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Israel blames Iran for oil tanker attack

The Liberian-flagged ship was located off the coast of the Gulf country when the attack happened. The ship is managed by a firm belonging to an Israeli businessman, with Israel blaming Iran for the attack.

a picture of the ship with the coast and some houses in the background

The Mercer Street oil tanker was attacked on Thursday night

Two crew members were killed in an attack on an Israeli-owned oil tanker off the Omani coast, the British military's anti-piracy task force said on Friday, with Israel blaming Iran for the strike. 

The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street was located about 152 nautical miles (280 kilometers) northeast of the Omani port of Duqm when the incident happened.

The ship's operator, Zodiac Maritime, is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group.

US and European sources familiar with intelligence on the situation told Reuters news agency that Iran was the top suspect behind the attack.

Sources told Iranian state-owned Arabic news site Al-Alam that the attack on the ship was in retaliation for a recent Israeli air offensive on al-Dabaa military airport in Syria.

The attack on the Mercer Street

The attack was carried out on Thursday night, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said.

"At the time of the incident the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo onboard,'' a statement from the ship's London-based manager, Zodiac Maritime said. The named ports are in Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates respectively.

Zodiac Maritime identified the dead crew members as citizens from the United Kingdom and Romania.

The company was "not aware of harm to any other personnel."

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Who is behind the attack on the Mercer Street?

Zodiac Maritime described the attack as "a suspected piracy incident." But the UKMTO said it thought the attack did not involve piracy.

The UKMTO said that "UK military headquarters in the region are currently conducting investigations."

Earlier on Thursday, the British military group had said it was investigating another unexplained incident in the same area, but it did not elaborate. 

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Israel blames Iran, vows retaliation

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blamed Iran for the attack, and vowed a tough response.

"Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that harms us all," Lapid said in a statement. "The world must not be silent in the face of Iranian terrorism that also harms freedom of shipping."

Lapid said he had spoke with the UK's foreign secretary about the attack.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to the AFP news agency, accused Tehran of "sowing violence and destruction." 

The Iranian goverment has not commented on Israel's claims.

Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months, with Israeli officials also blaming Iran for the assaults.

The Arabian Sea and surrounding Indian Ocean were plagued by piracy around a decade ago, but incidents have waned in recent years after foreign navies stepped up patrols.

kmm, wd/nm (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)