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Iran’s Raisi vows ‘stronger response’ to any ‘reckless’ Israeli move

US forces take part in shooting down drones aimed at Israel, UNSC calls emergency session

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US forces take part in shooting down drones aimed at Israel, UNSC calls emergency session

JERUSALEM:

Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi warned Israel and its allies on Sunday against any “reckless” actions after Tehran’s drone and missile attack in retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate.

“If the Zionist regime or its supporters demonstrate reckless behaviour, they will receive a decisive and much stronger response,” Raisi said in a statement.

Iran launched more than 200 drones and missiles at Israel, the Israeli army announced earlier, in a major escalation of the long-running covert war between the regional foes.

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“Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus,” the Iranian mission to the UN said. The attack, according to the mission, was “conducted on the strength of Article 51 of the UN Charter pertaining to legitimate defence”.

“If necessary”, Tehran “will not hesitate to take defensive measures to protect its interests against any aggressive military action,” Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Iran’s allies also carried out coordinated attacks on Israeli positions as sirens sounded in many places and AFP correspondents heard blasts in the skies above Jerusalem early Sunday.

Iran had repeatedly threatened to retaliate against Israel for a deadly April 1 air strike on its Damascus consular annexe, and Washington had warned repeatedly in recent days that the reprisals were imminent.

“Iran launched UAVs from its territory towards the territory of the state of Israel,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a televised statement.

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“We are working in close cooperation with the United States and our partners in the region in order to act against the launches and intercept them.”

People in Jerusalem sought cover, while some residents stockpiled water.

“As you can see it’s empty, everybody is running home,” said Eliyahu Barakat, a 49-year-old grocery shop owner in Jerusalem’s Mamilla neighbourhood.

Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel. PHOTO: Reuters

Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel. PHOTO: Reuters

US President Joe Biden reiterated Washington’s “ironclad” support for Israel after an urgent meeting with his top security officials on the spiralling crisis.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards confirmed a drone and missile attack was launched against Israel in retaliation for the Damascus strike which killed seven Guards, two of them generals.

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The Guards said ballistic missiles were fired almost an hour after the slower-moving drones.

Hundreds of Iranians gathered in Tehran’s Palestine Square waving Iranian and Palestinian flags to celebrate the unprecedented military action against Israel.

The Israeli army said Iran had launched a “massive swarm of over 200 killer drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles”.
“So far, we’ve intercepted the vast majority of incoming missiles,” Hagari claimed.

The army said it had scrambled dozens of fighter jets to intercept “all aerial threats”.

Iran’s allies in the region joined the attack, with Yemen’s Houthis also launching drones at Israel, according to security agency Ambrey. Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement announced it had fired rockets at Israeli positions in the occupied Golan Heights around the same time, as well as a second barrage hours later.

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Tehran’s official IRNA news agency said the attack — which comes against the backdrop of the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian resistance group Hamas in the Gaza Strip — had dealt “heavy blows” to an air base in the Negev desert, but the Israeli army said there had only been minor damage.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations warned Washington to keep out of Iran’s conflict with Israel.

“It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the U.S. MUST STAY AWAY!” it said.

It added that it hoped its action to punish the strike on its diplomatic mission would lead to no further escalation and “the matter can be deemed concluded”.

But despite Tehran’s warning not to get involved, US forces took part in shooting down drones aimed at Israel.

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Biden said in a later statement that the United States had “helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles”.

Demonstrators wave Iran's flag and Palestinian flags as they gather at Palestine Square in Tehran. PHOTO: AFP

Demonstrators wave Iran’s flag and Palestinian flags as they gather at Palestine Square in Tehran. PHOTO: AFP

Early Sunday, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had spoken with Biden. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned Iran’s “reckless” action and pledged his government would “continue to stand up for Israel’s security”.

The UK defence ministry said it had moved several additional fighter jets to the region which stood ready to “intercept any airborne attack within range”.

France echoed the commitment to Israel’s security. “In deciding to take this unprecedented action, Iran has reached a new level of destabilisation,” Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said.

Egypt, which regularly acts as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, said it was in “direct contact with all sides to the conflict to try to contain the situation”.

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Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, expressed concern at the escalation and called on “all parties to exercise utmost restraint and spare the region and its peoples from the dangers of war”.

The UN Security Council was to meet at around 2000 GMT Sunday to discuss the crisis at Israel’s request, its current president Malta said.

Biden said he would also convene his fellow leaders of the G7 group of wealthy nations on Sunday to coordinate a “united diplomatic response” to Iran’s “brazen” attack.

Shortly before the launches, Netanyahu said Israel was prepared for a “direct attack from Iran”.

“Our defence systems are deployed, we are prepared for any scenario, both in defence and attack,” the Israeli premier said.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had already seized an Israeli-linked container vessel in the Gulf earlier on Saturday, putting the whole region on alert.

Israel said it was closing schools nationwide, while Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon announced they were temporarily closing their airspace.

Israel said it was closing its own airspace from 2130 GMT.

The Israeli military warned Iran it would suffer the “consequences for choosing to escalate the situation any further”.

The April 1 strike in Damascus, which killed 16 people, including two Iranian generals, had been widely blamed on Israel. Iran had repeatedly vowed to hit back, but had not specified how.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a container ship “related” to Israel in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday as it headed towards Iranian waters, Iranian state media reported.

The ship’s operator, the Italian-Swiss group MSC, said it was working with the relevant authorities to ensure the wellbeing of the 25 crew onboard.

Indian official sources said late Saturday there were 17 Indian citizens on board the Aries, while the Philippine government said Sunday that four of its nationals were also aboard.

Both Israel and the United States denounced the seizure as piracy, with Israel also demanding the Guards be declared a “terrorist organisation” by the European Union.

Israel’s invasion has killed at least 33,686 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

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Israel’s military said Saturday it had struck more than 30 Hamas targets across Gaza. In the main central city of Deir al-Balah, fire burned in the rubble of a destroyed mosque.

Israel’s military “demanded that the whole area be evacuated” before it was “wiped out in minutes”, said Abdullah Baraka, a witness.

Hamas said it had submitted its response to a Gaza truce plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators at talks in Cairo this week.

The Palestinian group said it was sticking to its previous demands, insisting on “a permanent ceasefire” and the “withdrawal of the occupation army from the entire Gaza Strip”.

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European states to move on Palestine recognition as Gaza war rages

European states to move on Palestine recognition as Gaza war rages

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European states to move on Palestine recognition as Gaza war rages

 At least three European countries were expected to announce steps towards recognising a Palestinian state on Wednesday, after more than seven months of devastating fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Irish media reported that the government was expected to announce its formal recognition of a Palestinian state at a press conference by premier Simon Harris, deputy premier Micheal Martin and minister Eamon Ryan at 0700 GMT.

Norway was expected to make a similar announcement around the same time, according to two Norwegian newspapers.

And in Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was scheduled to address parliament about setting a date for recognising a Palestinian state.

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Sanchez said in March that Spain and Ireland, along with Slovenia and Malta, had agreed to take their first steps towards Palestinian recognition, seeing a two-state solution as essential for lasting peace.

Israel’s foreign ministry posted a video addressed to Ireland on X on Tuesday warning that “recognising a Palestinian state risks turning you into a pawn in the hands of Iran and Hamas”.

And Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli previously accused Sanchez’s government of believing “that the Palestinians should be rewarded for the massacre” perpetrated by Hamas and its allies in southern Israel on October 7.

Hamas’s October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

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Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,647 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Fighting has raged around the far southern city of Rafah, the last part of Gaza to face a ground invasion — but a resumption of fighting has also been reported in the northern Jabalia area, where Hamas forces have regrouped.

An AFP team in Rafah reported air and artillery strikes in and around the city early Wednesday.

‘Running out of words’

Israeli troops began their ground assault on parts of Rafah early this month, defying international opposition including from top ally the United States, which voiced fears for the more than one million civilians trapped in the city.

Israel has ordered mass evacuations from the city, where it has vowed to eliminate Hamas’s tunnel network and its remaining fighters.

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The UN says more than 800,000 people have fled Rafah, with Edem Wosornu of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs saying most of the displaced had gone to camps in Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah where “they lack adequate latrines, water points, drainage and shelter”.

The World Health Organization has said northern Gaza’s last two functioning hospitals, Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan, were besieged by Israeli forces, with more than 200 patients trapped inside.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Tuesday said aid distribution had been suspended in Rafah “due to lack of supplies and insecurity”.

Warrant request

Starvation was among the allegations made against Israel by International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan when he announced on Monday that he had applied for arrest warrants for leaders on both sides, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In an interview with CNN, the prime minister described Khan as a “rogue prosecutor who has put false charges”, adding that “he didn’t check the facts”.

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The warrant request also targeted Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as Hamas’s Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh and its Gaza military and political chiefs, Mohammed Deif and Yahya Sinwar.

US President Joe Biden has backed Netanyahu in condemning the warrant request as “outrageous”.

If granted by the ICC judges, the warrants would mean that any of the 124 ICC member states would be required to arrest Netanyahu and the others if they travelled there.

However, the court has no mechanism to enforce its orders.

Broadcast ban walked back

Israel on Tuesday shut down an Associated Press live video feed from war-torn Gaza and confiscated its equipment, before reversing the move hours later after the White House intervened.

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The US news agency said Israel had accused it of violating a ban on Al Jazeera, which was ordered shut two weeks ago based on a new Israeli law governing foreign broadcasters.

Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi later announced he had issued an order to cancel the ban and return the equipment.

AP said that while it was “pleased with this development, we remain concerned about the Israeli government’s use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel”.

Israeli forces, meanwhile, were also engaged in deadly clashes in the other major Palestinian territory, the occupied West Bank.

At least eight Palestinians were killed in the northern city of Jenin, the Ramallah-based health ministry said, as the army said it was “fighting armed men” in a “counterterrorism operation”.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa said a hospital surgeon, a schoolteacher and a student were among those killed in Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian militant groups. 

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Volunteers race to save Mexico’s howler monkeys in heat wave

Volunteers race to save Mexico’s howler monkeys in heat wave

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Volunteers race to save Mexico's howler monkeys in heat wave

 Volunteers are rushing to hoist food and water up into trees in sweltering southern Mexico, but help came too late for the howler monkeys whose lifeless bodies lay still on the ground.

Dozens of the primates are reported to have dropped dead from trees in recent weeks, alarming conservationists trying to keep the monkeys hydrated during a heat wave.

Victor Morato and his team at a veterinary hospital in the town of Comalcalco in Tabasco state have treated eight howler monkeys brought in by residents.

“When they arrived here in agony, they extended their hand to us as if to say ‘help me’. I had a lump in my throat,” he told AFP.

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Several monkeys arrived at the clinic with body temperatures of around 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit), Morato said.

When they faint from the heat they sometimes fall 20 meters (65 feet), he added.

It is all the more worrying since the Mexican howler (Alouatta palliata mexicana) and the Yucatan black howler (Alouatta pigra) are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The mantled howler (Alouatta palliata), which also lives in southern Mexico as well as Central and South America, is classified as vulnerable on the Red List of Threatened Species.

Authorities investigate

Leonardo Sanchez was among those putting out water and fruit to help the animals on a cocoa plantation in the southern state of Tabasco.

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The thermometer has reached almost 50 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent weeks, the 22-year-old biology student said.

“We’ve had a large number of deaths (of monkeys) due to the increased temperatures,” he said.

Some volunteers carried lime to sprinkle on the bodies of dead primates.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who hails from Tabasco, said Monday the heat was the worst he had known.

“Since I’ve been visiting these states I’ve never felt it as much as I do now,” he said at his regular news conference.

Mexico’s environment ministry has said that it is investigating whether extreme heat was killing the monkeys, with studies under way to rule out a virus or disease.

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Causes under consideration included heat stroke, dehydration, malnutrition or fumigation of crops with pesticides, it said.

In Tabasco, a vulture lingered and flies swarmed near a grave that volunteer Bersabeth Ricardez said contained the bodies of around 30 monkeys.

“Today it’s the monkeys. Tomorrow it will be us,” she said.

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Everest? All in a day’s work for record climber Kami Rita Sherpa

Everest? All in a day’s work for record climber Kami Rita Sherpa

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Everest? All in a day's work for record climber Kami Rita Sherpa

Scaling the world’s highest peak is all in a day’s work for 54-year-old Nepali mountaineer Kami Rita Sherpa, a man breezily modest about having set foot on the summit of Everest more times than any other person.

On Wednesday morning, Sherpa scaled Everest for the 30th time in three decades of climbing the mountain, extending his own record just 10 days after his last successful ascent.

“I am glad for the record, but records are eventually broken,” Sherpa told AFP last week after his 29th successful climb.

“I am happier that my climbs help Nepal be recognised in the world.”

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Dubbed the “Everest Man”, he has held the record since 2018 and his closest rival is now three summits back.

“I did not climb for world records, I was just working,” he said in a 2019 interview. “I did not even know you could set records earlier.”

A living legend of mountaineering, Sherpa was born in 1970 in Thame, a village in the Himalayas famed as a breeding ground of successful mountaineers.

The community’s most famous son, Tenzing Norgay, made the first successful climb of Everest’s 8,849-metre (29,029-foot) peak alongside New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary in 1953.

Growing up, Sherpa watched his father and then his brother don climbing gear to join expeditions as mountain guides, and was soon following in their footsteps.

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A guide for about four decades, he first reached the summit in 1994 while working for a commercial expedition, and has repeated the feat almost every year since.

In 2018, he ascended Everest for the 22nd time, breaking the previous record he shared with two other Sherpa climbers — both of whom have retired.

The following year, aged 49, he conquered Everest twice in six days.

‘The risk we take’

He briefly shared the record last year when another guide, Pasang Dawa Sherpa, equalled his then total of 27 summits.

But he quickly reclaimed it on his own that season with his 28th summit.

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Sherpa has reached the top of four other of the highest Himalayan mountains — K2, Lhotse, Manaslu, and Cho Oyu — and has a world record 44 summits of peaks higher than 8,000 metres.

As a senior climber, he has on numerous occasions led the team that fixes ropes leading up to Everest’s summit, an annual practice before the climbing season begins that makes the ascent safer.

In recent years, he has recounted his own observations of the impact of climate change on the weather patterns on the mountains.

“We now see rock exposed in areas where there used to be snow before. Not just on Everest, other mountains are also losing their snow and ice. It is worrying,” he told AFP in 2022.

He has also been a regular advocate of the importance of Nepali mountain guides and the need for more action to recognise their contributions.

Ethnic Sherpas from the valleys around Everest are a crucial component of Nepal’s lucrative mountaineering industry, which nets the Himalayan republic millions every year.

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With their unique ability to work in a low-oxygen, high-altitude atmosphere, they are the backbone of climbing expeditions, helping clients and hauling equipment up Himalayan peaks.

“It would not be possible for many foreign climbers to summit mountains without our help and the risk we take,” Sherpa said in a 2021 interview. 

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