Middle East on edge after Israel vows ‘response’ to Iran attack

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - JERUSALEM, April 17 — Israel and Iran traded threats on Tuesday after Tehran’s first-ever direct attack on its arch-foe sharply heightened regional tensions as the Gaza war ground on with no truce in sight.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Iran would not get off “scot-free” after Tehran and its allies launched a barrage of over 300 missiles, drones and rockets at Israel at the weekend.

“We cannot stand still from this kind of aggression,” Hagari said, a day after Israel’s military chief vowed there would be “a response” to Iran’s offensive.

Iran said its attack was an act of self-defence following a deadly Israeli air strike on its consulate in Syria, and that it would consider the matter “concluded” unless Israel retaliated.

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Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi warned that “the slightest action against Iran’s interests will definitely be met with a severe, extensive and painful response”.

US President Joe Biden has stressed that “the United States is committed to Israel’s security” and wants to prevent the conflict from spreading.

Washington, Israel’s top ally and arms supplier, has made clear it will not join Israel in any attack on their common adversary Iran, a senior US official said.

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World leaders have urged restraint and de-escalation.

During a phone call with Iran’s Raisi, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on both sides to “prevent a new round of confrontation fraught with catastrophic consequences for the entire region”, the Kremlin said.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak warned his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu against “significant escalation” and said now was a moment for “calm heads to prevail”.

Throughout, Israel has kept bombing targets in Gaza, the Hamas-ruled coastal territory that has been largely devastated by more than six months of war and a siege on its 2.4 million people.

Israel weighs options

Since the Iranian attack, Netanyahu has twice convened his war cabinet, set up after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched the October 7 attack that sparked the bloodiest ever Gaza war.

Israel was weighing its options after the Iranian drone and missile onslaught, which caused little damage as Israeli defences intercepted most projectiles, helped by US, British and French forces as well as regional allies.

It remained unclear when Israel might strike and whether it would target Iran directly or attack its interests or allies abroad in places such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Iran-backed armed groups across the region have carried out attacks since the Israel-Hamas war broke out.

Hezbollah, which has been trading regular cross-border fire with Israel since October, claimed an attack with two explosive drones near a northern Israeli town on Tuesday, which the local council said wounded three people.

Also on Tuesday, an Israeli strike killed a local Hezbollah commander in southern Lebanon, a source close to the group and the Israeli military said. Hezbollah later said two more of its fighters had been killed, while its ally the Amal movement announced one dead.

Hezbollah said it launched rockets at Israel in response.

Israel on Monday made its first official comment on the April 1 Damascus strike that killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards including two generals.

“These were people who engaged in terrorism against the State of Israel,” Hagari said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called for more sanctions to be imposed on Iran.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that Brussels was starting work on expanding sanctions on Tehran, while US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Washington would “not hesitate” to tighten sanctions.

‘Without mercy’

Israel’s military has vowed the tensions with Iran will not distract it from the ongoing war in Gaza, where it aims to destroy Hamas and bring home the hostages taken during the Hamas attack more than six months ago.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu told new army recruits that Israeli forces were fighting Hamas “without mercy”.

Truce talks appear to be stuck after the latest proposal did not get Hamas approval.

The Hamas attack that started the war on October 7 resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

The militants also took about 250 hostages, of whom Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,843 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The ministry reported that 15 people, including children, were killed Tuesday in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

The Israeli army said that in ongoing combat in central Gaza, its tanks killed “a number of terrorists identified advancing towards them”.

‘No change’ in Gaza aid

Israel has faced growing global opposition to the relentless fighting that has turned to ruins vast areas of Gaza and triggered a dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said there had been “no significant change” in the amount of humanitarian relief entering Gaza, even after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to allow in more aid.

The United Nations said it would launch an appeal on Wednesday for US$2.8 billion to help Gaza, as well as the West Bank. Its humanitarian office, OCHA, said it had planned to raise US$4 billion, but slashed the target due to the difficulty of getting aid to Gazans.

Also on Tuesday, UN Women said that six months into the war 10,000 Palestinian women had been killed, including 6,000 mothers. More than 19,000 children had been left orphaned, the agency said.

In Gaza City, Wissam Dawad was one of hundreds who waited in line for hours to get bread from a newly reopened bakery.

“When Israel prevented us from getting flour, we started eating corn and barley, until it reached the point where we had to eat some animal feed,” he told AFP. — AFP

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