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Iran says Israel likely behind attack on container ship in Mediterranean

Ship was hit by 'an explosive object' which caused a small fire, but no one on board was hurt in incident on 10 March
Iranian-flagged container ship Shahr e Kord at Haydarpasa port in Istanbul, Turkey on 13 December 2019 (Reuters)

Israel is highly likely to have been behind an attack in the Mediterranean this week that damaged an Iranian container ship, an Iranian investigator was quoted as saying on Saturday by Iranian media.

Israeli officials did not comment on Friday when asked if Israel was involved in the incident, which took place on 10 March.

The container ship, Shahr e Kord, was hit by an explosive object which caused a small fire, but no one on board was hurt, Iran reported on Friday. Two maritime security sources said initial indications were that the ship had been intentionally targeted by an unknown source.

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"Considering the geographical location and the way the ship was targeted, one of the strong possibilities is that this terrorist operation was carried out by the Zionist regime [Israel]," an unnamed member of the Iranian team investigating the incident was quoted as saying by semi-official Nournews.

A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry said on Saturday that reports confirmed a sabotage attack "in clear violation of international law".

"Measures to identify the perpetrators of this sabotage action are on our agenda," state media quoted Saeed Khatibzade as saying.

Iran's state-run shipping company IRISL said on Friday it would take legal action to identify the perpetrators of the attack, which it called "terrorism" and "naval piracy".

The incident came two weeks after an Israeli-owned ship, the MV Helios Ray, was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman.

The cause was not immediately clear, although a US defence official said the blast left holes in both sides of the vessel's hull. Israel accused Iran of being behind the explosion, a charge the Islamic republic denied.

Repeated attacks on Iranian vessels

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Friday that Israel has struck at least a dozen boats heading to Syria over the past two years, mostly carrying Iranian oil.

Citing US and regional officials, the US outlet said that since 2019 Israeli weaponry had repeatedly struck Iranian vessels or boats carrying Iranian cargo en route to Syria and other areas in the region.

There was no official confirmation or denial of the WSJ's reporting. If true, it would suggest the enmity between Iran and Israel has escalated to include maritime skirmishes.

The WSJ reported that the Israeli nautical attacks, which included the use of underwater mines, were an attempt to target profits from oil that "are funding extremism in the Middle East".

Iran and Syria have rejected this notion, saying they are in fact working to counter violent armed groups.

US officials told the paper that the Israeli strikes were also an attempt to stop Iran moving cargo, including weapons.

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