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UK opposition leader Corbyn questions claims Iran was behind tanker attacks

Jeremy Corbyn asks whether UK has 'credible evidence' Tehran involved in attacks on two vessels in Gulf of Oman
An Iranian navy boat tries to stop the fire on one of the oil tankers after it was attacked in the Gulf of Oman (Reuters)

The leader of Britain's main opposition party has questioned whether the government had evidence to back up its accusations that Iran was behind attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this week, and warned against escalating tensions.

Britain on Friday joined the United States in blaming Iran for attacks on two tankers, raising fears of a broader military confrontation in a vital passageway for the world's oil industry.

"Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the government's rhetoric will only increase the threat of war," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote on Twitter late on Friday.

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"Britain should act to ease tensions in the Gulf, not fuel a military escalation that began with US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement," he said, referring to Washington's withdrawal from a 2015 pact to curb Tehran's nuclear plans.

On Friday, the United States released video footage they say shows Iranian special forces removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, who is one of the leading candidates to succeed British Prime Minister Theresa May after she announced she would step down, described Corbyn's comments as "pathetic and predictable".

"Why can he (Corbyn) never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence or British interests?," Hunt said.

Corbyn last year was criticised by opponents and lawmakers in his own party after he questioned the government's decision to blame Russia for a nerve toxin attack on a former double agent in England.

Iran has denied allegations that it was involved in the explosions and said it was responsible for safety in the Gulf. 

May attacks by 'state sponsor'

The UAE's foreign minister said on Saturday a "state sponsor" was involved in a separate attack on oil tankers on 12 May in the Gulf, but did not name any particular country.

The May attacks targeted two Saudi tankers, an Emirati vessel and a Norwegian tanker, causing no casualties.

He did not mention attacks on two other tankers this week in the same area. 

Japan's Kokuka Sangyo said its ship was hit twice over a three hour period (MEE Graphics)

The US has said Iran was involved in both the May and the June incidents - accusations dismissed by Tehran.

"Our conclusion is this has only been possible by a state-sponsored attack," Al Nahyan told reporters after meeting his Cypriot counterpart in Nicosia, referring to the May attack.

"We haven't named the state, but we hope that we can further work with our friends and partners in preventing such escalations from moving forward," he added.

Earlier on Saturday, Arabiya TV's Twitter account quoted Al Nahyan as saying Iran's fingerprints were clear on the 12 May attacks. 

The tweet later disappeared from Twitter and Arabiya TV did not immediately comment on the reason.

'Flying objects'

Differing narratives over the attack on the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman emerged on Friday, as the Japanese company that owned one of the ships said it was hit by two "flying objects," while the US released a video suggesting the vessel had been mined.

The US laid the blame for the attacks squarely at Tehran's door, with US President Donald Trump saying the incident had Iran "written all over it".

In the hours before the attack, the Iranians spotted a US drone flying overhead and launched a surface-to-air missile at the unmanned aircraft, a US official told CNN.

The missile missed the drone and fell into the water, the official said.

Prior to taking fire, the MQ-9 Reaper drone observed Iranian vessels closing in on the tankers, the official added, though the source did not say whether the drone saw the boats conducting an actual attack.