14 Apr 2024, 18:30

Israel on alert as Iran warns against responding to attack

 JERUSALEM, April 14, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Israel was on high alert Sunday after Iran's unprecedented missile and drone attack drew an international chorus of condemnation and sparked fears of a broader conflict.

Iran launched its first-ever direct assault on Israeli territory late Saturday in retaliation for a deadly Damascus strike, marking a major escalation of the long-running covert war between the regional foes.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned Israel against a "reckless" retaliation, saying one would be a met with "a decisive and much stronger response".

Iran said Saturday's assault was itself a response to the April 1 air strike on Tehran's consulate building in the Syrian capital that has been widely blamed on Israel.

It remained unclear how Israel would respond. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that "the campaign is not over yet -- we must remain alert".

US President Joe Biden reaffirmed Washington's "ironclad" support for Israel, while appearing to guide its staunch ally away from a military response.

Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles towards Israel late Saturday, injuring 12 people, the Israeli army said.

But almost all were intercepted before they reached Israeli territory, the army said, with help from the United States, Jordan, Britain and other allies.

Many nations have called for restraint, and the United Nations Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting later on Sunday.

The attack came as fighting between Israel and Hamas raged in Gaza, and the latest attempt to reach a ceasefire in the war appeared to falter.

- Attack 'foiled' -

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that 99 percent of the launches had been intercepted, declaring that "the Iranian attack was foiled".

While 170 drones and 30 cruise missiles were shot down before they reached Israel, a few of the 110 ballistic missiles did get through, the Israeli army said.

Among the injured was a seven-year-old girl near the southern Israeli town of Arad who was in intensive care, according to the medical centre that received her.

Iran's proxies and allies also carried out coordinated attacks on Israeli positions.

AFP correspondents heard blasts in the skies above Jerusalem early Sunday, and overnight people sought cover in the city while some residents stockpiled water.

On Sunday morning, people were beginning to tentatively return to the streets of Jerusalem.

"The situation is really frightening because we are afraid of what happens and all of the bombing and aircraft that are coming," said 48-year-old Ayala Salant, a resident of Jerusalem.

- 'Achieved all objectives' -

The Iranian army declared that its attack was "completed successfully," which it said was in "self defence" after the Damascus strike which killed seven of Iran's Revolutionary Guards including two generals.

"Operation Honest Promise... achieved all its objectives", said Mohammad Bagheri, the Iranian armed forces' chief of staff.

Bagheri said the attack targeted an intelligence centre and the air base from which Tehran says the Israeli F-35 jets took off to strike the Damascus consulate.

"Both these centres were significantly destroyed," he said, though Israel maintains that the attack only resulted in minor damage.

Hundreds of Iranians gathered in Tehran's Palestine Square waving Iranian and Palestinian flags in a show of support for the military action.

Israel, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon all said they had reopened their airspace after suspending air traffic during the attack.

- 'Take the win' -

Iran's allies in the region joined the attack, with Yemen's Tehran-backed Huthi rebels also launching drones at Israel, according to security agency Ambrey.

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement announced it had fired rockets at Israeli positions in the annexed Golan Heights around the same time, as well as a second barrage hours later.

An Israeli strike destroyed a building used by Hezbollah in Lebanon's east on Sunday, Israeli and Lebanese sources said. A Hezbollah source told AFP that there were no casualties.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations warned Washington to keep out of Iran's conflict with Israel.

The mission added on X that "the matter can be deemed concluded".

"However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran's response will be considerably more severe."

US media reported that Biden was looking to de-escalate.

News outlet Axios said the president had told Netanyahu he would oppose an Israeli counterattack against Iran and that the prime minister should "take the win".

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for "calm heads to prevail," adding that UK fighter jets were among those shooting down Iranian attack drones.

NATO said it was "vital that the conflict in the Middle East does not spiral out of control."

Pope Francis called for "an end to any action which could fuel a spiral of violence".

The UN Security Council was to meet at around 2000 GMT Sunday to discuss the latest crisis at Israel's request.

G7 nations will also hold a video conference in the early afternoon to discuss the attack.

Jordan, which is located between Israel and Iran, said it had intercepted "flying objects" that breached its airspace during the attack.

Before Tehran launched its attack on Saturday, the Israeli military warned Iran it would suffer the "consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further".

Iran had earlier seized an Israeli-linked container vessel in the Gulf, putting the whole region on alert.

- Gaza stalemate -

Meanwhile, fighting in Gaza continued. The war began with an unprecedented October 7 attack by Hamas against Israel, resulting in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,729 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry.

Late Saturday, Hamas said it had submitted its response to a truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators at talks that started in Cairo on April 7.

Hamas said it was sticking to its previous demands, insisting on "a permanent ceasefire" and the "withdrawal of the (Israeli) occupation army from the entire Gaza Strip".

Israel's Mossad spy agency described this as a rejection of the proposal, accusing Hamas of "continuing to exploit the tension with Iran" and aiming for "a general escalation in the region".

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