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Saudi Arabia reveals extent of damage to attacked oil plants

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Saudi Arabia on Friday revealed extensive damage to key oil facilities following weekend aerial strikes that were blamed on Iran, but vowed to quickly restore full production even as regional tensions soar.

Yemen’s Tehran-linked Huthi rebels, who on Friday announced a sudden halt to attacks on Saudi Arabia, claimed the strikes on state giant Aramco’s facilities in Khurais and the world’s largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq.

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But Washington has pointed the finger at Tehran, condemning an “act of war” which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and on Friday prompted US President Donald Trump to sketch out the latest in a series of economic sanctions against Iran.

Abqaiq was struck 18 times while nearby Khurais was hit four times in a raid that triggered multiple explosions and towering flames that took hours to extinguish, Aramco officials said.

“Many critical areas of the (Abqaiq) plant were hit,” an Aramco official said, pointing out the strikes had a high degree of precision.

A towering stabilisation column, normally silver, had been charred black with a gaping hole blown in the shaft’s base.

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A separator plant also appeared ravaged in the raids and was surrounded by scaffolding and white-helmeted workers.

“There are 112 shift workers here in normal times. Now 6,000 workers are involved in restoration work,” said Aramco official Khaled al-Ghamdi, pointing at damaged infrastructure.

Aramco said it was shipping technical equipment from the US and Europe to speed up repairs.

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– ‘Coming back stronger’ –

Aramco flew dozens of international journalists to the two sites to show it was speeding up repairs, giving rare access to the nerve centre of the world’s largest oil producer as it seeks to shore up investor confidence ahead of a planned initial public offering (IPO).

AFP / Fayez Nureldine Saudi engineers use cranes to remove the mangled wreckage of production machinery at the Khurais oilfield, one of two facilities hit by dramatic drone and missile strikes last Saturday

“We will have production at the same level as before the strike by the end of this month — we are coming back stronger,” asserted Fahad al-Abdulkareem, an Aramco general manager, during the visit to Khurais.

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Badly warped thick metal piping — peppered with shrapnel during the aerial strikes — lay strewn around the area of the Khurais attack.

But Abdulkareem said that 30 percent of the Khurais plant was operational within 24 hours of the initial strikes.

Industry analyst Alex Schindelar, president of the Energy Intelligence group, said that restoring sustainable production capacity to 11 million barrels per day by the end of the month is an “ambitious target, given the amount of repairs required”.

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Tehran has denied responsibility for the attacks against the heart of Saudi Arabia’s all-important oil industry, raising the spectre of “all-out war” in the event of retaliatory measures by Washington or Riyadh.

The rhetoric has raised the risk of an unpredictable escalation in a tinderbox region where Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-old struggle for dominance.

Chinese President Xi Jinping condemned the attacks but called for restraint during a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Friday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday there was “enormous consensus in the region” that Iran executed the attacks, despite its denials and the Yemeni rebels’ claims.

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The Huthi rebels announced late Friday “the halt of all attacks against the territory of Saudi Arabia” as a peace initiative to end the country’s devastating conflict. There was no immediate reaction from Saudi authorities.

– Fresh US sanctions –

Huthi rebels have previously hit dozens of targets in Saudi Arabia, and their advancing arsenal has exposed the kingdom’s vulnerability despite vast military spending.

US, French and Saudi officials have disputed the Huthi claims, insisting they do not have the capability to mount such an advanced, coordinated strike.

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Trump earlier this week vowed substantial new sanctions against Iran in response to the attacks and told reporters Friday they would target the country’s central bank.

AFP / Fayez Nureldine The Abqaiq oil processing plant, where workers are scrambling to repair damage wrought by last weekend’s drone attacks

The US Treasury Department said these latest sanctions were linked to “terrorism”, alleging Iran’s central bank had provided “billions of dollars” to two forces blacklisted by Washington.

“Treasury’s action targets a crucial funding mechanism that the Iranian regime uses to support its terrorist network, including the Qods Force, Hezbollah and other militants that spread terror and destabilize the region,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.

The Qods Force conducts international operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, while Hezbollah is a powerful Shiite movement in Lebanon.

The Saudi defence ministry, which has said the attack was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran”, this week unveiled what it said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired at the two oil hubs.

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‘Smart rats jump a sinking orange ship’: Columnist predicts more Republicans will flee Trump

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New York Times contributing columnist Wajahat Ali predicted that more Republicans would likely flee President Donald Trump in the coming weeks.

Already, Trump's own officials, appointees, and staff are lining up to testify to the House committees, despite Trump saying they will not cooperate with any investigations.

"I believe smart rats jump a sinking orange ship, and if you don't believe me, you haven't paid attention to the last week," Ali told CNN's Don Lemon. In the past week, several of Trump's appointees have lined up to give a deposition or testify. Even outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry revealed in a Wall Street Journal interview, that Rudy Giuliani was to be the point person on all things related to Ukraine.

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CNN panel mocks the White House for promoting a photo of Trump looking ‘subservient’ to Pelosi

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The White House posted a series of photos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) Wednesday after their meeting, showing Pelosi being the only person in the room literally standing up to President Donald Trump. It was an image that baffled the mind of at least one CNN panelist as to why the Trump people would be promoting Pelosi.

According to reports from those who were in the room, the president flew off the handle after Pelosi quipped that it seems all roads lead back to Russia for this president. It was at that point that Trump called Pelosi a "third-grade politician," though presumably, he meant "third-rate," and the meeting broke apart.

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Max Boot calls BS on Republicans for trying to claim Syria is Nancy Pelosi’s fault because of impeachment

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President Donald Trump is conducting foreign policy like a 1980s television character, according to conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot.

In a panel discussion about the letter Trump sent to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, Boot mocked Republicans for suddenly trying to claim that Trump's withdrawal from Syria was Speaker Nancy Pelosi's fault because of impeachment. It is unclear if Republicans are confessing the president is too distracted by impeachment to be making foreign policy decisions or if they are blaming Pelosi for military decisions.

"I mean there's a lot of really lame Republican talking points out there, Don," Boot said to CNN host Don Lemon. "But to suggest, as Rep. Liz Cheney and others have done that somehow Trump's inexplicable decision to give the Turks the green light to invade Syria — that was somehow the fault of Nancy Pelosi because of the impeachment process? What?"

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