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Iran accuses Israel of sabotage attack after explosions strike a natural gas pipeline

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) 鈥 An Israeli sabotage attack on an Iranian natural gas pipeline last week caused multiple explosions on the line, Iran鈥檚 oil minister alleged Wednesday, further raising tensions between the regional archenemies against the backdrop of Israel鈥檚 war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The accusations by Iran鈥檚 Oil Minister Javad Owji come as Israel has been blamed for a series of attacks targeting Tehran鈥檚 nuclear program.

The 鈥渆xplosion of the gas pipeline was an Israeli plot,鈥 Owji said, according to Iran鈥檚 state-run IRNA news agency. 鈥淭he enemy intended to disturb gas service in the provinces and put people鈥檚 gas distribution at risk.鈥

鈥淭he evil action and plot by the enemy was properly managed,鈥 Owji added, without providing any evidence to support his claims.

Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the attack, though it rarely claims its espionage missions abroad. The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a longtime foe of Iran, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Feb. 14 blastshit a natural gas pipeline running from Iran鈥檚 western Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province up north to cities on the Caspian Sea. The roughly 1,270-kilometer (790-mile) -long pipeline begins in Asaluyeh, a hub for Iran鈥檚 offshore South Pars gas field.

Owji earlier compared the attack to a series of mysterious and unclaimed assaults on gas pipelines in 2011 鈥 including around the anniversary of Iran鈥檚 1979 Islamic Revolution. Tehran marked the 45th anniversary of the revolution just days before the pipeline blasts.

Israel has carried out attacks in Iran that have predominantly targeted its nuclear program. Last week, the head of the United Nations鈥 nuclear watchdog warned that Iran is 鈥渘ot entirely transparent鈥 regarding its atomic program, particularly after an official who once led Tehran鈥檚 program announced the Islamic Republic has all the pieces for a weapon 鈥渋n our hands.鈥

Tensions over Iran鈥檚 nuclear program comes as groups that Tehran is arming in the region 鈥 Lebanon鈥檚 militant group Hezbollah and Yemen鈥檚 Houthi rebels 鈥 have launched attacks targeting Israel over the war in Gaza. The Houthis continue to attack commercial shipping in the region, sparking repeated airstrikes from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Despite a month of U.S.-led airstrikes, the Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. This week, they seriously damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.

On Wednesday, ships in the Red Sea off the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida in Yemen reported seeing an explosion, though all vessels in the area were said to be safe, according to the British military鈥檚 United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations centers. The UKMTO earlier reported heavy drone activity in the area.

The U.S. military鈥檚 Central Command acknowledged shooting down a Houthi bomb-carrying drone Wednesday during that time. U.S. airstrikes separately targeted seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles and one mobile anti-ship ballistic missile prepared to target ships in the Red Sea, Central Command said.

The U.S. State Department criticized 鈥渢he reckless and indiscriminate attacks on civilian cargo ships by the Houthis鈥 that have delayed humanitarian aid including food and medicine bound for Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen. That includes the Sea Champion, a ship carrying corn and other aid to both Aden and Hodeida.

鈥淐ontrary to what the Houthis may attempt to claim, their attacks do nothing to help the Palestinians,鈥 State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement. 鈥淭heir actions are not bringing a single morsel of assistance or food to the Palestinian people.鈥

Meanwhile, a suspected Israeli strike killed two people a neighborhood in Syria鈥檚 capital, Damascus, on Wednesday, an area where other likely Israeli strikes have targeted members of Iran鈥檚 paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

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Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

Gambrell is the news director for the Gulf and Iran for 老澳门六合彩. He has reported from each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran and other locations across the world since joining the AP in 2006.