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The Latest | Iran says air defense batteries fire after explosions reported near major air base

Representatives of member countries take votes during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Thursday, April 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
Original Publication Date April 18, 2024 - 6:01 AM

Iran fired air defense batteries Friday reports of explosions near a major air base at the city of Isfahan, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. It remained unclear if the country was under attack, but tensions remain high after Iran’s unprecedented missile-and-drone attack on Israel. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

IRNA said the defenses fired across several provinces. It did not elaborate on what caused the batteries to fire, though people across the area reported hearing the sounds.

Israel vowed to respond to Iran’s unprecedented weekend attack, leaving the region bracing for further escalation after months of fighting in Gaza. Allies have urged Israel to hold back on any response to the attack that could spiral.

The U.S. on Thursday vetoed a widely backed U.N. resolution that would have paved the way for full United Nations membership for a state of Palestine. The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 12 in favor, the United States opposed and two abstentions.

Separately, the U.S. and Britain announced that they were imposing a new round of sanctions on Iran. The moves came as European Union leaders meeting in Brussels vowed to ramp up sanctions on Iran to target its drone and missile deliveries to proxies in Gaza, Yemen and Lebanon.

The U.S. sanctions target individuals and entities that produce engines that power drones and are involved in steel production. The latest British measures target several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries.

The Iranian attack on Saturday marked the first time that Tehran launched a direct military assault on Israel. Israeli authorities said Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles, 99% of which were intercepted by air defenses in tandem with the U.S., Britain, France and Jordan. The attack took place less than two weeks after a suspected Israeli strike in Syria killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consulate building in Damascus.

Regional tensions have increased since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad — two militant groups backed by Iran — carried out a cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed more than 33,900 people, according to local health officials.

Currently:

— Iran fires air defense batteries in provinces as explosions heard near Isfahan

— US and UK issue new sanctions on Iran in response to Tehran’s weekend attack on Israel.

— NATO and the EU urge G7 nations to step up air defense for Ukraine and expand Iran sanctions.

— US Congress moving swiftly on bipartisan action to punish Iran after revenge attack on Israel.

Palestinian soccer renews call for sanctions against Israel at FIFA congress amid Hamas conflict.

Here is the latest:

IRAN SAYS AIR DEFENSES FIRE AFTER REPORTS OF EXPLOSIONS NEAR MAJOR AIRBASE

Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning after reports of explosions near a major air base at the city of Isfahan, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

It remained unclear if the country was under attack. However, tensions remain high after Iran’s unprecedented missile-and-drone attack on Israel. One government official suggested sites may have been targeted by drones.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

IRNA said the defenses fired across several provinces. It did not elaborate on what caused the batteries to fire, though people across the area reported hearing the sounds.

In particular, IRNA said air defenses fired at a major air base in Isfahan, which long has been home to Iran’s fleet of American-made F-14 Tomcats — purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies also reported the sound of blasts, without giving a cause. State television acknowledged “loud noise” in the area.

Isfahan also is home to sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program, including its underground Natanz enrichment site, which has been repeatedly targeted by suspected Israeli sabotage attacks. However, state television described all sites in the area as “fully safe.”

Dubai-based airlines Emirates and FlyDubai began diverting flights around western Iran about 4:30 a.m. local time. They offered no explanation, though local warnings to aviators suggested the airspace may have been closed.

Iran later announced it grounded commercial flights in Tehran and across areas of its western and central regions. Loudspeakers informed customers of the incident at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, online videos purported to show.

Meanwhile in Iraq, where a number of Iranian-backed militias are based, residents of Baghdad reported hearing sounds of explosions, but the source of the noise was not immediately clear.

US VETOES RESOLUTION BACKING FULL UN MEMBERSHIP FOR PALESTINE

UNITED NATIONS — The United States has vetoed a widely backed U.N. resolution that would have paved the way for full United Nations membership for a state of Palestine.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 12 in favor, the United States opposed and two abstentions.

The resolution would have recommended that the 193-member General Assembly approve Palestine becoming the 194th member of the United Nations. Some 140 countries have already recognized a state of Palestine, so its admission would have been approved. There are no vetoes in the General Assembly.

It was the second Palestinian attempt to become a full member of the United Nations. It came as the war in Gaza has put the more than 75-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict at center stage.

Palestinian membership “needs to be the outcome of the negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians,” U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood said. It “is something that would flow from the result of those negotiations.

IRAN SAYS IT WILL RESPOND TO ANY ISRAELI ATTACK

UNITED NATIONS – Iran’s foreign minister is again warning Israel that any use of force in response to his country’s recent drone and missile attacks will be “decisive” and “make the regime regret its actions.”

Hossein Amirabdollahian told a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Iran’s attack over the weekend was a legitimate response to a suspected Israeli missile strike on its embassy compound in Syria on April 1 has concluded. Therefore, he said, Israel “must be compelled to stop any further military adventurism against our interests.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will retaliate.

Amirabdollahian warned, “Certainly, in case of any use of force by the Israeli regime, and violating our sovereignty, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not hesitate a bit to assert its inherent rights to give a decisive and proper response to make the regime regret its actions.”

Iran and its allies fired more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel, and 99% were blocked by Israeli air defenses with help from the U.S., Britain, France and Jordan. A 7-year-old girl was hurt, and an Israeli base suffered minor damage.

US REITERATES CONCERNS ABOUT MAJOR MILITARY ACTION IN RAFAH

WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. and Israeli officials have held a virtual meeting where Washington again “expressed concerns” about the possibility of a major offensive by Israel in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah amid its war with Hamas.

A readout of Thursday’s meeting by U.S. and Israeli teams known as the Strategic Consultative Group said that “Israeli participants agreed to take these concerns into account and to have further follow up discussions between experts.”

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was among those discussing Iran's recent attack of Israel with drones and ballistic missiles. The U.S. detailed “efforts to further enhance Israel’s defense” including through “advanced capabilities” and cooperation from a coalition of international allies.

The Israeli side was led by Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi.

The readout said both sides “agreed on the shared objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah.” But the U.S. has long been worried about the effects a major Israeli military operation could have on Rafah’s civilian population.

PALESTINIAN PROFESSOR WHO SAID ISRAEL IS COMMITTING GENOCIDE IS ARRESTED

JERUSALEM — Israeli police have arrested a Palestinian professor for speech deemed incendiary after she said Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and rallied colleagues and students to support a cease-fire.

Police arrested Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian on Thursday at her home in the Old City of Jerusalem, said Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, a legal rights group, and part of a team representing her.

Shalhoub-Kevorkian is a law professor at Hebrew University whose work focuses on gender-based violence. The university suspended her in March after she circulated a petition calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and said in interviews that Israel was committing genocide against Palestinians.

“What she’s said is critical of the Israel government,” said Jabareen. “It does not constitute a crime.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oversees the national police force, issued a statement praising the police.

“This arrest sends an important message — whoever incites against the state of Israel cannot hide behind this or that position or title,” he said.

GUTERRES REITERATES CALLS FOR DE-ESCALATION OF TENSIONS

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says “the Middle East is on a precipice” and is urging all countries to work together to prevent any actions that could spark a regionwide conflict.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that “this moment of maximum peril must be a time for maximum restraint.”

“One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable: a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved, and for the rest of the world,” he warned.

Guterres said the international community has a shared responsibility to engage in “comprehensive diplomatic action” to de-escalate violence and tensions in the Mideast, starting with Gaza.

GAZA HEALTH MINISTRY REPORTS 71 PEOPLE KILLED IN THE LAST 24 HOURS

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip says that 71 bodies were taken to hospitals over the past 24 hours.

It said Thursday that a total of at least 33,970 Palestinian have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war erupted more than six months ago. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its tallies but has said women and children make up most of those killed.

Palestinian medical officials say an Israeli airstrike overnight on the southern town of Rafah killed eight members of a family, including four children and three women, who had been displaced from northern Gaza.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have sought refuge in Rafah, on the border with Egypt. Israel has vowed to expand its ground offensive to the city.

The Health Ministry says people in Gaza City and other parts of the north are meanwhile living with no “real” medical services. It says northern Gaza needs field hospitals with 200 beds that also include operation rooms, intensive care units and laboratories.

OFFICIALS AT G7 MEETING CALL FOR NEW SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN

CAPRI, Italy — Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani opened the first working session of the Group of Seven meeting in Italy by calling for new sanctions against Iran for its weekend attack on Israel.

The Israel-Hamas war and Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine were taking center stage at the meeting of foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. On Wednesday, EU leaders meeting in Brussels to target its drone and missile deliveries to proxies in Gaza, Yemen and Lebanon.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at the G7 meeting that the existing EU sanctions regime would be strengthened and expanded to punish Tehran and help prevent future attacks on Israel. At the same time, he said, Israel needed to exercise restraint.

“I don’t want to exaggerate but we are on the edge of a war, a regional war in the Middle East, which will be sending shockwaves to the rest of the world, and in particular to Europe,” he warned. “So stop it.”

FAMILY OF NEPALI MAN HELD BY HAMAS APPEAL FOR HIS RELEASE

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Family members of the Nepali man still being held captive by Hamas militants after the Oct. 7 attack in Israel have called for his release.

Relatives of Bipin Joshi, 23, traveled from their home in western Nepal to the capital, Kathmandu, to make a public appeal on Thursday.

“My life has been devastated since his kidnapping,” his father, Mahananda Joshi, said. “He is my only son without whom I cannot even imagine living my life. I love my son more than my life."

“I beg of you to kindly bring my son back home safe and alive,” he said.

Joshi was abducted in the Oct. 7 attack in which 10 Nepalis were killed. Six other Nepalis survived, but many of them sustained injuries. They have returned to Nepal.

There has been no news of Joshi since the day he was taken captive. Nepal's government has given several assurances to the family that it was working with Israeli authorities to get him freed. But relatives were appealing for more to be done.

CHINA AND INDONESIA CALL FOR A CEASE-FIRE IN GAZA

The Chinese and Indonesian foreign ministers called for an immediate and lasting cease-fire in Gaza after a meeting Thursday in Jakarta, condemning the humanitarian costs of the Israel-Hamas war.

Indonesia's foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, told reporters that the two countries share the same view about the importance of a cease-fire and of resolving the Palestinian problem through a two-state solution.

“I am sure that China would use its influence to prevent escalation,” Marsudi said, adding that China and Indonesia “would also fully support Palestine’s membership in the U.N.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed the United States for holding up cease-fire resolutions at the United Nations.

The U.S. vetoed a number of proposed U.N. Security Council resolutions because they didn’t tie a cease-fire directly to the release of Israel hostages, or condemn Hamas’ attacks that prompted the war, before allowing a resolution to a pass with an abstention in late March.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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