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

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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 defences 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 defence 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.

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 defence," 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

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 defences, 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 centre of Iran and hosts both a military base and a nuclear site, the Israeli strike also demonstrated Israel's ability to penetrate Iranian air defences and reach key Iranian assets, should it decide to launch a larger strike against Iran's nuclear facilities,” the group said in a statement.

Paris police operation at Iranian consulate

A Paris police official told The Associated Press that officers were verifying the man's identity, but said no such weapons were found on him or in his vehicle. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed to be publicly named under police policy.

Some of the police, special agents and firefighters that responded to the incident at the consulate were later seen leaving the scene after the arrest. A police cordon remained in place, but traffic was resuming in the area.

The official said the man was spotted around late Friday morning and that police launched a special operation as soon as they were alerted.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East, and as Paris is gearing up to host the summer Olympics.

-- By Angela Charlton

Elite police officers from the BRI (Brigade de recherche et d'intervention) leave after an operation near the Iranian consulate, Friday, April 19, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

IAEA chief says no damage at Isfahan nuclear facility

BERLIN -- The head of the UN 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 defences 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 south of Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- Remnants of a missile have been found near Latifiya, southwest of Baghdad, on Friday.

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+.

EU sanctions 4 extremists, 2 radical groups

BRUSSELS -- The European Union on Friday imposed sanctions on four extremist Jewish settlers and two radical organizations, accusing them of violent acts against Palestinians in the West Bank.

EU headquarters said they "are responsible for serious human rights abuses against Palestinians, including torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and for the violation of right to property and to private and family life of Palestinians in the West Bank."

In a statement, it named the organizations as Lehava, "a right-wing Jewish supremacist group," and Hilltop Youth, "a radical youth group consisting of members known for violent acts against Palestinians and their villages in the West Bank."

It imposed sanctions on two leading Hilltop Youth figures, Meir Ettinger and Elisha Yered, saying that both "were involved in deadly attacks against Palestinians in 2015 and 2023."

Also listed were Neria Ben Pazi, who has been accused of repeatedly attacking Palestinians since 2021, and Yinon Levi, who has "taken part in multiple violent acts against neighboring villages from his residence in the Mitarim farm illegal outpost."

The EU move freezes any assets they might have in Europe and prohibits Europeans from providing them with funds or other economic resources. The four are also banned from travelling in Europe.

Iranian women without wearing their mandatory Islamic headscarf walk past a banner showing missiles being launched from Iranian map in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Turkiye: Statements by Iran, Israel 'illogical'

ISTANBUL -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that statements put forward both by Iran and Israel after an apparent drone attack on Friday in Iran are "illogical."

Erdogan also criticized the U.S. for continuing to support Israel in the UN Security Council as tensions escalate between Israel and Iran.

Speaking after Friday prayers, Erdogan told a group of 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."

Erdogan, who is highly critical of Israel's actions in Gaza, accused the U.S. of making conflicting statements about having prior knowledge of the drone strikes and said that he wasn't surprised by the reiteration of support for Israel by the U.S. at the UN Security Council.

"While everyone is on the side of Palestine, unfortunately America puts forward their stance again by standing by the side of Israel.," he said. "We didn't expect anything different anyway."

Erdogan 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.

Turkiye doesn't recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization and allows leaders of the group to travel in and out of the country.

Erdogan has described Hamas as a "liberation group" and has met Haniyeh several times in recent years.

U.S. not involved in '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 defence, 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."

Russia on Iran's motives

MOSCOW -- Russian authorities have informed Israel that Iran isn't seeking to escalate the conflict, Russia's top diplomat said in an interview broadcast live on Friday.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told several Russian radio stations that Russia's leadership was in contact with their counterparts in Iran, and Russian officials were also in touch 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 an apparent Israeli drone attack 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," the official added.

Israel gave last-minute warning, G7 told

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 suspected 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."

A worshipper chants slogans as she holds an Iranian flag during an anti-Israeli gathering after Friday prayer in Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

German leader: No further escalation

BERLIN -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is calling on all in the Middle East to ensure that there is no further escalation in the region, but he and his government are saying little about events in Iran overnight.

Scholz noted at an event on the North Sea island of Norderney Friday that there were reports of more "military activity" during the night.

He said: "I can't and don't want to say more about it than that for us, a very clear principle goes for all -- everyone must now and in the near future ensure that there is no further escalation of the war."

Scholz said that Germany will talk with "all our friends and allies" about de-escalation.

Asked about reports of an Israeli attack, Scholz's spokesperson, Steffen Hebestreit, said in Berlin that he can't contribute "anything of my own" to information on what happened.

G7 warns of sanctions against Iran

CAPRI, Italy -- Group of Seven foreign ministers warned of new sanctions against Iran on Friday for its drone and missile attack on Israel, and urged both sides to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who chaired the meeting of ministers of industrialized countries, said the agenda of the three-day meeting was changed on Friday to address the latest developments.

Early Friday, Iran fired air defences at a major air base and a nuclear site near the central city of Isfahan after spotting drones. They were suspected to be part of an Israeli attack in retaliation for Tehran's unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country last weekend.

Tajani didn't immediately address the incident, but said that G7 ministers condemned Iran's weekend attack on Israel and urged both sides to exercise restraint.

"The political objective is de-escalation," Tajani said in a closing news conference.

Oman condemns 'Israel's repeated attacks'

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The sultanate of Oman has condemned what it called an Israeli attack on Isfahan on Friday.

Oman has close ties with Iran and often serves as an interlocutor for the West when dealing with Tehran.

A statement from its Foreign Ministry said Oman “condemns and denounces Israel's repeated military attacks in the region.”

European Commission urges no further action

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - The head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called on Israel and Iran to refrain from further actions, saying “it is absolutely necessary that the region stays stable.”

“We have to do all, everything possible that all sides of this time from the escalation in that region,” von der Leyen said Friday in Arctic Finland in reply to a question on the recent strikes by the two countries on each other.

Von der Leyen was on a visit to part of Finland's 1,340-kilometre (832-mile) land border with Russia - one of the EU's longest external borders - with Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo to see the migration that Helsinki is facing from Moscow.

China opposes actions that further raise Mideast tensions

BEIJING - China is opposed to any actions that further raise tensions in the Middle East, its Foreign Ministry said Friday after an apparent Israeli attack on Iran.

Asked about Israel, Iran and rising tensions in the Middle East, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian said the reports had been noted.

“We oppose any actions that lead to the escalation of tensions,” Lin told reporters at a daily briefing Friday. “China opposes any actions that lead to the escalation of tensions and will continue to play a constructive role in easing the tensions.”

Britain cautions against escalation

LONDON - Prime Minister Rishi Sunak cautioned Friday against escalation in the Middle East, saying Britain was working to confirm the details around a reported Israeli strike inside Iran.

“We have condemned Iran's reckless and dangerous barrage of missiles against Israel on Saturday, and Israel absolutely has the right to self-defence,” he said. “But as I said to 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 strike targets Syria air defence unit

BEIRUT - Israel carried out a missile strike targeting an air defence unit in its south and causing material damage, Syria's state-run SANA news agency quoted a military statement as saying Friday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the strike hit a military radar for government forces. It was not clear if there were casualties, the Observatory said.

The Observatory's chief Rami Abdurrahman said six Israeli fighter jets entered Syria's airspace and were flying east when they were spotted by the radar. He added that the fighter jets were flying east.

The warplanes were seen around the time loud noises and drones were reported near a major Iranian air base and nuclear site early Friday. That area of Syria is directly west of Isfahan, some 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) away, and east of Israel.

Iranian state television described all atomic sites in the Isfahan area as “fully safe.” The United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said “there is no damage to Iran's nuclear sites” after the commotion.

Iran fires air defence batteries

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Iran fired air defence batteries early Friday morning at a major air base and a nuclear site near its central city of Isfahan over drones being spotted, raising fears of a possible Israeli retaliatory strike following Tehran's unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country.

Iran then 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. Iran later restored normal flight service, authorities said.

It was unclear if the country was under attack, as no Iranian official directly acknowledged the possibility and Israel's military did not respond to a request for comment. However, tensions have remained high in the days since the Saturday assault on Israel amid its war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and its own strikes targeting Iran in Syria.

U.S. officials declined to comment as of early Friday, but American broadcast networks quoting unnamed U.S. officials said Israel carried out the attack.

Air defences fired in several provinces over reports of drones being in the air, state television reported. However, Iranian state-run media sought to immediately downplay the incident, airing footage of an otherwise peaceful Isfahan morning.

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

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