Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel with hundreds of drones, missiles

An anti-missile system operates after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, Israel, on April 14, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 14 April 2024
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Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel with hundreds of drones, missiles

  • Iran launches first ever direct attack on Israel, risking major escalation as US pledges support for Tel Aviv
  • Iran has vowed retaliation for what it called an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1

JERUSALEM/DUBAI: Iran launched a swarm of explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday in its first ever direct attack on Israeli territory, risking a major escalation as the United States pledged “ironclad” backing for Israel.
Sirens wailed and journalists in Israel said they heard distant heavy thuds and bangs from what local media called aerial interceptions of explosive drones. The ambulance service said there was no immediate word of casualties.
Israel’s military said more than 100 drones were launched from Iran, with security sources in Iraq and Jordan reporting dozens seen flying overhead and US officials saying the US military had shot some down.
Israel’s Channel 12 TV cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying there would be a “significant response” to the attack.

Iran’s state news agency cited a source saying its military had also launched a wave of ballistic missiles. Israel’s military also said missiles were fired, but there was no immediate report of these striking in Israel.
Iran has vowed retaliation for what it called an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1 that killed seven Guards officers including two senior commanders and said its strike was a punishment for “Israeli crimes.” Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the consulate attack.
“Should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe,” the Iranian mission to the United Nations said, warning the US to “stay away.” However, it also said Iran now “deemed the matter concluded.”
US President Joe Biden, who on Friday had warned Iran against an attack, cut short a visit to his home state of Delaware to meet national security advisers in the White House Situation Room, an official said. He pledged to stand with Israel.
The Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, now in its seventh month, has driven up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq.
British maritime security company Ambrey said in a statement that drones were also reportedly launched against Israel by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.
Those clashes now threaten to morph into a direct open conflict pitting Iran and its regional allies against Israel and its main supporter the United States, with regional power Egypt urging “utmost restraint.”
US and British warplanes were involved in shooting down some Israel-bound drones over the Iraq-Syria border area, Channel 12 reported. Three US officials said the US military had shot down drone aircraft without saying how many.

Escalation
“This is a severe and dangerous escalation. Our defensive and offensive capabilities are at the highest level of readiness ahead of this large-scale attack from Iran,” said Israel’s military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose official jet took off shortly after the attack began, convened the war cabinet at a military headquarters in Tel Aviv, his office said.
Israel’s military said sirens would sound in any threatened areas and that its defenses were poised to deal with the drones, which it said were “explosive.”
“We are used to having around 20 seconds to get to shelters when missiles come in. Here, the warning comes hours ahead of time. It naturally raises the anxiety level among the Israeli public,” said Nir Dvori, a Channel 12 TV correspondent on social media.
Israel’s military told residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to stay close to bomb shelters, putting the area on standby for possible impact from drone strikes.
Israel and Lebanon said they were closing their airspace on Saturday night. Jordan, which lies between Iran and Israel, had readied air defenses to intercept any drone or missile that violated its territory, two regional security sources said.
Residents in several Jordanian cities said they heard heavy aerial activity.
Syria, an ally of Iran, said it was putting its ground-to-air defense systems around the capital and major bases on high alert, army sources there said.

Condemnation
The European Union, Britain, France, Mexico, Czechia, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands all condemned Iran’s attack.
Israel has been bracing for an Iranian response to the Damascus consulate strike since last week, when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel “must be punished and shall be” for an operation he called equivalent to one on Iranian soil.
Biden said on Friday that his only message to Iran was “Don’t,” but added that “we are devoted to the defense of Israel.”
Iran’s main ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah that has been exchanging fire with Israel since the Gaza war began on Oct. 7, said early on Sunday it had fired rockets at an Israeli base.
Earlier on Saturday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that a Guards helicopter had boarded and taken into Iranian waters the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries.
MSC, which operates the Aries, confirmed Iran had seized the ship and said it was working “with the relevant authorities” for its safe return and the wellbeing of its 25 crew.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime, Zodiac said in a statement, adding that MSC is responsible for all the vessel’s activities. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused Iran of piracy.

'IRGC seize commercial ship'

For days, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have threatened to “slap” Israel for its Syria strike.
Iran has largely avoided directly attacking Israel, despite its targeted killings of nuclear scientists and sabotage campaigns on Iran’s atomic sites. Iran has targeted Israeli or Jewish-linked sites through proxy forces.
Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip has inflamed decade-old tensions in the Middle East, and any new attack threatens to escalate that conflict into a wider regional war.
Flight-tracking data showed the airspace over Jordan empty, while few flights continued on their north-south routes over Iraq. A sole Middle East Airlines flight from Dubai to Beirut remained airborne over Syria.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported heavy Israeli airstrikes and shelling on multiple locations in south Lebanon following the launch of drones from Iran. The Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has been clashing with Israeli forces in the border area for more than six months.
Earlier Saturday, commandos from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard rappelled from a helicopter onto an Israeli-affiliated container ship near the Strait of Hormuz and seized the vessel.
Iran’s state-run IRNA said a special forces unit of the Guard’s navy carried out the attack on the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime.
Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC. Geneva-based MSC acknowledged the seizure and said 25 crew members were on the ship.
“We are working closely with the relevant authorities to ensure their wellbeing, and safe return of the vessel,” MSC said.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the crew was made up of Indian, Filipino, Pakistani, Russian and Estonian nationals and urged Iran to release them and the vessel.
IRNA said the Guard would take the vessel into Iranian territorial waters.
A Middle East defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, provided video of the attack to The Associated Press in which Iranian commandos are seen rappelling onto a stack of containers on the vessel’s deck.
The video corresponded with known details of the MSC Aries. The commandos rappelled from what appeared to be a Soviet-era Mil Mi-17 helicopter, which both the Guard and the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen have used before to raid ships.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on nations to list the Guard as a terrorist organization. Iran “is a criminal regime that supports Hamas’ crimes and is now conducting a pirate operation in violation of international law,” Katz said.
The US, Israel’s main backer, has stood by the country despite growing concerns over Israel’s war on Gaza killing more than 33,600 Palestinians and wounding over 76,200 more. Israel’s war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw some 250 others taken hostage.
The Pentagon said Saturday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart “to discuss urgent regional threats ... and made clear that Israel could count on full US support to defend Israel against any attacks by Iran and its regional proxies.” National security adviser Jake Sullivan also spoke with his counterpart to reinforce Washington’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”


Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Updated 2 sec ago
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Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank

ARIEL, Palestinian Territories: With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, the number of women applying for gun permits has soared, while feminist groups have criticized the rush to arms.
According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack, with 18,000 approved, more than tripling the number of pre-war licenses held by women.
The surge has been enabled by the loosening of gun laws under Israel’s right-wing government and its far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with 10,000 enrolled in mandatory training, according to the ministry.
“I would have never thought of buying a weapon or getting a permit, but since October 7, things changed a little bit,” political science professor Limor Gonen told AFP during a weapons handling class at a shooting range in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
“We were all targeted (on October 7) and I don’t want to be taken by surprise, so I’m trying to defend myself,” Gonen said after the class, an obligatory step for acquiring a permit.
While the immediate trigger for the surge in gun buying was the Hamas attack, Ben Gvir was already pledging to reform firearms legislation when he became security minister in late 2022.
He promised to raise the number of civilians holding weapons and “increase self-defense capacity.”
Under Ben Gvir, the process for getting a gun license has been sped up, with Israeli media reporting that in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack the authorities were often clearing hundreds of permits per day.
Eligibility criteria for gun ownership in Israel now include being a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, having a basic command of Hebrew and medical clearance.
The full list of requirements makes it nearly impossible for non-Jews to obtain a permit.
In March, Ben Gvir, who is himself a settler in the West Bank, hailed civilian weapon ownership passing the 100,000 mark, while showing off his own gun at a rally.
But his rush to put deadly arms into the hands of ordinary Israelis has drawn criticism too.
The Gun Free Kitchen Tables Coalition, an Israeli initiative founded by feminist activists, condemned the civilian arms race.
It is “a strategy of far-right settlers to consider the arming of women to be a feminist act,” a spokesperson for the group of 18 organizations told AFP.
“The increase of weapons in the civilian space leads to an increase in violence and murder against women. It’s time for the state to understand that individual safety is its responsibility.”
Community manager Yahel Reznik, 24, said she now felt “a lot more safe” in Ariel, which sits three kilometers north of the Palestinian city of Salfit.
“Thanks to my training I will be able to defend myself and protect others” from an attack, she told AFP.
Violence in the West Bank, which was already rising before the war, has surged since October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers and troops across the West Bank since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The surge in gun ownership is not limited to West Bank settlers. In the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, Corine Nissim said she never leaves home without her gun.
The 42-year-old English teacher walked her three children to the park with a 9mm Smith & Wesson sticking out the back of her trousers.
“After October 7, I think like most people in Israel, I realized that the only person I can trust is myself,” she told AFP, adding she bought a gun not to feel “helpless.”
“The worst scenario that was going through my head was that, of course, terrorists attack me and my family in our own house,” the mother said.
Her decision to own a gun initially surprised some in the seaside town known for its tranquillity and safety, she said.
“People watched me and said, ‘This is so surreal to see you like this with a gun and with the baby’” said Nissim.
But, she said, others started to agree with her and said they would follow suit.
“Many women told me: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get a gun as well.’“

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

Updated 9 min 59 sec ago
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Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine with outside aid severely restricted.
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from aid agencies that they are unable to deliver aid including vegetables.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also known as OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of white and black containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
With civil order breaking down in the territory, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.
A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing “is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area.”
Israel’s coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday “the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies,” saying a lack of distribution was responsible.
Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN “to collect and distribute more aid” alongside an Israeli military presence.
He said most of the aid had not moved because “organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity.”
Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel’s offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.
The United States also sanctioned an extremist Israeli group last week, accusing it of blocking convoys and looting and burning trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
And the UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.
“We don’t see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it’s all very expensive,” said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.
“Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us,” she added.
“We hope this war ends and we return to our homes and that we don’t need aid from anyone.”
NGO Doctors Without Borders said on Friday that six trucks with 37 tons of supplies, mostly essentially medical items, have been held up at the Egyptian part of Kerem Shalom since June 14.
“This is incomprehensible and unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
“It’s like asking a fireman to watch a house filled with people burn down, and preventing him putting out the fire.”


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

Updated 30 min 41 sec ago
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

  • The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Saturday that at least 37,551 people have been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours, a ministry statement said, adding 85,911 had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.


Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

Updated 52 min 14 sec ago
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Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

  • “An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said
  • The Britain-based monitor said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside...”

BEIRUT: An Iraqi fighter from an Iran-backed group was killed in an overnight airstrike in eastern Syria near the Iraq border overnight, the group and a war monitor said on Saturday.
The strike occurred in Deir Ezzor province, where Iran wields significant influence and which is regularly targeted by Israel and the United States, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said, referring to a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups.
The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside... a few kilometers away from Syrian-Iraqi borders.”
Iraq’s Sayyed Al-Shuhada Brigades announced the death of a fighter in a strike on “Friday which targeted his vehicle during a reconnaissance patrol on the Iraqi-Syrian border,” accusing the United States of being behind the attack.
Responsibility for the strike was not immediately claimed, but a spokesperson for the US-led military coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Daesh group told AFP that “neither the coalition nor US forces carried out overnight strikes in Deir Ezzor.”
The Observatory said that several hours before the strike, drones flew over the area.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes primarily targeting pro-Iran groups — which it rarely comments on publically.
In late March, 16 Tehran-affiliated fighters, including an Iranian military adviser, were killed in strikes on eastern Syria.
The strikes also killed one civilian working for the World Health Organization.
Iran has long been a key ally of the Syrian government, most notably providing military advisers.


Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Updated 22 June 2024
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Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

  • Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence against popular rapper Toomaj Salehi who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, his lawyer said Saturday.
“Salehi’s death sentence was overturned,” the rapper’s lawyer Amir Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.