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Russian rocket blasts off

The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-13 space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Saturday, July 20, 2019. The Russian rocket U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan, Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano. 

Iran tanker seizure retaliation for earlier act

LONDON (AP) — Taken on its own, Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz may seem like a brazen act of aggression, a provocative poke in the nose to both Britain and its ally, the United States.

But Iran seems to view the armed takeover of the Stena Impero as a carefully calibrated response to the July 4 taking of an Iranian supertanker off the coast of Gibraltar, an operation in which Britain’s Royal Marines played a major role.

Though the official reasons for the takeovers differ, it’s fairly clear now that the seizure of the British vessel may give Tehran more leverage to get its own ship back.

While Britain says it acted near Gibraltar because the Iranian tanker Grace 1 was busting sanctions by delivering oil to Syria, Iran says it intervened because the British-flagged tanker hit an Iranian fishing boat.

The current tensions between Iran and the West have been escalating since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran with world powers and imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran, including its oil exports. The 2015 accord, of which Britain was a signatory, was designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons in return for a lifting of sanctions.

Tensions have risen further since May, when the U.S. announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier and additional troops to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats posed by Iran.

With the U.S. sanctions hitting the Iranian economy hard, Tehran is desperate for economic support and has been urging Britain, France and Germany to cobble together a package that will keep the nuclear deal on track.

Veteran British diplomat Malcolm Rifkind, who served as British foreign secretary and defense secretary in the 1990s, says Iran sees its action against the Steno Impero as a direct result to the U.K.’s involvement in the takeover of the Grace 1.

Airlines suspend all flights to Cairo for one week

LONDON (AP) — British Airways and Lufthansa both said Saturday they were suspending flights to Cairo for unspecified reasons related to safety and security.

The British carrier said it was canceling flights to the Egyptian capital for a week. The German airline said normal operations would resume Sunday.

Both carriers delivered two-sentence statements via email.

British Airways attributed its cancellations to what it called its constant review of security arrangements at all airports, calling them “a precaution to allow for further assessment.”

Lufthansa said it was suspending its flights as a precaution, mentioning “safety” but not “security” as its concern.

Company spokespeople would not elaborate on what motivated the suspensions.

They come as Britain weighs its response to Iran’s seizure Friday of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and rising tensions stemming from U.S. sanctions’ effect on Iran’s economy and oil exports.

The strait and Cairo are separated by 1,500 miles.

Lufthansa spokesman Tal Muscal said the company has two flights a day to Cairo, one each from Frankfurt and Munich.

South Sudan tries to prepare for Ebola outbreak

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — With the deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo now an international emergency, neighboring South Sudan and its war-weakened health system is a major concern, especially after one case was confirmed near its border. Health experts say there is an urgent need to increase prevention efforts.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday made the emergency declaration for the year-old outbreak, a rare move that usually leads to more global attention and aid. More than 1,600 people have died in what has become the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history.

Health experts worry about what would happen if Ebola reaches South Sudan as the shattered nation tries to recover from a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions. Many health facilities were badly damaged or destroyed, and unrest continues in parts of the country despite a fragile peace deal signed in September.

Last month a 41-year-old woman was discovered with Ebola in northeastern Congo, just 43 miles from South Sudan. She had traveled 500 kilometers from Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak, despite having been exposed to the virus and warned not to travel.

South Sudan has sent a health team to strengthen surveillance at one of its busiest border posts, Kaya in Central Equatoria state, near where the woman’s case was confirmed. Hers was the closest confirmed case to South Sudan since this outbreak was declared.