US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says

This picture released by the Israeli Army on April 14, 2024 shows an Israeli Air Force fighter aircraft at an undisclosed airfield reportedly after a mission to intercept incoming airborne threats. (AFP)
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Updated 14 April 2024
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US will not take part in retaliatory action against Iran, White House says

  • The US will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war: John Kirby, the White House’s top national security spokesperson

JERUSALEM/DUBAI/WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the US will not take part in a counter-offensive against Iran if Israel decides to retaliate for a mass drone and missile attack on Israeli territory overnight, a White House official said.
The threat of open warfare erupting between the arch Middle East foes and dragging in the United States has put the region on edge, triggering calls for restraint from global powers and Arab nations to avoid further escalation.
US media reported earlier on Sunday that Biden had informed Netanyahu he would not participate in retaliatory action in a phone call overnight. The remarks were confirmed to Reuters by a White House official.
The US will continue to help Israel defend itself, but does not want war, John Kirby, the White House’s top national security spokesperson, told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday.
Iran launched the attack over a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Syria on April 1 that killed top Revolutionary Guards commanders and followed months of clashes between Israel and Iran’s regional allies, triggered by the war in Gaza.
However, the attack from more than 300 missiles and drones, mostly launched from inside Iran, caused only modest damage in Israel as most were shot down with the help of the US, Britain and Jordan.
An Air Force base in southern Israel was hit, but continued to operate as normal and a 7-year old child was seriously hurt by shrapnel. There were no other reports of serious damage.
Two senior Israeli ministers signalled on Sunday that retaliation by Israel is not imminent and it would not act alone.
“We will build a regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us,” centrist minister Benny Gantz said ahead of a war cabinet meeting.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also said Israel had an opportunity to form a strategic alliance against “against this grave threat by Iran which is threatening to mount nuclear explosives on these missiles, which could be an extremely grave threat,” he said. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Iranian army chief of staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri warned on television that “our response will be much larger than tonight’s military action if Israel retaliates against Iran” and told Washington its bases could also be attacked if it helped Israel retaliate.
Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian said Tehran had informed the United States its attack on Israel would be “limited” and for self defense and that regional neighbors had also been informed of its planned strikes 72-hours in advance.
A Turkish diplomatic source said Iran had informed Turkiye in advance of what would happen.
Iran said the attack was aimed at punishing “Israeli crimes” but it now “deemed the matter concluded.”
Russia, China, France and Germany as well as Arab states Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates urged restraint and the UN Security Council was set to meet at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Sunday.
“We will do everything to stop a further escalation,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to China. “We can only warn everyone, especially Iran, against continuing this way.”
Turkiye also warned Iran it did not want further tension in the region.
Escalation
Analysts debated how far Iran’s attack was calibrated to cause genuine devastation in Israel, or to save face at home after vows of revenge while avoiding a major new war.
“I think the Iranians took into consideration the fact that Israel has a very, very strong multi-layer anti-missile system and they probably took into consideration that there will not be too many casualties,” said Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
But if Iran was hoping for a muted response, like with its missile attacks on US forces in Iraq after the killing of Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in 2020, she warned “I don’t think Israel sees it this way.”
On Saturday Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized an Israel-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important energy shipping routes, underscoring the risks to the world economy of a wider conflict.
Some flights were suspended in countries across the region.
The war in Gaza, which Israel invaded after an attack by Iran-backed Hamas on Oct. 7, has spread to fronts with Iran-aligned groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Iran’s most powerful ally in the region, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah fired rockets at an Israeli base overnight. Israel said it struck a Hezbollah site deep inside Lebanon on Sunday morning.
Yemen’s Houthis, who have been firing missiles at ships in the Red Sea in what they say is support for the Palestinians, called Iran’s attack legitimate.
The Oct. 7 attack in which Israel says 1,200 were killed and 253 taken hostage, along with internal discontent with the government and international pressure over the war in Gaza, form the backdrop to Netanyahu’s decisions over a response. At least 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military offensive, according to authorities in the enclave.
The Israeli prime minister has for years advocated a tough military line against Iran, pushing the United States for harder action over Tehran’s nuclear program and its backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other groups in the region.
In Israel, although there was alarm at the first direct attack from another country in more than three decades, the mood was in contrast to the trauma after the Hamas-led attack on Oct.7.
“I think we’ve been given license to respond now. I mean it was a major attack from Iran... I imagine Israel will respond and may be over quickly and get back to normal life,” said Jeremy Smith, 60.
In Iran, state television showed small gatherings in several cities celebrating the attack, but in private some Iranians were worried about Israel’s response.
“Iran gave Netanyahu a golden opportunity to attack our country. But we, the people of Iran, will bear the brunt of this conflict,” said Shima, a 29-year-old nurse, from Tehran.


‘Afraid to walk the streets’: Syria refugees face Lebanon expulsion

Updated 46 min 18 sec ago
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‘Afraid to walk the streets’: Syria refugees face Lebanon expulsion

  • Standing at her husband’s vegetable stall by the side of the road outside the village of Minyara in Lebanon’s impoverished north, Janhat, 38, said she lives in a state of constant worry

MINYARA: For weeks, refugee Maryam Janhat has been living in fear of deportation as Lebanon cracks down on Syrians, with politicians ramping up calls for them to be forced home.
Refugees from Lebanon’s war-torn neighbor face a dilemma: should they stay and contend with stricter measures and growing anti-Syrian sentiment, or should they return home and risk poverty and repression?
Standing at her husband’s vegetable stall by the side of the road outside the village of Minyara in Lebanon’s impoverished north, Janhat, 38, said she lives in a state of constant worry.
“I am scared when (my husband and children) come to work at the stall. I am afraid they could take my son at any moment... we are afraid to walk the streets,” she said.
Syrians make up about half of Minyara’s 8,000 residents, the municipality says, with most living in tent camps adjacent to vast agricultural fields.
Janhat, who took refuge in the village a decade ago after fleeing violence in the central Syrian province of Homs, feels lucky to be living in a house rather than a flimsy tent.
But she and her family have been unable to renew their residency in Lebanon, and they fear being deported to Syria where she says they have “no house, no work, and no security.”
A few steps away, 70-year-old Ibrahim Mansour is offloading crates of fruit and vegetables from his van to sell.
Syrians “have stalls everywhere, competing with us in every sector,” he said.
“When they leave, the situation will improve a lot.”
Many Lebanese, including politicians, have long pushed for Syrians who have fled 13 years of civil war at home to return, blaming them for exacerbating Lebanon’s woes, including a crushing economic crisis that began in late 2019.
Lebanon says it currently hosts around two million people from Syria — the world’s highest number of refugees per capita — with almost 785,000 registered with the United Nations.
In recent months, politicians have ramped up anti-Syrian rhetoric, with Hassan Nasrallah, who heads the powerful Hezbollah group, urging Beirut to open the seas for migrant boats to reach Europe to pressure for more Western aid.
Earlier this month, the European Union announced $1 billion in aid to Lebanon to help tackle illegal migration, mostly of Syrians to nearby Cyprus, the bloc’s easternmost member.
Lebanon has long heavily relied on Syrians for manual labor, especially in agriculture and construction.
Minyara mayor Antoun Abboud said Syrians were needed in the workforce but that his village cannot accommodate large numbers of refugees or provide them with basic services.
“We are not telling them to leave. We just want to reduce... and organize Syrian presence” in Lebanon, he said.

Lebanese security forces have intensified a crackdown on Syrians without residency permits, shutting down their businesses and forcing them to evacuate their homes.
“Hate campaigns, legal restrictions, and unprecedented measures to make it difficult to obtain residency” are on the rise, said Sahar Mandour, Amnesty International’s Lebanon researcher.
This means most Syrians find themselves without legal residency, she said, adding that “voluntary returns are impossible in these conditions.”
In one of the informal camps near the village, children play in the dirt, while men sit idle, too frightened to leave.
“Everyone is scared,” said herder Hajjem, 37, who declined giving his last name for security concerns.
“Syrians cannot move anymore. Even laborers in the fields are skipping work,” he said, shearing his sheep near the camp, while women around him collected the wool.
He fled to Lebanon illegally eight years ago, at the height of Syria’s war, and cannot return because he says he is wanted by Damascus.
He said he has been too scared to venture outside for work since security forces began to clamp down more forcefully on Syrians.
“I can’t sleep at night because the army or security forces could deport us at any moment,” he said.
His elderly father is also filled with worry.
“If we leave, we will die of hunger. There are no opportunities in our country,” he said.
“It would be better to throw oneself into the sea.”


No sign of attack on Raisi’s helicopter: Iran’s military

Updated 24 May 2024
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No sign of attack on Raisi’s helicopter: Iran’s military

  • There was no sign of anything shot at the helicopter and its flight path did not change
  • Raisi was buried in a tomb at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad on Thursday

TEHRAN, Iran: The helicopter carrying Iran’s late President Ebrahim Raisi caught fire soon after it crashed into a mountain and there was no sign it was attacked, state media reported, citing the military’s crash investigators.
The statement from the general staff of the armed forces in charge of investigating the crash was read on state television late Thursday. The first statement on the crash did not lay blame but said more details would come after further investigation.
The crash Sunday killed Raisi, the country’s foreign minister and six other people.
The general staff’s statement said the communications between the control tower and the crew of the helicopter before the crash contained nothing suspicious. It said the last communication of the crashed helicopter was between it and two helicopters accompanying it some 90 seconds before the crash.
There was no sign of anything shot at the helicopter and its flight path did not change, the statement said.
The aging Bell helicopter went down in a foggy, remote mountainous region of Iran’s northwest on Sunday. The crash site was discovered Monday morning with all eight on board dead.
Raisi was buried in a tomb at the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad on Thursday.


Israel’s army says the bodies of 3 more hostages killed on Oct 7. recovered overnight from Gaza

Updated 24 May 2024
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Israel’s army says the bodies of 3 more hostages killed on Oct 7. recovered overnight from Gaza

  • The announcement comes less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7
  • Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more

TEL AVIV, Israel: The bodies of three more hostages killed on Oct 7. were recovered overnight from Gaza, Israel’s army said Friday, as the top United Nations court prepares to rule on whether Israel must halt its military operations and withdraw from the enclave.
The bodies of Hanan Yablonka, Michel Nisenbaum, and Orion Hernandez Radoux were found and their families have been notified. The army said they were killed on the day of the attack at the Mefalsim intersection and their bodies were taken to Gaza.
The announcement comes less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7.
Hamas-led militants killed around 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducted around 250 others in the Oct. 7 attack. Around half of those hostages have since been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to both eliminate Hamas and bring all the hostages back, but he’s made little progress. He faces pressure to resign, and the US has threatened to scale back its support over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
On Friday Netanyahu said the country had a duty to do everything to return those abducted, both those killed and those who are alive.
The country is also expecting a ruling Friday afternoon by the International Court of Justice to decide on an urgent plea by South Africa to order Israel to cease operations. Israel is unlikely to comply with any such order. Even so, a ceasefire order by judges of the International Court of Justice would heap more pressure on an increasingly isolated Israel.
On the hostages, Israelis are divided into two main camps: those who want the government to put the war on hold and free the hostages, and others who think the hostages are an unfortunate price to pay for eradicating Hamas. On-and-off negotiations mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt have yielded little.
Anger is growing at home at the government’s handling of the hostage crisis.
Earlier this week a group representing the families of hostages released new video footage showing Hamas’ capture of five female Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border on Oct. 7.
The video shows several of the young soldiers bloody and wounded. In one scene, a militant tells one of the terrified women she is beautiful.
The video sparked more protests across the country calling for the hostages’ release.
The army said on Friday the hostages were found during an operation in Jabaliya. Military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a news conference that the army was able to retrieve the bodies based on “critical intelligence” uncovered last week by Israeli forces operating in Gaza.
The group representing the families of the hostages said the bodies had been returned to their families for burial.
Nisenbaum, 59, was a Brazilian-Israeli from the southern city of Sderot. He was taken hostage when he went to rescue his 4-year-old granddaughter.
Oryon Hernandez Radoux, 30, was a French-Mexican citizen taken from the Nova music festival, which he attended with his partner Shani Louk. Louk’s body was one of those found by the army nearly a week ago.
Yablonka, 42, a father of two, was also taken from the music festival. His family in December told the AP that he loved music. Yablonka’s family had no news of him for nearly two months after he’d been taken, not knowing if he was alive or dead.
Israel’s offensive since the war began has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, and has caused a humanitarian crisis and a near-famine.
While it has weakened Hamas’ capabilities, after nearly eight months of war, militants are regrouping in some of the hardest-hit areas in northern Gaza and resuming rocket attacks into nearby Israeli communities. Israel says its troops are operating in Rafah in the south, in central Gaza and in Jabaliya in the north.


Israel to stop work of Spanish consulate for Palestinians

Updated 51 min 48 sec ago
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Israel to stop work of Spanish consulate for Palestinians

  • It was not immediately clear how Israel would carry out the threat

JERUSALEM: Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Friday he had decided to “sever the connection” between Spain’s diplomatic mission and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank over Madrid’s recognition of a Palestinian state.
“I have decided to sever the connection between Spain’s representation in Israel and the Palestinians, and to prohibit the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem from providing services to Palestinians from the West Bank,” Katz said in a post on X.
It was not immediately clear how Israel would carry out the threat.
Asked by AFP about the practicalities and consequences of Katz’s announcement, the foreign ministry did not immediately comment.
Katz said his decision was made “in response to Spain’s recognition of a Palestinian state and the anti-Semitic call by Spain’s deputy prime minister to... ‘liberate Palestine from the river to the sea’.”
Spain, Ireland and Norway announced Wednesday their decision to recognize the State of Palestine later this month, drawing rebuke from Israel.
The Israeli government denounced the largely symbolic move as a “reward for terror” as the war in the Gaza Strip, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, nears an eighth month.
The foreign ministry on Thursday warned that Israel’s ties with Ireland, Norway and Spain would face “serious consequences.”
Katz in his Friday announcement criticized remarks on X by the Spanish government’s number three Yolanda Diaz, a far-left party leader and labor minister.
Welcoming the announcement of the formal recognition of a Palestinian state, Diaz had said: “We cannot stop here. Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”
The pro-Palestinian rallying cry refers to historic Palestine’s borders under the British mandate, which extended from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean Sea, before the creation of Israel in 1948.
Critics perceive it as a call for the elimination of Israel, including its ambassador to Spain who condemned the minister’s remarks.
The phrase “from the river to the sea” is sometimes also used as a Zionist slogan for a Greater Israel that would span over the same territory.


Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection

Updated 24 May 2024
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Security Council to vote on resolution decrying attacks on UN and aid workers, demanding protection

  • The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against UN and humanitarian personnel
  • The draft resolution does not single out any conflict

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote Friday on a resolution that strongly condemns attacks on humanitarian workers and UN personnel, and demands that all combatants protect them in accordance with international law.
The Swiss-sponsored resolution expresses grave concern at the growing number of attacks and threats against UN and humanitarian personnel along with the continuing disregard and violations of international humanitarian law by combatants.
“The goal of the resolution is as simple as it is important,” Switzerland’s UN Ambassador Pascale Baeriswyl told The Associated Press on Thursday. “It’s about protecting the men and women who work and risk their lives — every day — to help people affected by armed conflict.”
The draft resolution does not single out any conflict, but it is being voted on as battles rage in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and many other hotspots around the world.
It is the seven-month war in Gaza, however, that has seen the greatest number of attacks on UN and humanitarian personnel. Over 190 UN staff have been killed, a death toll unprecedented in the United Nations’ nearly 80-year history, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The war has also seen the killing of other humanitarian personnel, including seven World Central Kitchen workers who died in an Israeli airstrike last month.
Baeriswyl said in a statement to AP that the resolution is being put to a vote at a very timely moment. The Geneva Conventions, which Baeriswyl described as the cornerstone of international humanitarian law and a reflection of our common humanity, commemorates its 75th anniversary in August.
The draft resolution calls on all countries to respect and protect humanitarian and UN personnel as required by international law. And it calls on all nations and parties to armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and their obligations under the Geneva Conventions. It “strongly condemns attacks and all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, threats and intimidation against humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”
The draft urges combatants “to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities and refrain from attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.”
The proposed resolution also urges warring parties to facilitate “full, safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access to all civilians in need, and to promote the safety, security and freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and United Nations and associated personnel.”
On another issue, the draft condemns “disinformation, information manipulation and incitement to violence” against humanitarian and UN staff and it encourages all countries and the United Nations to take action to address these threats.
If approved, the resolution would express the council’s determination to take steps to provide for the safety and security of humanitarian and UN staff. It would ask the UN Secretary-General to make recommendations within six months on measures to prevent attacks, ensure accountability and enhance protection of humanitarian and UN staff.