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GAZA: A Palestinian man holds the shrouded body of his child as a woman stands besides the bodies of her children, all killed in Zionist bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024. - AFP
GAZA: A Palestinian man holds the shrouded body of his child as a woman stands besides the bodies of her children, all killed in Zionist bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2024. - AFP

Mideast tensions boiling over

Iran, Zionists pull back from brink • Zionists kill 9 family members in Gaza • Deadly blast at Iraq army base

TEHRAN/GAZA: Iran has dismissed as akin to child’s play the Zionist entity’s reported retaliation for an unprecedented Iranian strike, as both sides on Saturday appeared to step back from wider conflict stemming from the war in Gaza. However, a deadly blast at an Iraqi military base emphasised the high tensions which persist in the region, as did more deadly Zionist strikes in Gaza and intensifying clashes in the West Bank.

Fears have soared this month that escalating tit-for-tat attacks between the Zionist entity and Iran could tip over into a broader war in the Middle East. The Zionist entity had warned it would hit back after Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago in its first-ever direct attack on its archenemy’s territory.

The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for a Zionist air strike that leveled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards on April 1. The Zionist retaliation appeared to come on Friday, when Iranian media reported blasts in the central province of Isfahan. Fars news agency reported “three explosions” close to Qahjavarestan, near Isfahan airport and the 8th Shekari army airbase.

“What happened last night was no attack,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News. “It was the flight of two or three quadcopters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran,” he added. “As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the (Zionist) regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”

Zionist officials have made no public comment on what — according to a senior US congressional source who spoke to AFP — were retaliatory Zionist strikes against Iran. Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Britain’s Chatham House think tank, said the reported Zionist strike had been “calibrated to avoid damage and further Iranian aggression”. Iranian political expert Hamid Gholamzadeh said the incident in Isfahan, while “insignificant”, needs to be seen in the context of the “fight for balance of power” between the two countries. “The region is on fire and an all-out war can be ignited any moment,” he said.

On Saturday, Gaza’s Civil Defence agency said an overnight Zionist strike in Rafah killed nine members of a family including six children. Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said the Zionist army had also hit several other areas of Rafah overnight, adding: “It has been a very hard night.”

Five children aged one to seven and a 16-year-old girl were among the dead, along with two women and a man, according to the city’s Al Najjar hospital. “Nine martyrs, including six children, were pulled out from the rubble after Zionist air forces struck a house of the Radwan family in Tal al-Sultan in Rafah,” Bassal said in a statement.

Outside the hospital, an AFP journalist saw people grieving over small body bags. A woman stroked a dead boy’s forehead as planes rumbled overhead. “People were sleeping peacefully,” said neighbor Abu Mohammed Ziyadah. “As you can see, there were no militants, not even male adults, except for the head of the family. They were all women and children.” The Zionist offensive has killed at least 34,049 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the health ministry in the territory.

While tensions rose after the attack on Iran’s consulate, violence involving Iran-backed groups had already been surging across the Middle East since the outbreak of the Gaza war. Officials in Iraq said one person was killed and eight wounded in an explosion at a military base south of Baghdad housing a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The full details remain unclear hours after the blast hit the Kalsu military base in Babylon province south of Baghdad, where regular army, police and members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, or Hashed al-Shaabi, are stationed. The Iraqi security forces’ media unit said “an explosion and a fire” hit the Kalsu base in the early hours of Saturday, leaving one person dead and eight wounded.

Air defense command reported “no drones or combat aircraft in the airspace of Babylon province before or during the explosion”, it added in a statement. Shortly after the explosion, the US military said its forces were not behind a reported strike in Iraq. “The United States has not conducted air strikes in Iraq today,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) posted on social media platform X, adding that reports that American forces had carried out a strike were “not true”. When reached by AFP, the Zionist army said it “does not comment on information published in foreign media”.

In a statement, Hashed al-Shaabi said an “explosion” had inflicted “material losses” and casualties, without giving a number. The group said investigators had been sent to the site. On Saturday morning, however, the Hashed issued another statement that referred to a meeting between its chief of staff and investigation committees “on the site that has been attacked”. “We will retaliate against whoever is behind this aggression,” Hashed commander Abu Alaa Al-Walai wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Those involved in this odious crime will pay the price.”

An interior ministry official had initially reported an “aerial bombing” on the site. “The explosion hit equipment, weapons and vehicles,” said the source. An Iraqi military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, said the overnight explosion had occurred in “warehouses storing equipment”.

The Zionist entity has faced growing global opposition over its military offensive in Gaza, which has reduced vast areas of the besieged Palestinian territory to rubble, while aid groups have warned the north is on the brink of famine. Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under pressure over the rising civilian toll, needs “further escalation and another war to distract the world attention” away from suffering in Gaza, Iranian analyst Gholamzadeh said.

The Zionist military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day, including the site in north Gaza from which a rocket was fired into the Zionist city of Sderot. Witnesses in the central Nuseirat refugee camp said the Zionist army told them to evacuate one home, then several were destroyed. “They instruct us to evacuate and return later, but where do we go back? To ruins?” asked resident Abu Ibrahim. “How long will this farce continue?” – Agencies

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