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Iran Blamed for Strike on Saudi Oil Plants

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  • A massive attack on Saudi oil plants Saturday wiped out nearly 5% of global oil supplies.
  • Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, but U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran was behind the strikes.
  • President Donald Trump did not directly name who launched the attack but said the U.S. was  “locked and loaded” to respond. He later indicated Iran may have been behind the attacks in a tweet Monday morning.
  • Saudi officials said on Monday that Iranian weapons were used.

Saudi Arabia Says Iranian Weapons Used in Attack

Saudi Arabia said Monday that Iranian weapons were used for drone strikes that decimated a group of Saudi oil facilities Saturday.

According to reports, the attack wiped out nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Saudi Arabia produces about 10% of the world’s oil, meaning that the attacks singlehandedly knocked out 5% of all global oil supplies. 

Some have argued it is one of the most significant military operations against Saudi Arabia’s critical infrastructure ever.

Shortly after the strike, Houthi rebels in Yemen issued a statement claiming that they were behind the attacks.

Since 2015, Yemen has been engaged in an incredibly violent civil war between Houthi rebels backed by Iran, and the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

Saudi Arabia has received a lot of international backlash for launching airstrikes in Yemen that have killed thousands of civilians, also prompting many to question the relationship the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia.

Now, Houthi leaders are describing Saturday’s strike on Saudi oil plants as their “right” to retaliate the airstrikes that have targeted their civilians.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also echoed that sentiment Monday, while speaking at a joint news conference.

“Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defense,” he said. “The attacks were a reciprocal response to aggression against Yemen for years.”

U.S. Response

Despite the fact that the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter Saturday to blame Iran.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” he wrote. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

Pompeo also called on other nations to “condemn Iran’s attacks,” and added that the U.S. was working to make sure “Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”

The following day, President Donald Trump also addressed the incident on Twitter, though he did not directly blame Iran like Pompeo.

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” he wrote. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

However, Trump seemed to reference Iran more specifically in another tweet on Monday, where he noted an earlier incident involving a U.S. drone being shot down in contested airspace.

“Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their ‘airspace’ when, in fact, it was nowhere close,” the President wrote. “They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”

Iran for its part has denied any involvement in the attacks. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded to Pompeo’s claims in a tweet on Sunday.

“Having failed at ‘max pressure’, @SecPompeo’s turning to ‘max deceit’ US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory,” he said.  “Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ’15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.”

Implications Moving Forward

While announcing that Saudi officials claim Iranian weapons were used in the attack, a Saudi military spokesperson also said that the strikes did not originate from within Yemen.

U.S. officials have separately confirmed to the media that they are operating on the assumption that the strikes did not come from inside Yemen. A number of officials and experts have also claimed that the Houthis do not have the capabilities to initiate a strike of this scale on their own.

Some U.S. officials have additionally told reporters that they do not believe the strikes originated in Iraq, debunking an earlier theory.

Neither U.S. nor Saudi officials have not provided evidence that Iran launched the strike or that Iranian weapons were used. However, on the other side, Houthi leaders have also not provided any evidence that they carried out the attack.

Currently, senior U.S. officials are reportedly deliberating about how to respond.

Many foreign leaders are again warning the U.S. not to get drawn into a war. Leaders in both Britain and Germany condemned the attacks on Monday but did not directly blame Iran.

“In terms of who is responsible, the picture is not entirely clear,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. “I want to have a very clear picture, which we will be having shortly.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a news conference that his country was working to find out who carried out the attacks. China’s Foreign Ministry also warned world leaders against naming a culprit “without conclusive facts.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry took a bit of a firmer stance and warned the U.S. against blaming Iran, saying in a statement that “jumping to conclusions” as the United States often does is “counterproductive” and also calling military retaliation “unacceptable.”

Regardless, many experts are now saying that the attack undermines any kind of hopes for diplomacy between Iran and the U.S. Though to be fair, those chances were fairly slim before this happened.

Iran, for its part, has repeatedly said it will not meet with Trump or any U.S. officials as long as sanctions are in place

As for the Houthis, a military spokesperson said in a statement that foreigners in Saudi Arabia should leave the area near Saturday’s attacks, saying that those facilities could be attacked again at “any moment.”

“We assure the Saudi regime that our long hand can reach wherever we want, and whenever we want,” the spokesperson added.

Oil prices meanwhile skyrocketed following the attack. However, it appears as though Saudi Arabia and oil experts do not expect any long term impacts.

President Trump, however, seemed to be more skeptical of Saudi oil reserves

“Based on the attack on Saudi Arabia, which may have an impact on oil prices, I have authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed,” the President said in a tweet Sunday. “I have also informed all appropriate agencies to expedite approvals of the oil pipelines currently in the permitting process in Texas and various other States.”

“PLENTY OF OIL!” the President tweeted shortly after, seemingly in reference to the attacks on Saudi oil.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

International

Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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