The Latest: UK raises threat level for its personnel in Iraq

In this frame grab from from video, people search in the rubble following Saudi-led coalition airstrikes that killed at least six, including children, officials said, in the residential center of the capital, Sanaa, Yemen. The Sanaa airstrikes came after Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control the capital, launched a drone attack earlier in the week on a critical oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, Tehran's biggest rival in the region. (AP Photo)

The Latest: UK raises threat level for British personnel in Iraq because of heightened risk from Iran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Latest on developments in the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere in the Mideast amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran (all times local):

4:55 p.m.

Sky News is reporting that the U.K. has raised the threat level for British personnel in Iraq because of a heightened risk from Iran.

Sky also said on Thursday that British forces and diplomats in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar have also been placed on an increased state of alert.

The Ministry of Defense declined to comment. But it said Wednesday that it recognizes threats in the region to British, American and coalition forces and acts accordingly.

The ministry says it keeps "the security of our deployed personnel and assets under constant review" and that it has a "very robust range of force protection measures."

It says that Britain "has long been clear about our concerns over Iran's destabilizing behavior in the region."


4:35 p.m.

A state-aligned Saudi newspaper is calling for "surgical" U.S. strikes in retaliation against alleged threats from Iran.

The Arab News published an editorial in English on Thursday, arguing that after incidents this week against Saudi energy targets, the next logical step "should be surgical strikes."

The editorial says U.S. airstrikes in Syria, when the government there was suspected of using chemical weapons against civilians, "set a precedent."

It added that it's "clear that (U.S.) sanctions are not sending the right message" and that "they must be hit hard," in reference to Iran, without elaborating on what specific targets should be struck.

The newspaper's publisher is the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, a company that had long been chaired by various sons of King Salman until 2014 and is regarded as reflecting official position.


3:30 p.m.

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations says the Islamic Republic is not interested in escalating regional tensions but has the "right to defend ourselves."

Majid Takht-e Ravanchi made the comments in an interview Thursday on NPR's "Morning Edition."

Ravanchi said: "We are not interested in the escalation of tensions in our region. If something goes wrong, everyone loses."

However, he added: "It is our right to be prepared. It is our right to defend ourselves." He accused the U.S. and regional nations of airing "false allegations" about Iran.

In recent days, the United Arab Emirates has alleged four oil tankers off its east coast were targeted in sabotage attacks, while Iranian-allied rebels in Yemen launched a coordinated drone attack on Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier and bombers into the Mideast to counter a still-unexplained threat it perceives from Tehran.


2:30 p.m.

Iran says it has successfully tested a firewall to prevent cyberattacks on industrial facilities.

Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said in a post on his Instagram page that the firewall was designed by Iranian students, without providing further details.

Iran blamed Israel for a cyberattack on its communications infrastructure in November.

The Islamic Republic moved to boost its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in its contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.


1:15 p.m.

Yemen's Health Ministry has raised the death toll from early morning airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, saying six people were killed, including four children.

The ministry says 41 people were also wounded, including two women of Russian nationality.

Thursday's airstrikes came after Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control the capital, launched a drone attack Tuesday on a critical oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, Tehran's biggest rival in the region.

Meanwhile, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khalid bin Salman wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Tehran had ordered "the terrorist acts" carried out by the Houthis against the oil pipeline.

He said the attack proves the Houthis "are merely a tool that Iran's regime uses to implement its expansionist agenda in the region."


11:50 a.m.

A Yemeni medic and residents of the country's capital, Sanaa, say at least three people, including a child, were killed in Saudi-led airstrikes on the city earlier in the morning.

Thursday's airstrikes came two days after Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control the capital, launched a drone attack on a critical oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, Tehran's biggest rival in the region.

In Sanaa, people scrambled to pull 14 wounded from the rubble of a building hit by one of the airstrikes in the al-Raqas neighborhood.

A medic at the al-Manar city hospital said bodies of three civilians killed in the strikes were brought to the hospital morgue. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

Fawaz Ahmed, a middle-aged broker, told The Associated Press he saw the three bodies being retrieved from the rubble — a father, his child and his wife, all buried together.

—Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen;


10:30 a.m.

Residents in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa are saying there has been a wave of airstrikes that have hit targets in the city this morning, including a residential house. They say there are casualties, including civilians.

The residents say the airstrikes started early on Thursday, with coalition jets bombing military sites belonging to the rebel Houthis who have been at war with the coalition since 2015.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

On Wednesday, Iran-aligned Houthi rebels launched a coordinated drone attack on a critical oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, Tehran's biggest rival in the region. It was the latest incident to shake global energy markets.

—Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen;


9:40 a.m.

The Qatar-funded satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera says that Doha is trying to "defuse escalating tensions" across the Persian Gulf.

Al-Jazeera cited an anonymous official on Wednesday night as saying that Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani had traveled to Tehran in recent days to speak with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Al-Jazeera said the U.S. was aware of the trip in advance, but did not elaborate further., a flight-tracking website, showed a Qatari government airplane landed in Tehran on Saturday.

Qatar hosts the forward headquarters of the U.S. military's Central Command at its vast Al-Udeid Air Base. Several of the B-52 bombers ordered by the White House to the region amid the latest escalation between Washington and Tehran are stationed there.

Qatar has grown closer to Iran diplomatically amid it begin boycotted by four Arab nations over a political dispute.


9:30 a.m.

Iran's foreign minister says his country is committed to an international nuclear deal but that the escalating U.S. sanctions are "unacceptable."

The remarks come amid rising tensions in the Mideast, with allegations of sabotage targeting oil tankers near the Persian Gulf, a drone attack by Yemen's Iranian-allied rebels and the dispatch of U.S. warships and bombers to the region.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif told Japanese officials on Thursday in Tokyo that his country's response to the U.S. actions is within the frameworks of the current nuclear deal and Iran's rights.

Iran recently threatened to resume higher enrichment in 60 days if no new nuclear deal is in place, beyond the level permitted by the current one between Tehran and world powers. The U.S. pulled out of the deal last year.

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