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Tankers attacked again in Gulf of Oman, raising fears of wider conflict
[LONDON] Two oil tankers came under attack Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, forcing their crews to abandon ship and setting at least one vessel ablaze, a month after four tankers were damaged in the same waterway, a vital thoroughfare for much of the world's oil products.
The attacks escalated tensions in an already tense region, where Iran has long been at odds with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and they are backing opposite sides in the civil war in Yemen. Relations between the United States - allied with the UAE and Saudi Arabia - and Iran have also worsened.
Frictions have become so intense that other nations have pleaded with all sides to stay calm rather than provoke an all-out war. Last month, Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, said, "We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended on either side."
It was not immediately clear how the most recent attacks were carried out or by whom, just as the circumstances of last month's attacks remain murky. The two ships that were struck Thursday appeared to have been more seriously damaged than those hit in May.
On a visit to the UAE about two weeks ago, John Bolton, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, said without disclosing any evidence that Iran was "almost certainly" responsible for the attacks in May. "Who else would you think is doing it?"
But other US officials and Iran's regional adversaries have been more cautious about assigning blame. Emirati officials described the attacks as state-sponsored, but did not specify a state.
Mr Trump has repudiated the 2015 deal limiting Iran's nuclear programme and has imposed new sanctions. In response, Iran recently threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, the crucial access to the Persian Gulf, and has said it may reduce its compliance with parts of the nuclear pact.
Much of the world's oil and gas come from the Persian Gulf area, bordered by energy powerhouses like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain. Some leaves the region through pipelines, but a significant portion is carried by ships that must pass through the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.