanyahu's) base in Israel does not like them," said Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at Hebrew University. "It serves his base. It does not serve the state of Israel."
Jerusalem, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — With a push from President Donald Trump, Israel on Thursday barred two Muslim-American congresswomen from entering the country for a visit, an extraordinary step bringing the longtime U.S. ally into Trump's domestic fight against political rivals at home.
The U.S. president is essentially relying on Israel to retaliate against two freshman lawmakers, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who are both outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. They are also part of the "squad" of liberal newcomers -- all women of color -- whom Trump has labeled the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection.
It's a glaring departure from the tradition of American politicians leaving domestic disputes at the water's edge.
For Israel, the willingness to side so pointedly with Trump marks a deeper foray into America's bitterly polarized politics and risks its relationship with Congress. Blocking the visits of two lawmakers appears to be unprecedented.
Israel announced the ban shortly after Trump tweeted that "it would show great weakness" if the two were allowed to visit. Asked later if he had spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, "I did talk to people over there," but he declined to say to whom.
In Israel, Netanyahu said his country remains "open to critics and criticism," except for those who advocate boycotts against it. The congresswomen support a Palestinian-led boycott and divestment movement.
Netanyahu said Tlaib and Omar were leaders in promoting boycott legislation and their itinerary "revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel's legitimacy."
Democrats in Congress denounced his move as a reversal of previous assurances by the Israeli ambassador to the United States that, "out of respect for the U.S. Congress," no lawmakers would be denied entry.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the snub "beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel." The California Democrat, long a supporter of Israel, called the decision "deeply disappointing."
Shortly before the decision was announced, Trump said the congresswomen "hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds." He called them "a disgrace," an insult he has used repeatedly for them.
Top ranking Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said Israel's action was a sign of weakness instead of strength — the reverse of Trump's judgment — and "will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America."
Trump's GOP allies in Congress were more muted, with few raising objections. Republicans have joined the president in trying to stamp Omar, Tlaib and other members of the "squad" of four new, liberal lawmakers as the heart of the Democratic Party.
The influential pro-Israel American lobby group, AIPAC, suggested the action Thursday was a step too far.
"We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib's support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib's calls for a one-state solution," AIPAC said on Twitter. "We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."
The two lawmakers had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian organization aimed at highlighting the plight of the Palestinians. It was not immediately clear if they had planned to meet with Israeli officials, and spokespeople.
Omar denounced the decision as "an affront" and "an insult to democratic values."
"This is not a surprise given the public positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump," she said in a statement.
Tlaib, whose family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close relatives, tweeted a photo of her grandmother and said she has the right to live "in peace & with human dignity."
Israel said it would consider any request from Tlaib to visit relatives on humanitarian grounds.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, endorsed the decision after it was made, saying Israel "has every right to protect its borders" against promoters of boycotts.
Blocking them is the latest escalation of Israel's campaign against the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions.
Supporters of the boycott movement say it is a non-violent way to protest Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the effort aims to delegitimize Israel and ultimately erase it from the map, replacing it with a binational state.
The controversy could further sharpen divisions among Democrats over Israel ahead of the 2020 elections. Republicans have amplified the views of left-wing Democrats like Tlaib and Omar to present the party as deeply divided and at odds with Israel. Democratic leaders have pushed back. The Democratic-led House voted overwhelmingly in July in favor of a resolution against the BDS movement.
Israel often hosts delegations of U.S. representatives and senators, who usually meet with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. Israel controls entry and exit points to the West Bank. The Palestinians seek these territories for a future state.
MIFTAH, the Palestinian organization that was to host Tlaib and Omar in the West Bank, issued a statement saying that Israel's decision was "an affront to the American people and their representatives" and "an assault on the Palestinian people's right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world."
Tlaib and Omar have been the target of repeated verbal attacks by Trump, including a series of tweets in which he said they should "go back" to the "broken" countries they came from. Both are U.S. citizens and Tlaib was born in the U.S.
Madrid, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — The State Department says it will revoke U.S. visas for crew members on an Iranian oil tanker that was seized by authorities in Gibraltar for sanctions violations but released Thursday.
The department says in a statement it intends to fully enforce all U.S. sanctions related to Iranian oil exports despite the decision by Gibraltar to allow the ship to leave. The Grace I was seized last month on suspicion of transporting Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European sanctions. Such deliveries are also barred by U.S. sanctions.
Gibraltar freed the ship after Iran promised the oil won't be sent to Syria.
The State Department also says the ship was assisting Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps in evading sanctions. The Corps is designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S.
Britain's Foreign Office has warned Iran to abide by the assurances it provided to the government of Gibraltar that led to the release of a detained Iranian supertanker.
In a statement hours after a Gibraltar court released the Grace I, U.K. authorities insisted they would not allow Iran or anyone else to bypass European Union sanctions meant to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people.
But the U.K. also insisted that there should be "no comparison or linkage" between the enforcement of sanctions and "Iran's unacceptable and illegal seizure of, and attacks on, commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz."
Britain wants Iran to release the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which was seized by the Islamic Republic after British Marines took over the Grace I.
Iran's foreign minister is accusing the U.S. of trying to "steal our property on the high seas" after an American request to seize an Iranian oil tanker.
Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comment in a tweet Thursday night, immediately after a Gibraltar court said it would allow the Grace 1 to leave the British territory.
Zarif wrote: "Having failed to accomplish its objectives through its #EconomicTerrorism —including depriving cancer patients of medicine — the US attempted to abuse the legal system to steal our property on the high seas."
Zarif added: "This piracy attempt is indicative of Trump (administration's) contempt for the law."
The Grace 1, carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude, was seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. The vessel was suspected of violating European Union sanctions on Syria.
A newspaper in Gibraltar says authorities have released an Iranian supertanker at the center of a standoff with Tehran that the U.S. had sought to seize through legal action.
The Supreme Court in Gibraltar had delayed a decision to release the ship after the U.S. Department of Justice made a last-minute application to extend the vessel's detention, the Gibraltar government said earlier on Thursday. Gibraltar is a British overseas territory linked by a narrow stretch of land to southern Spain.
But the Gibraltar Chronicle reports there was no U.S. application before the court when the hearing resumed on Thursday afternoon. The newspaper quoted the court's chief justice, Anthony Dudley.
The Grace 1, carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude, was seized on July 4 in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. The vessel was suspected of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
A newspaper in Gibraltar says the United States has applied to seize an Iranian supertanker that authorities in the British overseas territory were seeking to release from detention.
The Gibraltar Chronicle says the development means a last minute application by the U.S. Department of Justice to extend the ship's detention prompted the Supreme Court to adjourn its decision until later Thursday.
The Justice Department didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The tanker was seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. It's suspected of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria, and its seizure deepened international tensions in the Persian Gulf.
The Gibraltar government says it is seeking to "de-escalate" the situation over the Grace 1.
Jerusalem, Aug 15 (AP/UNB) — Israel said Thursday that it will bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country ahead of a planned visit over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement, a decision announced shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted that it would "show great weakness" to allow them in.
The move to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting the close American ally appeared to be unprecedented, and marked a deep foray by Israel into America's bitterly polarized politics. It is also a sharp escalation of Israel's campaign against the international boycott movement.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri issued a statement saying that after consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials he decided not to allow Tlaib and Omar to enter because of "their boycott activities against Israel."
The two newly-elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Tlaib's family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank. Deri said Israel would consider any request from Tlaib to visit relatives on humanitarian grounds.
Shortly before the decision was announced, Trump had tweeted that "it would show great weakness" if Israel allowed them to visit. "They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds." He went on to call the two congresswomen "a disgrace."
Israel has sought to combat the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions. The country passed a law permitting a ban on entry to any activist who "knowingly issues a call for boycotting Israel."
Last month, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer had said Israel would not deny entry to any member of Congress.
The interior minister's statement said "the state of Israel respects the American Congress, in the framework of the close alliance between the two countries, but it's unacceptable to allow the entrance to the country of those who wish to harm the state of Israel, especially during their visit."
Supporters of the boycott movement say it is a non-violent way to protest Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the movement aims to delegitimize Israel and ultimately erase it from the map, replacing it with a binational state.
Israel often hosts delegations of U.S. representatives and senators, who usually meet with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank.
MIFTAH, the Palestinian organization that was set to host Tlaib and Omar in the West Bank, issued a statement saying that Israel's decision was "an affront to the American people and their representatives" and "an assault on the Palestinian people's right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world."
It was not immediately clear if the two congresswomen had planned on meeting with Israeli officials during their visit. Their spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision to ban the congresswomen could further sharpen divisions among U.S. Democrats over Israel ahead of the 2020 elections. Republicans have amplified the views of left-wing Democrats like Tlaib and Omar to present the party as deeply divided and at odds with Israel. Democratic leaders have pushed back, reiterating the party's strong support for Israel, in part to protect representatives from more conservative districts.
In July, the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution against the BDS movement.
Tlaib and Omar have also been the target of repeated attacks by President Donald Trump in recent months, including a series of racist tweets on July 14 in which he said they should "go back" to the "broken" countries they came from. Both are U.S. citizens and Tlaib was born in the United States. The two are members of the so-called "Squad" of newly-elected left-wing Democrats, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
American Jewish organizations had objected to barring the two Democrats from entering the country. The American Jewish Congress said that despite Omar and Tlaib's planned "propaganda exercise," it believed that "the costs in the U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative."
Politicians and former diplomats also spoke out against barring the congresswomen from visiting.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro wrote on Twitter that the decision to bar their entry "harms Israel's standing in the U.S., boosts BDS."
Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of Arab parties, criticized the move, writing that "Israel has always banned Palestinians from their land and separated us from other Palestinians, but this time the Palestinian is a U.S. Congresswoman."
Arthur Lenk, formerly Israel's ambassador to South Africa, said barring Omar and Tlaib "would be sinking us deeper into U.S. domestic political quagmire."