Middle East crisis live: Israel has carried out an attack on Iran, US officials say, after blasts reported near Isfahan | Israel-Gaza war


US officials confirm Israel carried out operation against Iran

Julian Borger

Julian Borger

US officials have confirmed that Israel has carried out military operations against Iran but did not describe those operations.

They said Israel warned the Biden administration earlier on Thursday that the strike was coming in the next 24 to 48 hours.

According to CNN, the Israelis assured their US counterparts that Iran’s nuclear facilities would not be targeted.

Iranian state media has confirmed only that air defence opened fire on drones in Isfahan province, bringing them down.

There were also Iranian reports of air defences working around Tabriz.

Key events

Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

Sirens were reported in northern Israel where exchanges between Israeli forces and Hezbollah have, however, been an almost daily occurrence over the past six months.

Reuters now reports that the Israeli military said those warning sirens in the north were a false alarm.

Responding to reports that Israel had carried out an operation against Iran early on Friday morning, an IDF spokesperson said that, at this stage, there is no change in the public safety directives adding if there are any changes in the future, the public would be informed.

An hour after the first reports emerged from the US and Iran, usually well informed Israeli military correspondents had no confirmation as to whether Israel had carried out a strike on the city of Isfahan or in what way.

However both Bloomberg and CNN, quoting US officials, suggested the Biden administration had been warned of an imminent attack.

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Nuclear sites unharmed – Iran state TV

Nuclear sites in Iran’s province of Isfahan remain unharmed, according to Iran’s state TV.

Air defence systems were activated in the city of Isfahan against suspected drones on Friday, reports Reuters news agency.

Iranian State TV also says that ‘at around 12:30am GMT three drones were observed in the sky over Isfahan. The air defense system became active and destroyed these drones in the sky.”

Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

The explosions that have been reported so far appear to have been at a major Iranian base, the Shahid Salami airbase in the Iranian city of Isfahan. There are reports of explosions also occurring in southern Syria and Iraq, although details remain sketchy for now.

According to Mehr news agency there are reports that flights to Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and all other airports in west Iran have been suspended.

So far there has been no official comment from Israeli sources as the country approaches the period of the Passover holidays, however, sirens were heard in the south of the country.

Air defence systems in the Iranian city of Isfahan were activated against “an object suspected to be a drone”, sources told the semi-official Fars news agency on Friday, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, US media is reporting that Israel has launched a strike against Iran in retaliation for its weekend attack.

The Israeli military has not immediately responded to a request for comment, according to Associated Press.

ABC and CBS News reported the strikes early Friday Mideast time, quoting US officials.

There was no immediate comment from the White House or Pentagon.

Iran activated its air defense system over several cities, state media reported, after the country’s official broadcaster said explosions were heard near the central city of Isfahan.

Israel had warned it would hit back after Iran fired hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel over the weekend. Most of them were intercepted.

That strike came in the wake of an attack on Iran’s consulate in Damascus widely blamed on Israel.

Here is a map of Iran – you can see Tehran and its proximity to Isfahan.

Iran has suspended flights over several cities including the central city of Isfahan, where state media earlier reported explosions were heard near its airport.

Isfahan is home to a major airbase for the Iranian military. It is about 350 kilometres (215 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran.

Map showing Iran, Tehran and Isfahan
Map showing Iran, Tehran and Isfahan

Iran fires defence batteries – state-run IRNA news agency

Iran has fired air defense batteries early Friday morning after reports of explosions near the city of Isfahan, the state-run IRNA news agency says

IRNA said the defenses fired across several provinces, reports Associated Press. It did not elaborate on what caused the batteries to fire, though people across the area reported hearing the sounds.

The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported the sound of blasts, without giving a cause. State television acknowledged “loud noise” in the area as well.

It remains unclear if the country is under attack. But tensions remain high in the wider Middle East after Iran’s unprecedented missile-and-drone attack on Israel.

Iran suspends flights over several cities

Iran has suspended flights over several cities including the central city of Isfahan, where state media earlier reported explosions were heard near its airport.

“Flights over Isfahan, Shiraz and Tehran cities have been suspended,” state media reported, according to Reuters.

A short time ago, Iran’s Fars news agency said explosions had been heard in central Isfahan airport – but the reasons were unknown.

Isfahan is home to a major airbase for the Iranian military, as well as sites associated with its nuclear program. It is about 350 kilometres (215 miles) south of Iran’s capital, Tehran.

Iran’s government offered no immediate comment.

Associated Press also reported that Commercial flights had begun diverting their routes early Friday morning over western Iran, without explanation.

Dubai-based carriers Emirates and FlyDubai began diverting around western Iran early Friday. They offered no explanation, though local warnings to aviators suggested the airspace may have been closed.

Tensions remain high in the wider Middle East after Iran’s unprecedented missile-and-drone attack on Israel.

Over the weekend, Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles in a retaliatory strike after a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria. Most of the drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory.

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Welcome and opening summary

It’s 5:49am in Tehran and past 5:19am in Tel Aviv – Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency says explosions have been heard in the airport of the central city of Isfahan – but the reasons are unknown.

Commercial flights including Dubai-based carriers Emirates and FlyDubai began diverting their routes early on Friday morning over western Iran without explanation. Local warnings to aviators suggested the airspace may have been closed.

The incident comes as tensions remain high in the wider Middle East after Iran’s unprecedented missile-and-drone attack on Israel. Isfahan is home to a major airbase for the Iranian military, as well as sites associated with its nuclear program.

Over the weekend, Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles in a retaliatory strike after a suspected Israeli strike on its embassy compound in Syria. Most of the drones and missiles were downed before reaching Israeli territory.

I’m Reged Ahmad and we’ll bring you more on this as news develops on our latest blog on the Middle East crisis and the Israel-Gaza war.

But first, here’s a summary of the latest developments:

  • The EU foreign policy chief has warned “we are on the edge” of “a regional war in the Middle East”. “I don’t want to exaggerate but we are on the edge of a war, a regional war in the Middle East, which will be sending shock waves to the rest of the world, and in particular to Europe,” he said. “So stop it.” Borrell, said the existing EU sanctions regime on Iran would be strengthened and expanded to punish Tehran for its attack and help prevent future ones on Israel. At the same time, he said, Israel needed to exercise restraint.

  • The US on Thursday announced new sanctions on Iran targeting its unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) production after its missile and drone strike on Israel last weekend. A US Department of the Treasury statement said the measures targeted 16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the 13 April attack.

  • The UK placed sanctions on Iranian military entities, including the General Staff of the Armed Forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy, an official notice showed on Thursday. The British sanctions target 13 entities or individuals in total, according to the notice.

  • Qatar said it was reassessing its role as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, according to comments made by the gulf state’s prime minister. “Qatar is in the process of a complete re-evaluation of its role,” prime minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani told a Doha news conference. “There is exploitation and abuse of the Qatari role,” he said, adding that Qatar had been the victim of “point-scoring” by “politicians who are trying to conduct election campaigns by slighting the State of Qatar”.

  • The Chinese and Indonesian foreign ministers called for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza after a meeting in Jakarta on Thursday, condemning the humanitarian costs of the ongoing war that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians. Indonesia’s minister of foreign affairs Retno Marsudi told reporters that the two countries share the same view about the importance of a ceasefire and of resolving the Palestinian problem through a two-state solution.

  • European Union leaders have agreed to increase sanctions against Iran as concern grows that Tehran’s unprecedented attack on Israel could fuel a wider war in the Middle East and concern that Iran is supplying weapons to Russia in the war against Ukraine. In an official communique, the EU announced “will take further restrictive measures against Iran, notably in relation to unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles.”

  • The UN security council is due to vote on Thursday on a Palestinian bid for full UN membership, diplomats said, a move that Israel ally the US is expected to block because it would effectively recognise a Palestinian state. The 15-member council had initially been scheduled to vote on the measure on Friday. It will now vote at 5pm EDT (9pm GMT/10pm BST) on Thursday, the diplomats said.

  • The EU has edged closer to calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Middle East after a meeting of the 27 bloc leaders on Wednesday night. Although piggybacking on a UN resolution, Ireland’s taoiseach indicated the significance of the hardened up language in the official communique issued last night. “I welcome the language that has been agreed around ceasefire, not pause but ceasefire, I think that is important,” said Simon Harris Ireland’s taoiseach.

  • David Cameron has said it is clear Israel is “making a decision to act” in response to last weekend’s Iranian mass drone and ballistic missile attack, as Benjamin Netanyahu brushed off calls for restraint and said his country would make its own decisions about how to defend itself. Lord Cameron, the UK foreign secretary, speaking on a visit to Jerusalem, said he hoped the Israeli response would be carried out in a way that minimised escalation.

  • Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight, said An AFP correspondent in Gaza. The Israeli military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day.

  • Gaza’s civil defence said on Thursday it had recovered 11 bodies in the southern city of Khan Younis during the night.

  • Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s al-Salam neighbourhood, the civil defence service said.

  • Al Jazeera’s Tareq Abu Azzoum, reporting from Rafah, described an attack on southern Rafah as “one of the bloodiest” in “wide-ranging attacks on Gaza” overnight by the Israeli military. He also said airstrikes were also recorded in the al-Mughraqa and Deir el-Balah areas.

  • Tareq Abu Azzoum also said that “the Israeli army, meanwhile, withdrew from Nuseirat refugee camp, leaving behind a trail of destruction” and that “civil defence crews are working to recover victims buried in the debris”.

  • Israel has reportedly deployed extra artillery and armoured personnel carriers to the Gaza Strip periphery, suggesting that the military is preparing for its long-threatened ground offensive on Rafah.

  • At least 33,970 Palestinians have been killed and 76,770 injured in Israel’s military offensive on Gaza since 7 October, the Gaza health ministry has said. The Hamas-led ministry figure has increased by 71 deaths since yesterday. It has not been possible for journalists to independently verify the casualty figures being issued during the conflict.

  • Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (Unrwa), told the UN security council on Thursday that “Unrwa personnel detained by Israeli security forces” had “shared harrowing accounts of mistreatment and torture in detention”. Lazzarini demanded an independent investigation and “accountability for the blatant disregard for the protected status of humanitarian workers, operations, and facilities under international law.”

  • Lazzarini also told the UN security council that Unrwa is “under enormous strain” and said that “an insidious campaign to end Unrwa’s operations is under way”. He said calls for the UN agency’s closure are “not about adherence to humanitarian principles”. Instead, he said, the calls are “about ending the refugee status of millions of Palestinians”.

  • Senior US and Israeli officials will hold a virtual meeting on Thursday about Israel’s plans for the southern Gaza city of Rafah as Washington seeks alternatives to an Israeli offensive, a US official said. The meeting is a follow-up to a similar meeting held on 1 April.

  • A Palestinian boy who survived an Israeli airstrike that destroyed his family’s home in November has died during a food aid drop. Zein Oroq was pinned under rubble after the airstrike last year that killed 17 members of his extended family. Although he was injured, he survived. Last week, during an airdrop of aid, 13-year-old Zein was struck by one of the packages and died in hospital on Sunday.

  • Google said on Thursday it had terminated 28 employees after some staff participated in protests against the company’s cloud contract with the Israeli government. Google said it had concluded individual investigations, resulting in the termination of 28 employees, and would continue to investigate and take action as needed. In a statement on Medium, Google workers affiliated with the No Tech for Apartheid campaign called it a “flagrant act of retaliation” and claimed that some employees who did not directly participate in Tuesday’s protests were also among those Google fired.

  • The former mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau has announced that she will be joining hundreds of people from around the world on a Gaza-bound flotilla, expected to set sail from the Mediterranean in the coming days, that will carry at least 5,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid. The flotilla, coined ‘Break the Siege’ is expected to include at least three vessels and is being organised by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

  • The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that, according to Egyptian sources, the US had agreed to the Israeli plan for a military operation in Rafah in exchange for a limited response against Iran. It cited an Egyptian source that spoke with the London-based Qatari newspaper Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. The Guardian has been unable to independently verify the report.

  • With no centralised relief effort in Egypt, Palestinians are relying on grassroots charities for food, rent and clothing. Unlike in neighbouring countries, no UN body has taken responsibility for Palestinians who have fled to Egypt, while Egyptian authorities stand accused of profiting from high border-crossing fees.

  • Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi will visit Pakistan as scheduled next week despite increasing tension in the Middle East, Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Thursday. Ishaq Dar said Raisi will arrive in the capital, Islamabad, on 22 April on an official three-day visit.

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