Israeli freighter hit by explosion in Persian Gulf

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An unexplained explosion struck an Israeli-owned freighter in the Persian Gulf, at a time of growing friction between the United States and Iran over the dying nuclear deal.

The Bahamian-flagged car transporter was traveling near the Strait of Hormuz when it was hit from the outside, owner Rami Ungar of Ray Shipping Ltd. said on Friday. Ungar said the cause of the damage was unclear and more details would not be available until the ship reached the nearest port, Dubai, on Saturday.

None of the 28 crew members were injured and the engine room was not damaged, company spokesman Zamir Dahbash said in a text message. The ship, earlier identified by maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global as the MV Helios Ray, was en route from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, to Singapore, Dahbash said. It would be repaired in Dubai, he said.

The Associated Press, citing two unidentified U.S. defense officials, said the vessel suffered two holes on its port side and two holes on its starboard side just above the waterline. They said the cause of the damage was unclear.

The area where the incident took place was the scene of multiple attacks two years ago amid escalating tensions between Iran and former US President Donald Trump, who resigned from the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed crushing sanctions on Tehran. The Trump-era stalemate risked military escalation and rocked global oil markets.

President Joe Biden is seeking to join the deal, which Iran has withdrawn from since the US withdrawal, violating key restrictions on uranium enrichment and production capacity.

But the parties are at a deadlock over who needs to move first, with Iran demanding that the United States lift sanctions first and the United States insisting that Tehran return to full compliance first. Israel, which supported Trump’s withdrawal from the deal, opposes any sanctions relief and has said it will do whatever is necessary to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

Tehran denies that its atomic program has a military component.

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