World Bulletin/News Desk
A U.S. navy ship that had been slated for decommissioning has been sent instead to the Gulf to help mine-clearing operations, the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Bahrain said, the latest move in a gradual U.S. build-up as tensions with Iran smoulder.
A fleet spokesman in Manama said the USS Ponce, described as a "afloat forward staging base" (AFSB), had arrived on Thursday after undergoing refitting for its new mission.
"Ponce's primary mission is to support mine countermeasures operations and other missions, such as the ability to provide repair service to other deployed units," the spokesman said in a statement. "Additionally, Ponce also has the capability to embark and launch small riverine craft."
Vice Admiral John Miller, commander of regional navy forces, said the Ponce boasted "enhanced capability to conduct maritime security operations, and gives us greater flexibility to support a wide range of contingencies with our regional partners".
Four U.S. minesweepers arrived in the Gulf last month to bolster the Fifth Fleet and ensure the safety of shipping routes in a waterway through which 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports flow.
They arrived amid a flaring war of nerves between the United States and Iran over Tehran's nuclear energy programme and Iranian threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, the slender oil shipping channel out of the Gulf, in retaliation for a new European Union ban on its oil exports.
The four minesweepers were ticketed for a seven-month deployment in an area of operations that includes the Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.
Tensions have simmered in the Gulf with big-power diplomacy to ease the nuclear dispute at an impasse and Israel renewing veiled threats to attack Iran from the air if sanctions and negotiations fail to curb Iran's nuclear advances.
A string of hawkish Iranian statements - including a renewed threat to close the Strait and destroy U.S. bases in the region "within minutes" of an attack - over the past week helped thrust benchmark Brent crude oil prices above $100 for the first time since June.
Iran has repeatedly warned of reprisals for any Israeli or U.S.-led strike on its nuclear installations.
Saudi television reports Houthi leader Hassan Sharif killed in clashes
A confidential report submitted to the U.N. Security Council on Friday found Syrian government forces responsible for a third toxic gas attac
Russian UN envoy confirms suspension of airstrikes will continue until Monday if 'armed groups' hold their fire
Move comes four days after Syrian intelligence chief meets Egyptian officials in Cairo
Syrian opposition fighter says liberation of Jarabulus sparked wave of new faces joining anti-ISIL militia
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, extremist Jewish settlers converge on Al-Aqsa in hundreds
The air strikes late Thursday targeted positions of the Iran-backed Huthi insurgents at Jebel al-Nabishuaib, on the southwestern outskirts of rebel-held Sanaa, according to witnesses.
The UN hopes to carry out the wounded from Aleppo during a pause in fighting
Travel agents have urged the Saudi government not to raise the Saudi visa fees which is having a detrimental impact on business ties
Three-day UN-backed ceasefire went into effect midnight Wednesday
The eight-strong group was the biggest deployment of Russian naval assets seen off British shores in recent years, a Royal Navy spokesman said
We love to see the children so happy, says one journalist of the city, liberated by Turkey's Operation Euphrates Shield
Shop reportedly printed banners depicting perpetrator of recent shooting attack
Gunfire and artillery exchanges erupted around a crossing point near the rebel-controlled Bustan al-Qasr district shortly after the pause began.
There has also been speculation he could give a speech before leaving office in January that would do the same.
Children are usually the most who suffer in war with the current refugee crisis considered to be one of the largest humanitarian crisis experienced in history