Iran’s foreign minister accuses US of giving Israel ‘green light’ to attack consulate in Syria

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian meets with his counterpart from Syria in Damascus on April 8, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 09 April 2024
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Iran’s foreign minister accuses US of giving Israel ‘green light’ to attack consulate in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria: Iran’s foreign minister Monday accused the United States of giving Israel the “green light” for a strike on its consulate building in Syria that killed seven Iranian military officials including two generals.
Hossein Amirabdollahian reiterated Tehran’s vows that it will respond to the attack, widely blamed on Israel, that appeared to signify an escalation of Israel’s targeting of military officials from Iran, which supports militant groups fighting Israel in Gaza, and along its border with Lebanon.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in an address Monday reiterated the Iran-backed group’s support for a Tehran military response to the attack that killed Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior military official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, and worsened fears of the war spiraling into the rest of the Middle East.




Smoke rises after what the Iranian media said was an Israeli strike on a building close to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria April 1, 2024. (REUTERS)

Since the war in Gaza began six months ago, clashes have increased between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Hamas, which rules Gaza and attacked Israel on Oct. 7, is also backed by Iran, as well as an umbrella group of Iraqi militias targeting US military bases and positions in Syria and Iraq.
Though Israel has regularly conducted strikes targeting Iranian military officials and allies, Zahedi’s death was the most significant blow for Tehran since a US drone targeted and killed Quds Force chief Gen. Qassim Soleimani in 2020 in Baghdad.
“I’d like to say with a very loud voice from here in Damascus that America has a responsibility in what happened and must be held responsible,” Amirabdollahian told reporters in Damascus during a visit where he met his Syrian counterpart, Faisal Mekdad, who condemned both the strike and Israel’s offensive in Gaza. Amirabdollahian also met President Bashar Assad, with whom he discussed Gaza and the wider situation in the region, a statement from Assad’s office said.
The Iranian foreign minister, who earlier that day inaugurated the opening of a new consular section in a nearby building, justified his claims by saying that Washington and “two European countries” did not condemn the attack on the diplomatic building.
He said that failure to condemn the attack “indicates that Washington had given the green light to Israel to commit this crime.”
The Biden administration has insisted that it had no advance knowledge of the airstrike. Washington is Israel’s vital military ally.
Israel, which rarely acknowledges strikes against Iranian targets, said it had no comment on the strike in the Syrian capital. However, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said last week that the US has assessed Israel was responsible.
Initially after the strikes, Iranian state media said Zahedi led the Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria until 2016.
Then, in a public address Monday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Zahedi was a key figure for the Lebanese group, and had three four-year stints in the tiny Mediterranean country.
Nasrallah, like Syria, and other key allies of Tehran, have said they remain committed to backing Iran.
“It’s a natural right for Iran. It’s natural for the Islamic Republic to conduct this response (to the consulate attack),” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said Zahedi’s first involvement was until 2002, overseeing Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and helping Hezbollah scale up. Zahedi’s second term covered some of the fiercest fighting in Syria’s uprising turned civil war, where Tehran and Russia played a key role in backing Assad against opposition forces. Zahedi’s final stint began in 2020 and ended when he was killed.
Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops have clashed along the tense Lebanon-Israel border since Oct. 8, the day after the Hamas attack on southern Israel.
The Hezbollah leader said that the moment the clashes began, Zahedi reportedly wanted to join Hezbollah militants on the front line but wasn’t permitted to do so.
Earlier Monday, Israeli airstrikes over southern Lebanon killed Ali Ahmad Hussein, an elite commander of Hezbollah’s secretive Radwan Force. Hezbollah announced Hussein’s death, but did not give any details on the circumstances or his role with the group in line with how it makes public the deaths of its members.
The killing of Hussein, one of the most senior militants slain thus far, came ahead of the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Syria.
Israel considers Hezbollah its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles, including precision-guided missiles that can hit anywhere in Israel. The group, which has thousands of battle-hardened fighters who participated in Syria’s 12-year conflict, also has different types of military drones.
In January, Israeli jets struck and killed another elite Hezbollah commander from the Radwan Force, Wissam Al-Tawil, who fought with the group for decades and took part in some of its biggest battles.
Hezbollah says it will stop firing rockets once a ceasefire is reached in the Gaza Strip that would end the Israel-Hamas war. Israeli officials have been demanding that the Radwan Force withdraw from the border area in order for tens of thousands of displaced Israelis to return home.
Washington and Paris have been scrambling to find a diplomatic resolution to halt the fighting along the Lebanon-Israel border, hoping to prevent a new all-out war between Hezbollah and Israel since a month-long war in the summer of 2006.
The risk of war spreading to Lebanon has worsened existing political tensions within the country between Hezbollah and their most vocal opponent, the nationalist Christian Lebanese Forces party.
Matters worsened Monday when the Lebanese military announced the death of a Lebanese Forces local official who had been kidnapped a day earlier in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese Army said they detained three Syrians accused in the kidnapping and killing of Pascale Suleiman as they tried to steal his car.
The Lebanese Forces party cast doubt on the army’s findings, saying they believed it was a political assassination.
Nasrallah in his speech slammed members of the Christian party and allies who had accused Hezbollah of being involved in the kidnapping. calling it “baseless” and dangerous rhetoric.
 

 


Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city

Updated 2 sec ago
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Sudan paramilitaries say will open ‘safe passages’ out of key Darfur city

PORT SUDAN: Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have announced their willingness to open “safe passages” out of the former haven city of El-Fasher in Darfur, which has been gripped by fighting for weeks.
The RSF, battling the regular army for more than a year, affirmed in a post on X late Friday “the readiness of its forces to help citizens by opening safe passages to voluntarily leave to other areas of their choosing and to provide protection for them.”
El-Fasher, the state capital of North Darfur and once a key hub for humanitarian aid where many had gathered for shelter, has been in the grips of fighting as the RSF seeks to control it.
The paramilitaries called on residents of El-Fasher to “avoid conflict areas and areas likely to be targeted by air forces and not to respond to malicious calls to mobilize residents and drag them into the fires of war.”
Sudan has been in the throes of conflict for over a year between the regular army led by de facto ruler Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the RSF led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The conflict has killed as many as 15,000 people in the West Darfur state capital of El-Geneina alone, according to United Nations experts.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders on Wednesday said its hospital in North Darfur had received more than 450 people killed in the fighting since May 10, but noted that the actual death toll was likely much higher.
Also on Wednesday, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator said residents of Sudan were “trapped in an inferno of brutal violence” and increasingly at risk of famine due to the rainy season and blocked aid.
Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced since the war broke out in April 2023.
The UN on Friday warned it only had 12 percent of the $2.7 billion it sought in funding for Sudan, warning that “famine is closing in.”

Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

Updated 39 min 40 sec ago
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Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home

  • Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety

MAIS AL JABAL: For displaced south Lebanese villagers, funerals for those killed in months of cross-border clashes are a rare chance to return home and see the devastation caused by Israeli bombardment.
“My house is in ruins,” said Abdel Aziz Ammar, a 60-year-old man with a white beard, in front of a pile of rubble in the border village of Mais Al-Jabal.
Only a plastic water tank survived.
“My parents’ house, my brother’s house and my nephew’s house have all been totally destroyed,” said Ammar, who was back in Mais Al-Jabal this week for the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter from the village.
Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety.
The Iran-backed Lebanese movement has been intensifying its attacks, while Israel has been striking deeper into Lebanese territory, in cross-border violence that has killed at least 419 people on the Lebanese side, according to an AFP tally.
Most of the dead are Hezbollah fighters, including seven from Mais Al-Jabal, but at least 82 are civilians, three of whom journalists.
Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
For funerals in the south, the Lebanese army informs United Nations peacekeepers, who then inform the Israeli military, a spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said.
The peacekeepers usually patrol near the border, and act as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel.
Ammar fled his village for Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, two weeks after the violence broke out.
The International Organization for Migration says more than 93,000 people have been displaced in south Lebanon, while authorities in Israel have evacuated tens of thousands from the country’s north.
“We come for the funerals, but we inspect our homes. Those whose houses haven’t been destroyed use the time to collect their belongings,” Ammar said.
“The house meant a lot to us, it was big,” with plenty of space for the children outside, he said of his home in Mais Al-Jabal.
“My daughter always tells me, ‘I miss the house, when will we go back?’”
An AFP photographer saw dozens of houses razed or partially destroyed in the village, which resembled a battlefield surrounded by green countryside.
A funeral procession crossed the rubble-strewn streets, with people chanting slogans in support of Hezbollah, not far from Israeli positions across the border.
Hezbollah flags fluttered in the wind as women in chadors walked together, some wearing yellow scarves -the color of the Shiite Muslim movement — or holding pictures of the fallen “martyr”.
“Whether I carry a weapon or not, just my presence in my village means I am a target for the Israelis,” Ammar said, noting the fighting does not always stop for the funerals.
On May 5, a man, his wife and two children were killed in a strike on Mais Al-Jabal while a funeral took place.
They had returned to the village to collect things from a store they owned, believing it to be a moment of calm, local media reported.
In front of a half-destroyed house, people piled a small truck with whatever they could — a washing machine, a child’s stroller, a motorbike and plastic chairs.
Amid rubble in the village, a sign was propped up reading: “Even if you destroy our houses, your missiles cannot break our will.”
Lebanese authorities are waiting for a ceasefire to fully assess the damage, but have estimated that some 1,700 houses have been destroyed and 14,000 damaged.
Emergency personnel have reported huge damage and villages emptied of residents, while many journalists have been reluctant to travel to the border areas due to the heavy bombardment.
The overall bill already exceeds $1.5 billion, authorities estimate, in a crisis-hit country where compensation procedures remain vague.
But to village resident Khalil Hamdan, 53, who also attended the funeral, “the destruction doesn’t make a difference.”
“We will rebuild,” he told AFP.


Oil tanker hit by missile off Yemen: security firm

Updated 18 May 2024
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Oil tanker hit by missile off Yemen: security firm

  • The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call: UKMTO
  • The incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah

DUBAI: A crude oil tanker was hit by a missile off the coast of Yemen’s rebel-held city of Mokha overlooking the strategic Bab Al-Mandeb strait, maritime security firm Ambrey said Saturday.
“A Panama-flagged crude oil tanker was reportedly ‘attacked’” about 10 nautical miles southwest of Mokha, Ambrey said, adding that information “indicated the vessel was hit by a missile and that there was a fire in the steering gear flat.”
The British navy’s maritime security agency had earlier said it received a report of a vessel “sustaining slight damage after being struck by an unknown object.”
“The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call,” United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) added.
It said the incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah, without specifying the type of vessel involved.
The Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of Yemen, have launched dozens of attacks on vessels in and around the Red Sea since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in war-torn Gaza.
The milita attacks have prompted reprisal strikes by US and British forces and the formation of an international coalition to protect the vital shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.


Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army

Updated 18 May 2024
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Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army

  • The strike by a fighter jet and helicopter killed Islam Khamayseh
  • Khamayseh was a leader of the Jenin Battalion

RAMALLAH: The Israeli military said on Saturday it killed a senior Palestinian militant during an air strike on an “operations center” in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
“A number of significant terrorists were inside the compound,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement posted to Telegram.
It said the strike by a fighter jet and helicopter killed Islam Khamayseh, a “senior terrorist operative in the Jenin Camp” who was responsible for a series of attacks in the area.
The Al-Quds Brigade, the armed wing of militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, confirmed in a statement that Khamayseh was killed and several others wounded during an Israeli raid on Friday night.
It said Khamayseh was a leader of the Jenin Battalion, which is affiliated with Islamic Jihad.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said one person was killed and eight were wounded and receiving hospital treatment as a result of Israel’s operation in Jenin on Friday night.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and its troops routinely carry out incursions into areas such as Jenin, which are nominally under the Palestinian Authority’s security control.
The West Bank has seen a recent surge in violence, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
More than 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials, and at least 20 Israelis have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The Gaza Strip has been at war since Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has killed at least 35,303 people, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Updated 18 May 2024
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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

  • Residents say Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes, shops in Jabalia
  • Hamas says US floating aid pier no substitute for end to Israeli siege

CAIRO: Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.
“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.
Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.
In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.
“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, UN humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north toward the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.
As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.
The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land — disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah — were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.
“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
US aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.
Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade.”
The White House said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.
A group of US medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

Humanitarian fears
The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive.”
A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.
“The 7th Brigade’s fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.
At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.
Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.
In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honorable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”
Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘Tragic war’
Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.
“They’re moving to areas where there is no water — we’ve got to truck it in — and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.
At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.
The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.