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The Latest | World leaders call on Iran and Israel to avoid allowing conflict to worsen

Relatives of hostages held in the Gaza Strip block Highway 1, the main route linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to call for a deal to release all hostages, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Original Publication Date April 18, 2024 - 9:56 PM

World leaders called on Iran and Israel to try to avoid escalating tensions following the apparent Israeli airstrike on Friday near an Iranian air base and nuclear facility.

Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting in Italy warned of new sanctions against Iran for its drone and missile attack on Israel last weekend, and urged both sides to avoid worsening the conflict.

Meanwhile, an apparent Israeli strike on Iran saw troops fire air defenses near the central city of Isfahan. It came days after Tehran’s unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on Israel.

Israel also carried out a missile strike on an air defense unit in southern Syria, causing material damage, Syria's state-run SANA news agency said, citing a military statement.

Israel had vowed to respond to Iran’s weekend attack.

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 at apparent Israeli attack drones near Isfahan air base and nuclear site

— Israel gave U.S. last-minute warning about drone attack on Iran, Italian foreign minister says

— Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

— S&P becomes second major U.S. agency to downgrade Israel’s long-term credit rating

— U.S. vetoes a widely supported resolution backing full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state.

Here is the latest:

IRAN-ALLIED MILITIA COALITION CLAIMS ITS BASE IN IRAQ HIT BY AIRSTRIKE

BAGHDAD — An airstrike early Saturday hit a base used by the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Iran-allied militias in Iraq, the group said in a statement.

The attack on the Kalsu military base north of Babylon — a former U.S. post that was handed over to the Iraqi military in 2011 — wounded three PMF members, said two militia officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

It was not clear who was responsible for the purported attack, which came a day after a suspected Israeli strike in Iran, but the militia officials blamed U.S. forces.

A U.S. official said there were no U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide details that were not public.

The PMF is a coalition of primarily Shiite, Iran-backed armed groups that joined in the fight against the Islamic State extemist group after it seized large sections of Iraq in 2014. In 2016, the Iraqi government designated the Popular Mobilization Forces as an “independent military formation” within the Iraqi armed forces.

In recent months, some PMF member groups staged attacks on U.S. forces based in Iraq and Syria, which they said was in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel in its war with the Hamas militant group in Gaza.

ISRAELI MILITARY INVESTIGATES DEATHS OF TWO PALESTINIAN DETAINEES

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says it is investigating the deaths of two Palestinian detainees who were arrested by Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

According to Israeli media reports, the detainees died while on the back of a truck bringing a group of Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip.

In response to the reports, the military said its military police unit is investigating. The results of the investigation will be given to the military advocate general, who will decide whether to prosecute the soldiers involved. Rights groups say such investigations rarely result in charges or punishment.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Israel has rounded up thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and brought them to Israeli prisons, where they are interrogated about militant affiliations. Returning detainees say they were beaten, neglected and otherwise abused while in Israeli custody.

The Palestinian Prisoners Club, an advocacy group representing the prisoners, says 16 Palestinian detainees have died in Israeli prisons since the start of the war.

WORLD LEADERS CALL ON IRAN AND ISRAEL TO AVOID ESCALATING CONFLICT

Leaders from around the Mideast and the world called on Iran and Israel to try to avoid escalating tensions following the apparent Israeli strike near an Iranian air base and nuclear facility.

Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting in Italy urged both countries to show restraint, with the host nation’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, saying the meeting’s agenda was changed Friday to address the latest Mideast developments and that the “political objective is de-escalation.”

Tajani also said the G7 ministers condemned Iran’s weekend attack on Israel.

Jordan’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, Ayman Al-Safadi, stressed the need to ease regional tensions. He also reiterated that Jordan, which is situated between Iran and Israel, will not allow itself to be “turned into an arena of conflict between Iran and Israel,” according to a statement issued by Jordan’s Foreign Ministry.

In a call with Iran’s foreign minister, Hussein Amir Abdullahian, after Friday’s strike, Al-Safadi stressed that Jordan will not allow Iran or Israel to violate Jordan’s airspace, according to the statement, which noted that Abdullahian said his country respects Jordan and wants to ensure the security of the region.

Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Iran-ally Russia, told several Russian radio stations Friday that Moscow informed Israel that Iran isn’t seeking to escalate the conflict. He said Russian leaders were in contact with their Iranian counterparts as well as with the Israelis.

“We very clearly outlined in these conversations and conveyed to the Israelis that Iran does not want escalation,” Lavrov said after news broke of the strike on Iran.

Iran couldn’t “not respond to a gross violation of international law and status of a diplomatic mission, but it doesn’t want escalation,” Lavrov added, referring to the apparent Israeli airstrike that killed two Iranian generals in Syria on April 1.

The leaders of Britain, Germany and the European Commission, and China’s foreign ministry also called for Iran and Israel to avoid worsening the conflict.

“We have condemned Iran’s reckless and dangerous barrage of missiles against Israel ... and Israel absolutely has the right to self defense,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said. “But as I said to (Israeli) Prime Minister Netanyahu when I spoke to him last week, and more generally, significant escalation is not in anyone’s interest. What we want to see is calm heads prevail across the region.”

ISRAELI RAID ON WEST BANK REFUGEE CAMP KILLS AT LEAST 4 PALESTINIANS, INCLUDING 3 MILITANTS

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- An Israeli military raid Friday on a refugee camp in the northern West Bank killed at least four Palestinians, including three militants, according to the Israeli military, Palestinian health officials and a militant group.

The raid took place in the Nur Shams urban camp, which is in an area of the occupied West Bank where the military frequently operates.

Palestinian health officials said a 16-year-old boy, Qaid Fathi Nasrallah, was shot dead by Israeli fire. The Islamic Jihad militant group also confirmed the deaths of three members, including Mohammed Jaber, who it said was its military commander in the area.

The Israeli military said its forces killed a number of militants, made arrests and found explosives there. Four Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded, it said.

Violence has flared in the West Bank since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel. More than 460 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, Palestinian health officials say, as Israel stages frequent raids into towns and cities in the volatile territory.

The dead have included militants, but also stone-throwers and bystanders. Some have also been killed by violence from Israeli settlers.

STRIKE ON IRAN SUGGESTS ISRAEL DOESN'T SEEK ESCALATION, THINK TANK SAYS

WASHINGTON — The reported strikes Friday near an Iranian air base and Iran-backed targets in Syria and Iraq appear to show a limited response to Iran's attack on Israel last weekend, according to a pro-Israel think tank based in Washington.

The apparent Israeli drone attack near a major air base and a nuclear site around the central Iranian city of Isfahan activated the country's air defenses, just days after Tehran launched a drone and missile assault on Israel.

No Iranian official directly acknowledged the possibility that Israel had attacked, and the Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment.

But analysts said the relatively limited scope of the Israeli attack and subdued response by Tehran seem to indicate the threat of an immediate escalation had diminished.

The pro-Israel Jewish Institute for National Security of America, based in Washington, said that in addition to showing that Israel doesn't appear to want to escalate tensions, the strikes seem intended to signal that Iran can't attack Israel with impunity.

“Since Isfahan lies in the center of Iran and hosts both a military base and a nuclear site, the Israeli strike also demonstrated Israel’s ability to penetrate Iranian air defenses and reach key Iranian assets, should it decide to launch a larger strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities,” the group said in a statement.

IAEA CHIEF SAYS NO DAMAGE AT ISFAHAN NUCLEAR FACILITY

BERLIN — The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog says there was no damage at the Isfahan nuclear facility after an apparent Israeli drone attack on a major air base near the Iranian city.

When asked about the nuclear facility on Sky News, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said “there hasn’t been any damage at the site or anything that would indicate that (there) were hits nearby or something that could lead you to believe that there was an intention to reach these places.”

The facility at Isfahan operates three small Chinese-supplied research reactors, as well as handling fuel production and other activities for Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

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.

Iranian authorities have said that 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.

MISSILE REMNANTS FOUND SOUTHWEST OF BAGHDAD

BAGHDAD — Remnants of a missile were found Friday near Latifiya, southwest of Baghdad.

An official with an Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to journalists, said the missile had been shot down as a result of jamming operations. The Iraqi army doesn't have jamming devices of the type apparently used to down the missile, but Iran has provided such devices to its affiliated militias.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the missile was part of an Israeli attack on Iran or part of last weekend's Iranian attack on Israel. In photographs from the scene published by local media, it appeared to be a air-to-surface missile. There were no reports of Iran using air-to-surface missiles in Saturday’s barrage, which included more than 300 drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

Tehran launched the attack in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike in Syria on April 1 that killed two Iranian generals in an Iranian consular building.

— By Qassim Abdul-Zahra.

ISRAEL'S LONG-TERM CREDIT RATING DOWNGRADED BY S&P

Israel’s long-term credit rating is being downgraded by S&P, which cited the risk of military escalation with Iran. It is the second major U.S. credit ratings agency to do so.

There was an apparent drone attack at a major air base and a nuclear site near the central city of Isfahan early Friday, which is suspected of being part of an Israeli retaliation for Tehran’s unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country days ago.

S&P’s downgrade was issued shortly before the strike in Iran and almost three months after Moody’s, another major U.S. credit agency, downgraded Israel’s rating due to the “ongoing military conflict with Hamas.”

S&P Global Ratings lowered its long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings on Israel to ‘A+’ from ‘AA-’ and the short-term ratings to ‘A-1’ from ‘A-1+.’

TURKEY'S LEADER SAYS STATEMENTS BY IRAN AND ISRAEL ‘ILLOGICAL’

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that statements issued by Iran and Israel after an apparent drone attack on Friday in Iran are “illogical.”

Erdogan, who is highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, also criticized the U.S. for continuing to support Israel in the U.N. Security Council as tensions escalate between Israel and Iran.

Erdogan told journalists that neither Iran nor Israel is taking “ownership” of the situation.

“Currently Israel is saying different things. Iran puts forward different views. There is no ownership (of the situation). There is not one statement that isn’t illogical,” he said.

Erdogan accused the U.S. of making conflicting statements about having prior knowledge of the drone strikes. He also reiterated that he would host Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday. When asked what would be on their agenda, Erdogan refused to give details.

BLINKEN SAYS U.S. NOT INVOLVED IN ANY ‘OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS’

CAPRI, Italy — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday the United States was not involved in any “offensive operations” in the apparent Israeli drone attack in Iran, but declined to respond to claims that Israel gave the U.S. advance notice of the action.

“I’m not going to speak to that except to say that the United States has not been involved in any offensive operations,” Blinken said.

Asked to describe the current U.S.-Israel relationship, Blinken noted that Israel makes its own decisions, but the United States is committed to its security.

“We are committed to helping Israel defend itself and as necessary participating in its defense, as you saw just a few days ago,” Blinken said. “Again, Israel makes its decisions, but we have a commitment to defending it.

"And you saw an unprecedented attack from Iran, and Israel and the United States and others worked with Israel to make sure that that attack would not have devastating consequences. And thankfully, it did not.”

ISRAEL GAVE U.S. LAST-MINUTE WARNING ABOUT DRONE ATTACK ON IRAN, ITALY'S FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS

CAPRI, Italy — The United States told the Group of Seven foreign ministers on Friday that it received “last minute” information from Israel about a drone action in Iran, Italy’s foreign minister said.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said the United States provided the information at a Friday morning session that was changed at the last minute to address the apparent attack. Tajani said the U.S. informed the G7 ministers that it had been “informed at the last minute” by Israel about the drones. “But there was no sharing of the attack by the U.S. It was a mere information.”

He said Italians living in Iran were all accounted for and “without problems.”

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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