Netanyahu blames Iran for ship attack, says Israel is 'striking' back

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated it was his country's top priority that "Iran won't have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement." PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused arch-foe Iran on Monday (March 1) of a recent attack on an Israeli-owned ship, noting his country was "striking back" on the morning after a raid on Syria.

"It is indeed an Iranian act, that's clear," he told public broadcaster Kan, referring to the ship Helios Ray, which was last week hit by a blast in the Gulf of Oman, leaving two holes in its side.

"Iran is Israel's greatest enemy. I'm determined to block it. We're striking at it throughout the region," he said.

Mr Netanyahu's remarks came hours after Syrian air defences intercepted what they said were Israeli missiles over Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the strike hit the area of Sayyida Zeinab, south of Damascus, where Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Lebanese Hizbollah forces are reported to be present.

The Israeli army had refused to confirm its involvement in the attack, which came days after the Thursday explosion that hit the Israeli-owned Helios Ray, a vehicle carrier travelling from the Saudi port of Dammam to Singapore.

It was not clear what caused the explosion, which punctured the boat's hull but did not cause any casualties among the crew or damage to the engine.

Israel has long accused arch-foe Iran of trying to acquire nuclear weapons, a charge always denied by Teheran.

Following the election of US President Joe Biden, Washington, the European parties to the deal - France, Germany and Britain - and Teheran have been trying to salvage the troubled 2015 nuclear accord, which granted Iran international sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its nuclear programme.

The accord has been nearing collapse since former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and re-imposed crippling sanctions as part of a "maximum pressure" campaign against Teheran.

On Sunday, Iran dismissed a European offer for an informal meeting involving the US.

In his Monday remarks, Mr Netanyahu reiterated the Israeli line that it was his country's top priority that "Iran won't have nuclear weapons, with or without an agreement".

"That's what I also told my friend President Biden," the Israeli leader added.

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