Israel bombs Gaza as UN chief warns Mideast on brink of full-scale conflict

Iran warns Israel against attacking nuclear sites

UNITED NATIONS JERUSALEM/ Tehran  -   UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday painted a dark picture of the situation in the Middle East, warning that spiraling tensions over the war in Gaza and Iran’s attack on Israel could devolve into a “full-scale regional conflict.” Guterres also said Israel’s military offensive on Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, in retaliation for their unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, had created a “humanitarian hellscape” for civilians trapped in the besieged Palestinian territory.

“The Middle East is on a precipice. Recent days have seen a perilous escalation -- in words and deeds,” Guterres told the Security Council. “One miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable --- a full-scale regional conflict that would be devastating for all involved,” he said, calling on all parties to exercise “maximum restraint.”

Iran unleashed a barrage of missiles and drones on Israel over the weekend, after an attack on its consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country reserves the right to protect itself. 

Guterres condemned both the consulate attack and the flurry of drones, saying that the latter constituted a “serious escalation” of the situation. “It is high time to end the bloody cycle of retaliation,” he said. “It is high time to stop.” “The international community must work together to prevent any actions that could push the entire Middle East over the edge, with a devastating impact on civilians. Let me be clear: the risks are spiraling on many fronts.” Israel launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as world powers watched nervously whether the country would retaliate against a weekend attack by its arch enemy Iran. The Israeli army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the Palestinian coastal territory of 2.4 million people, more than six months into the bloodiest ever Gaza war. Weeks of talks towards an Israel-Hamas truce and hostage release deal have stalled, according to Qatar’s prime minister who said the Gulf emirate was now “reassessing our role as mediator”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also stressed on Wednesday that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran. The Islamic republic last weekend carried out its first ever attack to directly target its regional foe but Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones and suffered no deaths. Iran’s attack was retaliation for an April 1 air strike, which it blamed on Israel, on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus. Iran’s attack on Israel “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war and the loss of life that is taking place there,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East/North Africa specialist at the University of Cambridge’s POLIS department, told AFP.

“And that was very much I think what Israel planned to do,” she said. An AFP correspondent in Gaza said Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight. The Israeli military said it struck dozens of targets over the past day. The war started after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack on October 7. Gaza’s civil defence said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.

Israel had also bombed the far-southern city of Rafah.

Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighbourhood, the civil defence service said. One woman in Rafah, Jamalat Ramidan, told AFP she and crying children fled the carnage of a strike, stumbling over “body parts and corpses scattered all over the place”. 

- Stalled truce talks -

Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving United States and Egyptian officials. He said his country was undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role because there has been damage to Qatar”, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel has faced growing global opposition to the Gaza war, which the United Nations and aid agencies say has left the north of the territory on the brink of famine.

The UN Security Council was preparing to vote soon on an Algeria- drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.

However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to such a move. Meanwhile, A senior Revolutionary Guards general threatened on Thursday to target Israel’s “nuclear facilities” if it strikes Iranian atomic sites, state media reported, anticipating retaliation for Tehran’s unprecedented weekend attack.

Israel’s military chief has vowed a response to the Iranian aerial attack, which was mostly intercepted, while world leaders have urged de-escalation.

Violence involving Iranaligned groups across the Middle East has soared since the start of the Israel-Hamas war with the Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack. Tehran’s first direct attack on Israel, launched late Saturday, was in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals. 

Israeli officials have not said when or where the country would retaliate, but Ahmad Haghtalab, the Guards’ head of nuclear protection and security, said Iran would “definitely” reciprocate any attack on nuclear sites. “If the Zionist regime (Israel) wants to take action against our nuclear centres and facilities, it will definitely and surely face our reaction,” the official news agency IRNA quoted Haghtalab as saying.

“For the counterattack, the nuclear facilities of the (Israeli) regime will be targeted and operated upon with advanced weaponry.”

His warning came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel reserves “the right to protect itself” following the Iranian attack with hundreds of drones and missiles. Haghtalab said “the threat” of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities could lead Tehran “to revise and deviate from the declared nuclear policies and considerations”, without elaborating.

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