Trump blames Iran for tanker attacks, stoking fears of confrontation

Still image taken from a video appears to show two tankers at sea, one of which has a large plume of dark smoke in the Gulf of Oman. PRESS TV/IRIB/via REUTERS

By Parisa Hafezi and Makini Brice

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Iran on Friday for attacks on two oil tankers at the entrance to the Gulf despite Tehran’s denials, stoking fears of a confrontation in the vital oil shipping route.

Iran has dismissed earlier U.S. charges that it was behind Thursday’s attacks that crippled two tankers. It has previously suggested it could block the Strait of Hormuz, the main route out for Middle Eastern oil, if its own exports were halted.

Thursday’s blasts followed similar attacks a month earlier on four tankers, which Washington also blamed on Tehran.

They come at a time of escalating confrontation between the United States and Iran. Last month Washington sharply tightened sanctions against Tehran, which in response has threatened to step up its nuclear activity.

Asked how he planned to address Tehran and prevent any further incidents, Trump told Fox News: “We’re going to see.” He also said that any move to close the Strait of Hormuz would not last long.

Nevertheless, Trump, who last year pulled the United States out of an agreement between world powers and Tehran to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions, said that he was open to negotiations with Iran.

“We want to get them back to the table,” Trump said. “I’m ready when they are.” He added that he was in “no rush”.

Iran has repeatedly said it will not re-enter talks with the United States unless it reverses Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal.

The U.S. military released a video on Thursday it said showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were behind the blasts that struck the Norwegian-owned Front Altair and the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, at the mouth of the Gulf.

Iran said the video proved nothing and that it was being made into a scapegoat.

“These accusations are alarming,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

Iran has accused the United States and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of “warmongering” by making accusations against it.

Tehran and Washington have both said they have no interest in starting a war. But this has done little to assuage concerns that the two arch-foes could stumble into a conflict.

Oil prices surged on Thursday, reflecting the jitters, although they have since given up some of those gains.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday the world could not afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region”.

China, the European Union and others have called for restraint from all sides. In a notable signal that close U.S. allies are wary of Washington’s position, Germany said the U.S. video was not enough to apportion blame for Thursday’s attack.

The U.S. military said black-and-white footage it filmed from a U.S. aircraft showed Iran’s Guards on one of their patrol boats drawing up to the Kokuka Courageous and removing an unexploded limpet mine from its hull.

Britain said it took the matter “extremely seriously” and, if Iran was involved, “it is a deeply unwise escalation”.

The Japanese-owned tanker, abandoned by its crew, was being towed to a port in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, after a Dutch firm said it had been appointed to salvage the ships.

The second tanker, the Front Altair, which was set ablaze by a blast, was still languishing at sea, although the fire that had charred the hull had been put out.

“ALARMING”

Last month Washington revoked waivers that had allowed some countries to continue importing Iranian oil, effectively ordering all countries to blacklist Iran or face sanctions themselves.

Iran’s crude exports fell to about 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May from 2.5 million bpd in April 2018, starving Iran’s economy of its main source of revenues.

Iran says it is still abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal, but cannot do so indefinitely unless it receives some of the economic benefits that were promised. Last month it said it would boost enrichment of uranium, a move that could potentially lead to it building up a stockpile prohibited under the deal.

Washington has also blamed Iran or its proxies for attacks on May 12 that crippled four oil tankers in the same area, and has said Tehran was behind May 14 drone strikes on two Saudi oil-pumping stations. Tehran has denied all those charges.

There have been conflicting accounts of the cause of Thursday’s blasts. An initial report that Kokuka Courageous was struck by a torpedo was dismissed by a source familiar with the issue. The owner of the tanker, which carried methanol, later said it was hit by two “flying objects”.

A source has said a magnetic mine could have caused the explosion on Front Altair, which had a cargo of naphtha.

“UNWISE ESCALATION”

Iranian TV showed 23 crew in Iran believed to be from Front Altair on Friday, and said its experts would assess whether they could return to the ship. The crew from Kokuka Courageous were picked up and handed to a U.S. Navy ship on Thursday.

The Trump administration said in May it would send troops and other forces to the Middle East, citing Iranian threats, a move Tehran has called “psychological warfare”.

The administration argues that the nuclear deal, negotiated under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, was too limited, and says re-imposing sanctions will force Tehran back to the table to make more concessions.

Most U.S. allies in Europe and Asia disagree and say pulling out of the deal was a mistake that will empower hardliners in Iran and hurt the pragmatic faction that promised Iranians economic benefits in return for opening up to the world.

Thursday’s attack took place while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan – a big buyer of Iranian oil until it was forced by the new U.S. sanctions to stop – was visiting Tehran on a peacemaking mission, bringing a message from Trump.

Iran dismissed Trump’s message, details of which were not made public. “I do not see Trump as worthy of any message exchange, and I do not have any reply for him, now or in future,” Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafez, Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, Phil Stewart and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Victoria Klesty in Oslo; Writing by Edmund Blair and Peter Graff; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones)

Saudi Arabia seeks Arab unity over Iran after attacks

Iraq's President Barham Salih arrives to attend the meeting for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia May 30, 2019. The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Aziz El Yaakoubi and Marwa Rashad

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia prepared to hold emergency Arab summits on Thursday to deliver a strong message to Iran over regional security after attacks on Gulf oil assets this month as American officials said a U.S. military deployment had deterred Tehran.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have lobbied Washington to contain foe Shi’ite Muslim Iran, have said they want to avoid war after drone strikes on oil pumping stations in the kingdom and the sabotage of tankers off the UAE.

Riyadh accused Tehran of ordering the drone strikes, which were claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday that evidence of Iran being behind the tanker attacks would be presented to the United Nations Security Council as early as next week.

Tehran denies any involvement in either one.

Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said ahead of the two late night summits of Sunni Muslim Gulf leaders and Arab leaders, that the attacks must be addressed with “strength and firmness”.

“While summit leaders are likely to discuss how best to avoid a war, King Salman is equally determined to defend Saudi and Arab interests amid increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and envoy, wrote in an opinion piece published by Al Arabiya.

Tensions have risen between the United States and Iran after Washington quit a multinational nuclear deal with Iran, re-imposed sanctions and boosted its military presence in the Gulf.

Bolton has said that Iranian mines were “almost certainly” used in the tanker attacks, which he described as being connected to the strike on pumping stations on the kingdom’s East-West pipeline and a rocket attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone.

An Iranian official dismissed Bolton’s remarks as “a ludicrous claim”. The Islamic Republic has said it would defend itself against any military or economic aggression.

DETERRING IRAN

Bolton and the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, told reporters on Thursday that a repositioning of U.S. military assets in the region had succeeded in deterring Iran.

Bolton, speaking in London, said it would be a big mistake if Iran or its surrogates in the region attacked U.S. interests. Hook told a news conference call that the United States would respond with military force if that happens.

Last week the Pentagon announced the deployment of 900 additional troops to the Middle East and extended the stay of another 600 service members, after speeding up deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and sending bombers and additional Patriot missiles.

The United States and the UAE, which hosts a U.S. air base, on Wednesday activated a defense cooperation agreement signed earlier this year.

Gulf states have a joint defense force under the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the 39-year-old alliance has been fractured by a dispute that has seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC Egypt impose a political and economic boycott on Qatar since mid-2017.

Saudi King Salman invited Qatar’s ruler, whose country is home to the largest U.S. military base in the region, to the summits. Doha is sending Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani, the highest level Qatari official to visit the kingdom since the rift.

Iraq and Oman, which have good ties with Tehran and Washington, have said they are working to reduce tensions. Doha, which shares a giant gas field with Iran, has offered to help.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a trip to Iraq this month that Tehran wanted balanced ties with Gulf neighbors and had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

UAE newspaper Gulf News said in an editorial, which are usually state-approved, that the offer was “bizarre” and that Gulf states were not buying Iran’s “‘nice neighbor’ routine”.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Lisa Barrington, Sylvia Westall and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai and Eric Knecht in Doha; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by William Maclean, Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry)

Trump, Saudi Arabia warn Iran against Middle East conflict

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir speaks during a news conference with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

By Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin

RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump issued a new threat to Tehran on Sunday, tweeting that a conflict would be the “official end” of Iran, as Saudi Arabia warned it stood ready to respond with “all strength” and said it was up to Iran to avoid war.

The heightened rhetoric follows last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets and the firing of a rocket on Sunday into Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” that exploded near the U.S. embassy.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Trump said in a tweet without elaborating.

A U.S. State Department official said the rocket attack in Baghdad did not hit a U.S.-inhabited facility and produced no casualties nor any significant damage. No claims of responsibility had been made, but the United States was taking the incident “very seriously.”

FILE PHOTO: A damaged Andrea Victory ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A damaged Andrea Victory ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

“We have made clear over the past two weeks and again underscore that attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner,” the official said in an emailed statement. “We will hold Iran responsible if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces, and will respond to Iran accordingly.”

Riyadh, which emphasized that it does not want a war, has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group. Two days earlier, four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

In response, countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) began “enhanced security patrols” in the international waters of the Arabian Gulf area on Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said on Sunday.

Iran has denied involvement in either incident, which come as Washington and the Islamic Republic spar over sanctions and the U.S. military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference on Sunday.

“It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks.

“The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said in its statement about increased maritime patrols that GCC countries were “specifically increasing communication and coordination with each other in support of regional naval cooperation and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf,” with navies and coast guards working with the U.S. Navy.

Saudi Arabia’s Sunni Muslim ally the UAE has not blamed anyone for the tanker sabotage operation, pending an investigation. No-one has claimed responsibility, but two U.S. government sources said last week that U.S. officials believed Iran had encouraged the Houthi group or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry it out.

The drone strike on oil pumping stations, which Riyadh said did not disrupt output or exports, was claimed by the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition in a war in Yemen since 2015.

FILE PHOTO: A damaged ANDREA VICTORY ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A damaged ANDREA VICTORY ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar/File Photo

The Houthi-controled SABA news agency said on Sunday, citing a military source from the group, that targeting Aramco’s installations last week was the beginning of coming military operations against 300 vital military targets.

Targets include vital military headquarters and facilities in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, as well as their bases in Yemen, the source told SABA.

The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, derided Riyadh’s call to convene Arab summits, saying in a Twitter post that they “only know how to support war and destruction”.

A Norwegian insurers’ report seen by Reuters said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attack on vessels near the UAE’s Fujairah emirate, a main bunkering hub lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz.

SAUDI PRINCE CALLS POMPEO

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran”. This stance was echoed by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday.

“We are not pursuing war but we are also not afraid of war,” Major General Hossein Salami was cited as saying by the semi-official news agency Tasnim.

Washington has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, trying to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero, and beefed up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats to United States troops and interests.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed regional developments, including efforts to strengthen security and stability, in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Media Ministry tweeted on Sunday.

“We want peace and stability in the region but we will not sit on our hands in light of the continuing Iranian attack,” Jubeir said. “The ball is in Iran’s court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be.”

He said the crew of an Iranian oil tanker that had been towed to Saudi Arabia early this month after a request for help due to engine trouble were still in the kingdom receiving the “necessary care”. The crew are 24 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.

Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran are arch-adversaries in the Middle East, backing opposite sides in several regional wars. In a sign of the heightened tension, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighboring Iraq.

Bahrain on Saturday warned its citizens against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to U.S. commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai, Nandita Bose in Washington, Ali Abdelaty in Cairo, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Stephen Kalin, Ghaida Ghantous and David Lawder; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Potter, Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)

Afghan working women still face perils at home and office

Anisa Mangal holds a photo of her daughter Mena Mangal, an Afghan journalist and parliamentary adviser, who was recently killed in Kabul, Afghanistan May 14, 2019. Picture taken May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

By Orooj Hakimi Rupam Jain

KABUL (Reuters) – Minutes before Mena Mangal, a prominent Afghan journalist and parliamentary adviser, was shot dead by two men in Kabul, she had slammed the door of her parent’s home after reminding them to pay the neighborhood shopkeeper 15 Afghanis (20 cents).

“Mena never forgot her duty towards our home and work. After years of struggle she had achieved success and happiness,” said Anisa Mangal, Mena’s mother, told Reuters, as she sat surrounded by her husband, four daughters, a son, grandchildren at her two-story home in eastern Kabul.. “She did the right things … worked very hard to become a professional woman.”

No-one has been arrested over the broad daylight killing, but police officials said Mangal’s family had filed a case against four men, including her ex-husband. “These four people are on the run but the police are trying to arrest them,” said Kabul police spokesman Firdaws Faramarz.

Mangal’s mother believes it was her dedication to home and career that got her killed. She accuses her daughter’s ex-husband of involvement in the murder because Mangal would not give up her job and continued to appear on television.

Reuters was unable to contact Mangal’s former husband. Calls to family members went unanswered.

The brazen attack on Mangal has drawn widespread condemnation — including from U.S. officials and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — and highlighted what activists say is the continuing plight of Afghan women, who still suffer high levels of sexual and domestic violence and discrimination.

Educated Afghan women, the torchbearer’s of a drive to improve women’s rights since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, say they still face hostility, be it from conservative family members or hardline Islamist groups, for pursuing professional and financial independence.

Earlier this month, for example, the Taliban, launched a deadly attack on the head office of U.S.-funded aid group Counterpart International in Kabul, citing the “intermixing” of women and men working at the site and its promotion of “western activities”.

At least nine people were killed and 20 were wounded in a siege that lasted for more than seven hours.

“The Taliban want to kill women who work with men. If I die, there will be no one to feed my parents and siblings,” said an Afghan woman who has worked at Counterpart for more than three years, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If I sit at home will the Taliban come to pay the bills?”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said its fighters targeted Counterpart because it was funded by U.S. aid agencies.

Women could study and work, he said, but the intermingling of the genders ought to be kept in check in Afghanistan.

PRICE OF FREEDOM

Though many hardships remain, access to public life has improved for Afghan women since U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban, especially in cities such as Kabul, where tens of thousands now work outside the home.

But for many, concerns about the hazards of going out to a job extend beyond their own safety.

Until April, thousands of Afghan women now working for the government were happy to bring their children to the office. The daycare center attached to every government building provided reassurance their children were close by and safe.

The centers were originally established in 1945 to encourage women into the workforce but closed under the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001 and did not allow women to go to school or work, nor walk on the street without being accompanied by a male relative and wearing the all-enveloping burqa.

Now reopened, the government runs more than 370 creches where around 17,000 children aged from 3 months to 5 years are provided with milk, food, cots, toys and education at subsidized rates.

“Having a daycare center next to my office is a blessing, I feed my child after every two hours and get back to work without any stress,” said Sadia Seddiqi, an HR official at a government ministry.

But this sense of security changed in April after a suicide bomber and gunmen belonging to the Islamic State group attacked the Afghan communications ministry in central Kabul.

About a dozen people were killed during the attack. Police evacuated about 100 children along with 2,800 employees from the complex.

Harrowing TV pictures of children, teachers, and mothers screaming for hours after every gunshot inside the ministry building has forced hundreds of mothers to re-think their childcare.

Meena Ahmadi, who works at the communications ministry, said several of her colleagues do not bring their kids to daycare after the attack and some of them had chosen to resign.

“I am afraid of coming to the office,” she said. “I get upset when I remember my colleagues who were killed. The attack has impacted my child too.”

(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Rupam Jain; Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Alex Richardson)

U.S. warns merchant ships of possible Iranian attacks in Middle East

FILE PHOTO: A MH-60S helicopter hovers in the air with an oil tanker in the background as the USS John C. Stennis makes its way to the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. commercial ships including oil tankers sailing through key Middle East waterways could be targeted by Iran in one of the threats to U.S. interests posed by Tehran, the U.S. Maritime Administration said in an advisory.

The U.S. military said this week that a number of B-52 bombers would be part of additional forces being sent to the Middle East to counter what the Trump administration calls “clear indications” of threats from Iran to U.S. forces there. The Islamic Republic has dismissed the U.S. contention of a threat as “fake intelligence”.

In the advisory posted on Thursday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) said that since early May there had been an increased possibility of Iran or its regional proxies taking action against U.S. and partner interests.

These included, MARAD said, oil production infrastructure, after Tehran threatened to close the vital Strait of Hormuz chokepoint through which about one-third of the world’s seaborne crude exports flow.

“Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf,” MARAD said.

“Reporting indicates heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and interests.”

Millions of barrels of oil pass daily through the various bottlenecks from Middle East oil producers to markets across the globe.

Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington since the Trump administration withdrew a year ago from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and began ratcheting up sanctions to throttle Tehran’s economy.

Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, told Reuters on Thursday that its forces were on a heightened state of readiness, although the U.S. military was not seeking or preparing for war with Iran.

MARAD added that U.S.-flagged ships were encouraged to contact the Fifth Fleet – which is tasked with protecting commercial shipping in the area – at least two days before sailing through the Strait of Hormuz.

Washington further tightened sanctions on Iran this month – eliminating waivers that had allowed some countries to buy its oil – with a goal of reducing Tehran’s crude exports to zero.

Iran has responded by scaling back some curbs on its nuclear program concerning material stockpiles though it remains compliant with commitments to restrict its uranium enrichment activity.

(Reporting by Jonathan Saul; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Anti-Semitic attacks rise worldwide in 2018, led by U.S., west Europe: study

FILE PHOTO: A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Anti-Semitic attacks worldwide rose 13 percent in 2018 from the previous year, with the highest number of incidents reported in major Western democracies including the United States, France, Britain and Germany, an annual study showed on Wednesday.

The report, by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, said far-right and far-left activists and Islamists were behind many attacks but said there was also evidence of anti-Semitism going more mainstream.

“Anti-Semitism is no longer an issue confined to the activity of the far left, far right and radical Islamists triangle – it has mainstreamed and became an integral part of life,” the report said.

It cataloged 387 anti-Semitic attacks worldwide and cited among the causes growing fears in Europe and elsewhere linked to mass immigration, economic hardship and opposition to Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

Physical attacks, with or without weapons, arson, vandalism and direct threats against Jews, synagogues and other Jewish institutions were included in the overall figure, with over 100 cases occurring in the United States.

“STATE OF EMERGENCY”

Those incidents included the deadliest attack ever against Jews on U.S. soil, in which a gunman who stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh yelling: “All Jews must die,” killed 11 Jewish worshippers on Oct. 27.

“The most disturbing development, that keeps continuing and intensifying since 2016, is that Jews in some countries feel they live in a state of emergency, because of the continuing rise, most notably in Western Europe and North America, in anti-Semitic manifestations,” the study said.

Last Saturday, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on Sabbath worshippers in a Southern California synagogue, killing one woman and wounding three other people.

In the United States, the study noted among other factors, far-right groups and increasing hostility on campuses toward Jewish students who support Israel as fuelling anti-Semitism there.

While far-right supporters often see Jews as “a cosmopolitan foreign agent” threatening national identity, far-left groups sometimes blame Jews for economic uncertainties and tensions caused by globalization.

In Britain, where 68 anti-Semitic attacks took place, the study blamed the impact of Brexit – which has helped fuel a rise in xenophobic nationalism – and what it called “virulent anti-Semitic opinions, disguised as anti-Zionism” expressed by the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

“For the first time in their long history British Jews, who feel they lost their political home, question their future in Britain,” it said.

Corbyn denies being anti-Semitic.

The report said France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, had seen a 74 percent rise in violent anti-Semitism and Germany a 70 percent increase.

The report said those increases were driven especially by the rise of far-right movements and anti-Semitic sentiment among those countries’ growing Muslim population.

More than a million migrants, mostly Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, have moved to Germany since 2015.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)

Protests paralyze Indian state after women defy temple ban

Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) attend a protest rally during a strike against the state government for allowing two women to defy an ancient ban and enter the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

By Sudarshan Varadhan and Neha Dasgupta

KOCHI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Conservative Hindu groups paralyzed India’s southern state of Kerala on Thursday protesting against the state government for allowing two women to defy an ancient ban and enter a Hindu temple.

Many small businesses were shut after the groups called for a state-wide stoppage. Most bus services were halted and taxis were refusing to take passengers as some drivers said they feared they would be attacked.

Some protesters burst makeshift bombs outside a police station in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, police said.

On Thursday morning, about 400 protesters – including some women – marched towards the main city junction in Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, to stage a sit-in, shouting slogans and waving flags, with streets otherwise deserted.

They were backed by officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP.

India’s Supreme Court in September ordered the lifting of the ban on women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala hill temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year.

The temple has refused to abide by the ruling and subsequent attempts by women to visit have been blocked by thousands of devotees.

On Wednesday, two women were escorted by police into the temple through a side gate. They offered prayers from the top of a staircase where they could see the deity below without drawing the attention of the priest or other devotees, a police official familiar with the operation said.

He did not wish to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The Kerala state government is run by left-wing parties and has sought to allow women into the temple, a position that has drawn criticism from both of India’s main political parties, the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.

Policemen wear riot gear before the start of a rally during a strike called by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to protest against state government for allowing two women to defy an ancient ban and enter the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Policemen wear riot gear before the start of a rally during a strike called by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to protest against state government for allowing two women to defy an ancient ban and enter the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V

BUSES DAMAGED

The state’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters women were the target of some attacks by protesters, including women journalists covering the event.

On Wednesday, a woman police constable was molested by five protesters near Kochi, while a protester was pelted with stones and killed in a southern district of the state, police said.

The protests on Thursday remained largely peaceful, Vijay Sakhare, Inspector General of Police Kochi Range, told Reuters.

Since Wednesday, police have arrested more than 700 people and taken more than 600 protesters into preventive custody, V.P. Pramod Kumar, deputy director, public relations, state police headquarters, told Reuters. He said police had riot gear, teargas and water cannons in case protests became unruly.

In several places protesters damaged state-run buses, Kumar said.

A majority of stores in one of the busiest markets in Kochi remained shut even after protesters dispersed in the evening, according to M.C.K Jaleel, the state joint secretary of Kerala Samsthana Vyapari Vyavasayi Samithi, one of the largest merchant associations in the city.

DEFIANCE BY STEALTH

The women, Bindu Ammini, 42, and Kanaka Durga, 44, had approached state police to find a way to enter the temple after a failed attempt on Dec. 24.

For more than a week before Wednesday’s visit, the women were under police protection at an undisclosed location, unknown even to their families, to prevent the plan from leaking out, the police official said.

In the early hours of Wednesday, the police took the two women to the hill temple inside an ambulance to avoid attention. Medical services are frequently used outside the temple to help the elderly who go on the trek, the official said.

After offering prayers, the women merged with the crowd and headed to the exit, accompanied by four police in plain clothes, the police official said.

“Every minute, about 100 devotees throng to the sanctum sanctorum and there was no way the priest would have noticed these two,” he said.

Several women turned away by devotees in previous attempts to enter the temple said they had faced a backlash.

Bindhu Thankam Kalyani, 43, a teacher in Kerala, who tried to enter Sabarimala in October, said she was harassed by protesters. “They would come to my school and intimidate me,” she said.

However, some women who support the ban have criticized the women, saying they were defying religious tradition.

“We have been taught from our childhood that women should not go,” said Saritha C. Nair, 35, an entrepreneur.

(Additional reporting by Jose Devasia; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Israel may expand anti-tunnel operation into Lebanon, minister says

FILE PHOTO: Israeli drilling equipment is seen next to the border with Lebanon, near the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila, seen from the Israel's side December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel is prepared to take action in Lebanon against Hezbollah cross-border tunnels if necessary, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Friday.

Israel’s military said earlier this week that it had found a number of passages dug across the Israel-Lebanon border to be used in carrying out attacks inside Israel. The Israeli military sent mechanical diggers, troops and anti-tunneling equipment to the border to shut them down.

The Israeli military, which launched the operation on Tuesday, has said its activity would, for now, stop on the Israeli side of the border.

But Israeli news media on Thursday quoted an unnamed senior official saying that Israel could extend its activity into Lebanon, and on Friday Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz reiterated that messages.

“If we think that in order to thwart the tunnels that one needs to operate on the other side – then we will operate on the other side of the border,” Katz told Radio Tel Aviv 102FM.

What form the action would take was not clear. Over the past year, at least 15 tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel were found and destroyed, the Israeli military said.

The United Nations peacekeeping Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), confirmed the existence of a tunnel near the “blue line” frontier between the two countries on Thursday, describing it as a “serious occurrence”.

In the aftermath of the Israeli tunnel announcement, the situation has remained calm on both sides of the border. But the Israeli operation has brought renewed attention to a frontier across which Israel and Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006.

The Israeli military said in a statement on Thursday that it “holds the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Armed Forces and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon responsible for all events transpiring in and emanating from Lebanon.”

It added that an Israeli military commander had shown one of the tunnels to the head of UNIFIL, Major-General Sefano Del Col, and it urged UNIFIL and the Lebanese army to clear the area of tunnels.

UNIFIL said in its statement it was “engaged with the parties to pursue urgent follow-up action”.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has instructed the country’s envoy to the U.N. to complain that Israel is waging “a diplomatic and political campaign against Lebanon in preparation for attacks against it”, Hezbollah’s l-Manar TV said.

Since the 2006 war, Israel has largely refrained from striking at Hezbollah on Lebanese soil, but it has carried out dozens of attacks in Syria against what it said were advanced weapons shipments to the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, editing by Larry King)

Chemical weapons team to begin assigning blame for Syrian attacks

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is pictured in The Hague, Netherlands, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The global chemical weapons watchdog will in February begin to assign blame for attacks with banned munitions in Syria’s war, using new powers approved by member states but opposed by Damascus and its key allies Russia and Iran.

The agency was handed the new task in response to an upsurge in the use of chemical weapons in recent years, notably in the Syrian conflict, where scores of attacks with sarin and chlorine have been carried out by Syrian forces and rebel groups, according to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation.

A core team of 10 experts charged with apportioning blame for poison gas attacks in Syria will be hired soon, Fernando Arias, the new head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told the Foreign Press Association of the Netherlands on Tuesday.

The Syria team will be able to look into all attacks previously investigated by the OPCW, dating back to 2014.

The OPCW was granted additional powers to identify individuals and institutions responsible for attacks by its 193 member states at a special session in June. The decision was supported by the United States and European Union but opposed by Russia, Iran, Syria, and their allies, highlighting deep political division at the agency.

“The mandate is to identify the perpetrators of crimes committed with chemical weapons, but the OPCW is not a court or the police”, and will refer cases to U.N. organizations with powers to punish those responsible, Arias said.

The expert team will “be in charge of identifying the perpetrators for Syria in the first stage”, Arias said, and might later be expanded to look at attacks globally.

The June decision followed attacks with other chemical weapons. In Salisbury, England, a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in March with the military-grade nerve agent novichok, and the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was assassinated in Malaysia with VX in February 2017.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Germany uncovers terrorist group which attacked foreigners in Chemnitz

Men suspected of forming a far-right militant organisation in Chemnitz, are escorted by special police in front of the General Prosecutor's Office at the German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof) in Karlsruhe, Germany October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

By Andreas Burger

KARLSRUHE, Germany (Reuters) – German police detained six men on Monday suspected of forming a far-right militant organization which assaulted foreigners in the eastern city of Chemnitz and planning attacks on politicians and civil servants, the GBA federal prosecutor’s office said.

Some 100 police officers backed by special commando units detained the six suspects aged 20 to 30 at locations in Germany’s Saxony and Bavaria states. Authorities also revealed that another suspect had been taken into custody on Sept. 14.

The men are accused of forming “Revolution Chemnitz”, an organization named after the city where the fatal stabbing of a German man blamed on migrants in August prompted the worst far-right violence in Germany in decades.

“Based on the information we have so far, the suspects belong to the hooligan, skinhead and neo-Nazi scene in the area of Chemnitz and considered themselves leading figures in the right-wing extremist scene in Saxony,” prosecutors said.

The group had planned to attack senior civil servants and politicians, they said.

“In the course of further investigations we encountered tangible indications that the organization pursued terrorist goals,” the GBA said in a statement.

GBA spokeswoman Frauke Koehler told reporters that the authorities had intercepted communications which showed that the suspects were plotting attacks against political opponents as well as foreigners.

Five of the suspects had attacked and injured foreigners in Chemnitz on Sept. 14 using glass bottles, steel knuckle gloves and tasers, the GBA statement said. The group had planned to carry out another attack on Oct. 3, the national holiday that marks the reunification of East and West Germany in 1991.

SKINHEADS

The violence in Chemnitz, where skinheads hounded migrants and performed the illegal Hitler salute, exposed deep divisions over Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to welcome almost one million mostly Muslim asylum seekers.

The events also strained Merkel’s coalition government. Her conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners could not agree what to do with the head of the BfV domestic spy agency, who questioned the authenticity of a video showing skinheads chasing migrants. They reached a compromise last month to transfer him to the interior ministry, ending a row that almost felled their six-month-old government.

The events in Chemnitz also raised questions about whether authorities in Saxony were too complacent in the face of rising far-right violence and xenophobia, in a country sensitive to whether the lessons of its Nazi past have been learned.

The reputation of Germany’s law enforcement was hurt by the handling of case of a neo-Nazi gang that murdered 10 people during a 2000-2007 campaign of racially motivated violence. Two members of the group, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), killed themselves in 2011 when police discovered the gang by chance. Another member was jailed for life in July.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said investigators believed “Revolution Chemnitz” would have carried out more murders than the NSU.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said after the arrests on Monday that the threat of a militant attack in Germany remains high, which means “an attack could take place any moment.”

(Writing by Joseph Nasr, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean)