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Netanyahu accuses Iran of attacking Israeli-owned cargo ship

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In this Aug. 14, 2020, photo, the vehicle cargo ship Helios Ray is seen at the Port of Chiba in Chiba, Japan.
In this Aug. 14, 2020, photo, the vehicle cargo ship Helios Ray is seen at the Port of Chiba in Chiba, Japan.   -   Copyright  Katsumi Yamamoto via AP
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week.

Netanyahu spoke to Israeli public broadcaster Kan and said that “it was indeed an act by Iran, that’s clear.”

“Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” Netanyahu said.

Iran responded to Netanyahu's statement saying it "strongly rejected" the claim that it was behind the attack.

The mysterious explosion struck the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship, as it was sailing out of the Middle East on its way to Singapore on Friday. The crew was unharmed in the blast, but the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defence officials.

The ship came to Dubai’s port for repairs on Sunday, days after the blast that revived security concerns in Mideast waterways amid heightened tensions with Iran.

It remains unclear what caused the blast. The Helios Ray had discharged cars at various ports in the Persian Gulf before the explosion forced it to reverse course. It docked in Dubai on Sunday for repairs and inspection.

In recent days, Israel’s defence minister and army chief had both indicated they held Iran responsible for the attack.

In a press briefing, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Netanyahu was "suffering from an obsession with Iran" and described his charges as "fear-mongering."

Khatibzadeh also accused Israel of taking "suspicious actions in the region" against Iran in recent months to undermine the 2015 nuclear deal, without elaborating, and vowed Iran would respond.

"Israel knows very well that our response in the field of national security has always been fierce and accurate," he said.

Overnight, Syrian state media reported a series of alleged Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, saying air defence systems had intercepted most of the missiles.

Israeli media reports said the alleged airstrikes were on Iranian targets in response to the ship attack.

Israel has struck hundreds of Iranian targets in neighbouring Syria in recent years, and Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will not accept a permanent Syrian military presence there.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

Iran also has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago. Iran has repeatedly vowed to avenge Fakhrizadeh’s killing.

Iranian threats of retaliation have raised alarms in Israel following the country’s normalisation deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.