Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
A handout picture provided by the Iranian Army media office on October 28, 2023 shows missiles being launched during a military drill in the Isfahan province in central Iran. Iranian media have reported huge explosions in Isfahan, presumably from an Israeli missile attack. (AFP/File photo)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation

Tehran plays down reported Israeli attacks, signals no further retaliation
  • United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran, reports US media
  • Countries around the world called on both sides to avert further escalation amid tensions

DUBAI/JERUSALEM: Explosions echoed over an Iranian city on Friday in what sources described as an Israeli attack, but Tehran played down the incident and indicated it had no plans for retaliation — a response that appeared gauged toward averting region-wide war.

The limited scale of the attack and Iran’s muted response both appeared to signal a successful effort by diplomats who have been working round the clock to avert all-out war since an Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel last Saturday.

Iranian media and officials described a small number of explosions, which they said resulted from Iran’s air defenses hitting three drones over the city of Isfahan. Notably, they referred to the incident as an attack by “infiltrators,” rather than by Israel, obviating the need for retaliation.

An Iranian official said there were no plans to respond against Israel for the incident.

“The foreign source of the incident has not been confirmed. We have not received any external attack, and the discussion leans more toward infiltration than attack,” the official said.

Israel said nothing about the incident. It had said for days it was planning to retaliate against Iran for Saturday’s strikes, the first ever direct attack on Israel by Iran in decades of shadow war waged by proxies which has escalated throughout the Middle East through six months of battle in Gaza.

The United States received advance notice of Israel’s reported strike on Iran but did not endorse the operation or play any part in its execution, US media quoted officials as saying.

NBC and CNN, citing sources familiar with the matter and a US official, respectively, said Israel had provided Washington with pre-notification of the strike.

Various networks cited officials confirming a strike had taken place inside Iran, with CNN quoting one official as stating the target was not a nuclear facility.

The two longstanding foes had been heading toward direct confrontation since a presumed Israeli airstrike on April 1 that destroyed a building in Iran’s embassy compound in Damascus and killed several Iranian officers including a top general.

Iran’s response, with a direct attack on Israel, was unprecedented but caused no deaths and only minor damage because Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of missiles and drones.

Allies including the United States had since been pressing hard to ensure any further retaliation would be calibrated not to provoke a spiral of hostilities. The British and German foreign ministers visited Jerusalem this week, and Western countries tightened sanctions on Iran to mollify Israel.

In a sign of pressure within Israel’s hard-right government for a stronger response, Itamar Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister tweeted a single word after Friday’s strikes: “Feeble!.”

Countries around the world called on Friday for both sides to avert further escalation.

“It is absolutely necessary that the region remains stable and that all sides restrain from further action,” EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said. Similar calls came from Beijing and from Arab states in the region.

In financial markets, global shares eased, oil prices surged and US bond yields fell as traders worried about the risks.

NO MENTION OF ISRAEL

Within Iran, news reports on Friday’s incident made no mention of Israel, and state television carried analysts and pundits who appeared dismissive about the scale.

An analyst told state TV that mini drones flown by “infiltrators from inside Iran” had been shot down by air defenses in Isfahan.

Shortly after midnight, “three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky,” Iranian state TV said.

Senior army commander Siavosh Mihandoust was quoted by state TV as saying air defense systems had targeted a “suspicious object.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had warned Israel before Friday’s strike that Tehran would deliver a “severe response” to any attack on its territory.

Iran told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests” as the UN secretary-general warned that the Middle East was in a “moment of maximum peril.”

By morning, Iran had reopened airports and airspace that were shut during the strikes.

Still, there was alarm over security in Israel and elsewhere. The US Embassy in Jerusalem restricted US government employees from travel outside Jerusalem, greater Tel Aviv and Beersheba “out of an abundance of caution.”

In a statement, the embassy warned US citizens of a “continued need for caution and increased personal security awareness as security incidents often take place without warning.”

Israel’s assault on Gaza began after Hamas Islamists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s military offensive has killed about 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Gazan health ministry.

Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, carrying out attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, raising fears the Gaza conflict could grow into a wider regional war.


UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
Updated 59 min 47 sec ago
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UN Security Council demands halt to siege of Sudan city of 1.8 mln people

The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir by the paramilitary RSF.
  • Council adopted British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council on Thursday demanded a halt to the siege of Al-Fashir — a city of 1.8 million people in Sudan’s North Dafur region — by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and an immediate end to fighting in the area.
The 15-member council adopted a British-drafted resolution that also calls for the withdrawal of all fighters that threaten the safety and security of civilians in Al-Fashir, the last big city in the vast, western Darfur region not under RSF control.
War erupted in Sudan in April last year between the Sudanese army (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), creating the world’s largest displacement crisis. Top UN officials have warned that the worsening violence around Al-Fashir threatens to “unleash bloody intercommunal strife throughout Darfur.”


Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
Updated 13 June 2024
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Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid

Israeli forces kill three Palestinians, seize weapons in West Bank raid
  • The West Bank has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza
  • Troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said

QABATIYA, West Bank: Israeli forces raided a town in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing three Palestinians and detaining several others in what the army described as an operation to pre-empt militant attacks.
The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen a surge in violence since the outbreak of the war between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
During the raid in Qabatiya, troops surrounded a building where two gunmen were holed up, exchanging fire with them, the army said. The two Palestinians were killed and witnesses saw the body of one them being lifted out by an armored bulldozer.
A third Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops elsewhere in the town, medical officials said.
There was no immediate claim of the dead men by any armed Palestinian faction. The army described the two killed in the building as “senior terrorists” without elaborating, and added that weapons were seized in the raid.
Several Palestinians were detained by troops, who also “exposed explosives planted into roads which were intended to be used to attack the forces,” the army statement said.
A soldier was wounded during exchanges of fire, it added.


Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA
Updated 13 June 2024
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Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA

Iran expands nuclear capacities further: IAEA
  • Tehran is installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow
  • A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium

VIENNA: Iran is further expanding its nuclear capacities, the UN atomic watchdog said Thursday, one week after the agency’s board of governors passed a resolution criticizing Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA.
The International Atomic Energy Agency informed its members that Tehran told it that it was installing more cascades at the enrichment facilities in Natanz and Fordow, according to a statement sent to AFP.
A diplomatic source deemed this development as “moderate.”
A cascade is a series of centrifuges, machines used in the process of enriching uranium.
The motion brought by Britain, France and Germany — but opposed by China and Russia — at the IAEA’s 35-nation board last week was the first of its kind since November 2022.
The resolution — which Tehran slammed as “hasty and unwise” — came amid an impasse over Iran’s escalating nuclear activities and as Western powers fear Tehran may be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies.
Although symbolic in nature at this stage, the censure motion aims to raise diplomatic pressure on Iran, with the option to potentially refer the issue to the UN Security Council.
In the past, similar resolutions have prompted Tehran to retaliate by removing surveillance cameras and other equipment from its nuclear facilities and ratcheting up its uranium enrichment activities.
According to the IAEA, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 percent — just short of weapons-grade — while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles.
The IAEA has said that Tehran has significantly ramped up its nuclear program and now has enough material to build several atomic bombs.
The Islamic republic has gradually broken away from its commitments under the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015.
The landmark deal provided Iran with relief from Western sanctions in exchange for curbs on its atomic program, but it fell apart after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump in 2018.
Efforts to revive the deal have so far failed.


Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades

Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades
Updated 13 June 2024
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Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades

Houthi opening of Taiz road raises hopes of end to blockades
  • Bus driver says the opening of Al-Houban road reminds him of the fall of the Berlin Wall
  • Yemeni government military officials urged the Houthis to unlock the seven city entrances that remain closed

AL-MUKALLA: The besieged Yemen city of Taiz was filled with jubilation on Thursday as people crossed into the city from Houthi-controlled areas for the first time in years.

In a surprise move, the Houthis opened a key road, raising hopes of an end to the militia’s blockade of Yemen’s main city after almost a decade.

The arrival of the first car from Al-Houban in Taiz sparked huge celebrations among hundreds of Yemenis, who crowded the government side of the city to wave the national flag and sing patriotic chants.

Abdul Kareem Shaiban, the head of the government’s delegation at talks with the Houthis, told Arab News that the opening of the Al-Houban-Taiz city road would alleviate over nine years of suffering for local residents. The move would connect the city to Taiz, Ibb, Sanaa, and other Yemeni centers, allow food and supplies to be delivered, and reduce travel costs.

“Today, we were relieved that our families, mothers, sisters and brothers arrived and exited Taiz after the opening of this road and that the family finally united after years of separation,” Shaiban said. He also called on the Houthis not to harass individuals who crossed into their area, to open the city’s remaining blocked exits, and to lift their siege altogether.

The Houthi militia laid siege to the city of Taiz in early 2015 after their forces were unable to seize control due to stiff opposition from Yemeni government troops and allied resistance fighters.

The group barricaded the city’s major exits, posted snipers and laid landmines to prevent civilians from leaving or entering. The blockade has forced more than two million civilians to use perilous dirt tracks to leave or enter the city.

Local and international relief and rights organizations have long chastised the Houthis for impeding the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies and products to the besieged city, driving people to starvation.

As well as the Al-Houban road, they have reopened a route connecting Marib with Sanaa via Al-Bayda and have committed to consider lifting blockades on additional restricted highways. 

Responding to the Houthi proposal, the Yemeni government in Taiz sent bulldozers to clear trees, dunes, and barriers, while deminers cleared landmines from its side of the route.

Abu Mohammed, a bus driver from Taiz, said the opening of the road reminded him of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He added that he could now travel to his mother and other relatives in the countryside in one hour instead of seven, the length of his journey while the road was closed.

“This is an extremely significant event. This year’s Eid (Al-Adha) will be very joyful since I’m bringing my family from the city to see my mother in the countryside,” he told Arab News joyfully.

Other Yemenis from Taiz residing overseas, including politicians, journalists, businesspeople, and activists, expressed similar excitement.

“Thanks to the productive efforts of all serious people, smiles returned today to brighten the faces of the residents of Taiz, with the reopening of the major artery,” Shawki Ahmed Hayel Saeed, a prominent businessman from Taiz, said on X.

At the same time, Yemeni government military officials urged the Houthis to unlock the seven city entrances that remain closed and allow large vehicles carrying food and other supplies to enter the city via the newly opened route.

“This is a partial lifting of the siege on Taiz because the militia only allowed small cars and pedestrians to enter or leave Taiz through this road and does not yet allow trucks or food supplies to enter the city,” Abdul Basit Al-Baher, a Yemeni military official in Taiz, told Arab News.


Short circuit caused fire in Kuwait building housing foreign workers: fire service

A picture shows a building which was engulfed by fire, in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. (AFP)
A picture shows a building which was engulfed by fire, in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2024
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Short circuit caused fire in Kuwait building housing foreign workers: fire service

A picture shows a building which was engulfed by fire, in Kuwait City, on June 12, 2024. (AFP)
  • Those killed were mostly Indians, and the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh was received by his Kuwaiti counterpart on Thursday

RIYADH: Kuwait’s fire service said on Thursday that an electrical short circuit caused the blaze that killed 50 people in a building housing foreign workers on Wednesday.

The fire broke out around dawn on Wednesday at the base of the block housing nearly 200 workers in the Mangaf area, south of Kuwait City.

Those killed were mostly Indians, and the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh was received by his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Fahad Yusuf Saud Al-Sabah on Thursday.

Sheikh Fahad expressed his condolences over the tragic incident and Singh thanked Kuwait and its Emir Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah for the help and support extended to the families of those killed and injured in the blaze. 

Kuwaiti authorities said earlier on Thursday that three people had been detained for suspected manslaughter over the fire.