Palestinians help an injured girl following Israeli bombardment on the Firas market area in Gaza City on April 11, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

GAZA STRIP: Israel was on alert on Thursday after its arch foe Iran threatened reprisals over a strike in Syria this month that killed two Iranian generals, and as the war against Hamas ground on in Gaza.

Days after Israel strengthened its air defences and paused leave for combat units, the United States also warned of the risk of an attack by Iran or its allied groups at a time Middle East tensions have soared.

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Iran is “threatening to launch a significant attack on Israel,” US President Joe Biden said Wednesday, pledging “ironclad” support for its top regional ally despite diplomatic tensions over Israel’s military conduct in Gaza.

Israel was widely blamed for an April 1 attack that destroyed Iran’s consulate building in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards, including two generals.

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Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Wednesday that Israel “must be punished and will be punished”, days after one of his advisers said Israeli embassies are “no longer safe”.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz swiftly replied on social media site X that “if Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack Iran”.

Biden said he had told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that “our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad”.

The Axios news site reported that US Central Command chief Michael Kurilla was to visit Israel to discuss the situation with Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

During a visit to an airbase in central Israel, the prime minister spoke of “challenging times” on multiple fronts.

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Displaced Palestinians flee gaza's Rafah on April 11, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

“We are in the middle of the war in Gaza which continues in full force... but we are also preparing for scenarios of challenges from other arenas,” Netanyahu said in comments released by his office

Moscow called on both Iran and Israel to exercise restraint, after earlier warning Russians to refrain from travelling to Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on X, formerly Twitter, urged “maximum restraint”, and Lufthansa said it had extended a temporary suspension of Iran flights until Saturday.

Israel and the United States have long faced off against Iran and its so-called “Axis of Resistance” allies based in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

‘Panic among children’

Regional tensions have been stoked by the Gaza war which broke out after Hamas launched their October 7 attack against Israel, which left 1,170 people dead, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Palestinian militants also took about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.

Iran has said it had no advance knowledge of October’s attack but has hailed the assault against its decades-old enemy.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,545 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

The Israeli military reported overnight operations in central Gaza which had also involved its navy and air force “to eliminate terrorist operatives”.

In Gaza’s Nuseirat area, Imad Abu Shawish, 39, said “the situation is dire and still getting worse, bombardment hasn’t stopped and is still happening now.

“We hear the sounds of missiles falling near us before they explode, which is causing panic among my children and other family members.”

Much of Gaza has been reduced to a bomb-cratered wasteland, with yet more bodies feared under the rubble.

An Israeli siege has deprived Gaza’s 2.4 million people of most food, water, fuel and medicines, the dire shortages only alleviated by sporadic aid deliveries.

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said Wednesday “Hamas is defeated” militarily but pledged to keep fighting “what remains of it” in the years to come.

An Israeli air strike on Wednesday killed three sons of Hamas’s Qatar-based leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Haniyeh’s brother Nahed told AFP in Gaza that their family are “in the same situation” as other Gazans.

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Children play on Eid in Gaza. Image Credit: AFP

“There is no difference between the sons of leaders and the sons of the people,” he said.

Ismail Haniyeh insisted his sons’ deaths would not influence Hamas’s position in ongoing talks in Cairo for a truce and hostage release deal.

Those talks, which started Sunday, have brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, which Hamas said it was studying.

The framework plan would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as well as more aid deliveries.

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Children having good time on Rafah beach on Eid. Image Credit: AFP

Biden said that “it’s now up to Hamas, they need to move on the proposal that’s been made”.

Israel accused Hamas Thursday of “walking away” from what government spokesman David Mencer called “a very reasonable offer on the table”.

‘Destabilising Middle East’

Washington has also ramped up pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a truce, increase aid flows and abandon plans to send troops into Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah.

About 1.5 million civilians are sheltering in Rafah, the last Gazan city yet to face a ground incursion.

Biden labelled Netanyahu’s handling of the war a “mistake” in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.

Gallant promised Israel would “flood Gaza with aid”, using an Israeli crossing point, streamlined checks and two new routes organised with Jordan.

He said they expected to hit 500 aid trucks a day, the pre-war average.

However, a UN Security Council statement on Thursday said “more should be done to bring the required relief given the scale of needs in Gaza”.

Israel has faced a chorus of international criticism over its handling of the war.

Spain is among several Western nations, including Ireland and Australia, to have suggested they would recognise a Palestinian state as a starting point for wider peace talks.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that Israel’s “disproportionate response” in Gaza risked “destabilising the Middle East and, as a consequence, the entire world”.