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Israel to press on in Gaza after Iran attack

Tel Aviv demands sanctions against Teheran amid world's call for restraint

China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-16 07:25
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Iranian demonstrators chant slogans during an anti-Israel gathering in front of the British embassy in Teheran on Sunday. VAHID SALEMI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

GAZA STRIP — Israel launched dozens of airstrikes on Gaza overnight, Hamas said on Monday, as the army said it will not be distracted from the fighting after Iran's unprecedented attack heightened fears of a wider conflict.

World powers have urged restraint after Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday, though the Israeli military said the vast majority were intercepted.

Iran's permanent mission to the United Nations said the country's military action against Israel was based on Article 51 of the UN Charter regarding the legitimate right to self-defense and in response to the deadly Israeli attack against the Iranian consulate in Syria on April 1.

"Even while under attack from Iran, we have not lost sight, not for one moment, of our critical mission in Gaza" to rescue hostages, Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Sunday.

As mediators eye a deal to halt the fighting, triggered by Hamas' Oct 7 attack, fears grew over Israeli plans to send troops into Rafah, a far-southern city where the majority of Gaza's 2.4 million people have taken refuge.

"Hamas is still holding our hostages in Gaza," Hagari said of the roughly 130 people who Israel says remain in the hands of Palestinian militants since the Hamas attack.

The army said it was "calling up approximately two reserve brigades for operational activities on the Gazan front", about a week after withdrawing most ground troops from the territory.

The Hamas government media office said Israeli aircraft launched "dozens" of strikes overnight on central Gaza.

Hamas' Oct 7 attack that sparked the fighting resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,797 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory's Hamasrun health ministry.

In a meeting on Monday with Ambassador of Israel to China Irit Ben-Abba Vitale, Special Envoy of the Chinese Government on the Middle East Issue Zhai Jun elaborated China's principled position on the Gaza conflict, saying bloodshed and conflict do not serve the interests of any party and the top priority is to immediately cease fire in the Gaza Strip, ensure humanitarian assistance and release all hostages as soon as possible.

The Palestinian issue should achieve a political settlement on the basis of the two-state solution, thereby realizing peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine, Zhai said.

'On the brink'

On Sunday, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting following the Iranian attack, where Israel pressed for new sanctions against Teheran, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the region was "on the brink" of war.

"Neither the region nor the world can afford more war," Guterres said. "Now is the time to defuse and de-escalate."

Dai Bing, charge d'affaires of China's permanent mission to the UN, said at the meeting that Iran's retaliatory attacks on Israel are the "latest spillover of the Gaza conflict", and called for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2728 and an immediate end to the Palestine-Israel conflict.

The current situation shows that the Palestinian question "remains central to the Middle East issue and bears on the peace, stability and long-term security in the region", Dai said.

"China calls on relevant parties to exercise maximum calm and restraint and resolve their differences and disputes in accordance with the purposes of the UN Charter and international law to prevent further escalations," he said.

Iran's UN envoy Amir Saeid Iravani said Iran is "never seeking to contribute to the spillover of the conflict in the region" nor does it want to escalate or spread the tension to the entire region, and it has "no intention of engaging in conflict with the US in the region".

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, accused Iran of violating international law.

"This attack crossed all red lines and Israel reserves the legal right to respond," Erdan said.

European Union and G7 leaders called on Sunday for preventing a further escalation of the situation in the Middle East.

"Ending the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible, notably through an immediate cease-fire, will make a difference," European Council President Charles Michel said on social media.

Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said he has called an extraordinary meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday "to contribute to de-escalation and security of the region".

In a joint statement, G7 leaders emphasized "the need to avoid further escalation, calling on the parties to refrain from actions aimed at exacerbating tension in the region".

Israel's top ally the United States also urged caution and calm.

"We don't want to see this escalate," White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told NBC.

After the attack, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed Washington's "ironclad" support for Israel, but a senior US official said the president had also told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not offer military support for any retaliation on Iran.

Minlu Zhang at the United Nations and Zhao Jia in Beijing contributed to this story.

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