DUBAI: Israel's prime minister on Sunday directly blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two people as Tehran denied being involved in the assault.
The comments by Premier Naftali Bennett and Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh come after the strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street, which marked the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called suicide drones in attacks previously.
On Sunday, during his last news conference, Khatibzadeh called the allegations that Iran carried out the attack baseless and said that such blame games were nothing new.
"Those who are responsible for this (attack) are the ones who made it possible for the Israeli regime to set its foot in this region. This is not strange, the well-known anti-Iran lobby in the US uses any opportunity to make accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Khatibzadeh added.
Khatibzadeh spoke for around an hour after Iran's outgoing president acknowledged that his government at times did not tell part of the truth to the public during his term.
In Jerusalem, Bennett directly blamed Iran for the attack at a weekly Cabinet meeting.
"The American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port," the US Navy's Mideast-based 5th Fleet said in a statement early Saturday.
It said Navy explosive experts believe a drone attacked the vessel.
"The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker's bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel," a US official said.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing.
Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group.
The firm said the attack killed two crew members, one from the United Kingdom, another from Romania.
It did not name them, nor did it describe what happened in the assault.
It said it believed no other crew members on board were harmed.
British maritime security firm Ambrey said the attack on Mercer Street had killed one of its team members on board the vessel.