MANAMA, Bahrain — Iraq and Iran attacked each other with air raids and artillery fire Saturday, one day before a Sept. 20 deadline set by Arab states for Iran to accept a U.N. cease-fire resolution or risk further isolation from its Arab neighbors.
Iraq, meanwhile, rejected a plea from Japan to end strikes against Persian Gulf shipping and attacked a Cypriot-flag tanker bound for Iran's major oil terminal at Kharg Island, Japanese and gulf shipping sources said.
The 238,909-ton Aktinia, apparently sailing empty, was hit by an Exocet missile Friday night, gulf-based marine salvage executives said, but they could give no indication of casualties or damage. The attack was the third reported by Iraq on gulf shipping in recent days, but the only one independently confirmed by shipping sources.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency, meanwhile, said that the Iranian navy had intercepted four trade ships in the Strait of Hormuz and detained one that was said to be carrying "suspicious cargo." The report did not elaborate on the nature of the cargo.
The seizure was the first by Iran since the U.S. Navy began escorting reflagged Kuwaiti tankers through the Persian Gulf in July. Previously, Iranian gunboats had seized several ships suspected of carrying arms to Iraq. Some of those vessels are still impounded but most were subsequently released, shipping sources said.
Border Cities Shelled
Baghdad radio said Saturday that Iranian shelling of seven border cities Friday and Saturday had killed at least 12 civilians and wounded more than 30, a claim dismissed by Iran as "sheer invention."
Tehran radio did confirm Iraqi air strikes against oil-pumping stations at Zaneh and Razan in western Iran, and said that the facilities had been damaged and several people had been injured.
The attacks came as Arab foreign ministers were gathering in Tunis, Tunisia, for a meeting today to debate whether to break formal diplomatic ties with Tehran.
At their last meeting in August, the Arab ministers gave Iran until Sept. 20 to accept a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement to the war or risk further isolation from its Arab neighbors.
Iranian President Ali Khamenei is expected to spell out details of Iran's position on a cease-fire when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Japanese Foreign Minister Tadashi Kuranari met in Baghdad on Saturday with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and was told that Iraq would oppose any move to "alter the text" of the Security Council resolution, the Iraqi News Agency said.
Japan is one of the few Western-aligned countries with diplomatic ties to both belligerents. It has an important stake in ending the war because more than half of its oil supply comes from the Persian Gulf.
Earlier Saturday, Tarik Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister and foreign minister, rejected Kuranari's plea to end attacks on gulf shipping, contending that the strikes are part of Iraq's right to defend itself, sources close to Kuranari's party said Saturday.