US Condemns Sentencing of Iranian Singer Shervin Hajipour

FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
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US Condemns Sentencing of Iranian Singer Shervin Hajipour

FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
FILE - First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

The United States on Monday condemned the sentencing of an Iranian singer who won a Grammy award in 2023 for a song that became an anthem for mass Iranian protests after the death of Mahsa Amin while in the custody of the morality police.

Iranian singer and songwriter Shervin Hajipour said on his Instagram account last week that he had been sentenced to more than three years in prison. He was convicted for incitement and provocation of people to disturb national security through his music, local rights advocates noted.
Hajipour, 26, wrote and published the song "Baraye" following the death in police custody of Amini.
US first lady Jill Biden described the song as a "powerful and poetic call for freedom and women's rights" when she presented him last year with the first-ever song for social change Grammy award for "Baraye." A song "can ultimately change the world," she said at the time.

"We condemn the years long prison sentence for Shervin Hajipour," US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters in a press briefing on Monday.

"The Iranian government's actions are just another signal of their intent to crackdown on freedom of expression and repress voices inside their own society whenever possible."

Amini, 22, was arrested in Tehran in 2022 for "unsuitable attire" by the morality police. Her death in police custody sparked huge protests in Iran and by Iranians in other parts of the world.



Argentina Court Blames Iran for Deadly 1994 Bombing of Jewish Center

Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)
Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)
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Argentina Court Blames Iran for Deadly 1994 Bombing of Jewish Center

Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)
Firemen and policemen search for wounded people after a bomb exploded at the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, 18 July 1994. (AFP)

Over three decades after deadly attacks in Buenos Aires targeted Israel's embassy and a Jewish center, an Argentine court placed the blame Thursday on Iran and declared it a "terrorist state," according to local media.

The ruling, cited by press reports, said Iran had ordered the attack in 1992 on Israel's embassy and the 1994 attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) Jewish center.

The court also implicated the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah and called the attack against the AMIA -- the deadliest in Argentina's history -- a "crime against humanity," according to court documents cited by media reports.

"Hezbollah carried out an operation that responded to a political, ideological and revolutionary design under the mandate of a government, of a State," Carlos Mahiques, one of the three judges who issued the decision, told Radio Con Vos, referencing Iran.

In 1992, a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy left 29 dead. Two years later, a truck loaded with explosives drove into the AMIA Jewish center and detonated, leaving 85 dead and 300 injured.

The 1994 assault has never been claimed or solved, but Argentina and Israel have long suspected Lebanon's Hezbollah group carried it out at Iran's request.

Prosecutors charged top Iranian officials with ordering the attack. Tehran has denied any involvement.

Argentina has the largest Jewish community in Latin America, with some 300,000 members.

It also is home to immigrant communities from the Middle East -- from Syria and Lebanon in particular.

The judges ruled Thursday that the AMIA attack was a crime against humanity, and put blame on then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Bahramaie Rafsanjani as well as other Iranian officials and Hezbollah members.

The decision was welcomed by the president of the Delegation of Israelite Associations of Argentina (DAIA), Jorge Knoblovits.

He told Radio Mitre the ruling "is very important, because it enables the victims to go to the International Criminal Court."

Former Argentine president Carlos Menem, who died in 2021 and was the president at the time of both attacks, was tried for covering up the AMIA bombing, but ultimately acquitted.

His former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing the probe.

He was among some dozen defendants who faced a slew of corruption and obstruction of justice charges in the case, including the former judge who led the investigation into the attack, Juan Jose Galeano, who in 2019 was jailed for six years for concealment and violation of evidence.


Massive Attack Destroys One of Ukraine’s Largest Power Plants

 A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)
A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)
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Massive Attack Destroys One of Ukraine’s Largest Power Plants

 A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)
A rescuer works at the site of a Russian military strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 11, 2024. (Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters)

A massive missile and drone attack destroyed one of Ukraine's largest power plants and damaged others, officials said Thursday, part of a renewed Russian campaign targeting energy infrastructure.

The Trypilska plant, which was the biggest energy supplier for the Kyiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr regions, was struck numerous times, destroying the transformer, turbines and generators and leaving the plant ablaze. As the first drone approached, workers hid in a shelter, saving their lives, said Andrii Gota, chairman of the supervisory board of the state company that runs the plant, Centrenergo.

They watched the plant burn, surrounded by dense smoke and engulfed in flames. “It’s terrifying,” said Gota. Hours later, rescuers were still dismantling the rubble.

Speaking in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin cast the attacks on Ukrainian energy facilities as a response to Ukrainian strikes that targeted Russian oil refineries.

The Trypilska plant supplied electricity to 3 million customers — but none lost power because the grid was able to compensate since demands are low at this time of year. Still, the consequences of the strikes could be felt in the coming months, as air conditioning use ramps up with summer.

At least 10 other strikes overnight damaged energy infrastructure in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said more than 200,000 people in the region, which has been struck repeatedly, were without power.

Ukraine's largest private energy operator, DTEK, described the slew of strikes as one of the most powerful attacks this year, while Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko told reporters it was a “large scale, enormous, missile attack that affected our energy sector very badly.”

Russia has recently renewed strikes on Ukrainian energy facilities, and attacks last month blacked out large parts of the country — a level of darkness not seen since the first days of the full-scale invasion in 2022.

The volume and accuracy of the attacks have alarmed the country’s defenders and left officials scrambling for better ways to protect energy assets. The strikes have also tested Ukraine’s ability to make quick repairs.

Ukraine’s leaders have pleaded for more air defense systems to ward off such attacks, but those supplies have been slow in coming.

“Today’s situation demonstrates that there’s nothing left to shoot down” the missiles, Gota said.


US, Japan and South Korea Hold Drills in Disputed Sea as Biden Hosts Leaders of Japan, Philippines

This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)
This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)
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US, Japan and South Korea Hold Drills in Disputed Sea as Biden Hosts Leaders of Japan, Philippines

This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)
This handout photo taken on April 11, 2024 and provided by the South Korean Defence Ministry shows the US Navy's USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier (C), South Korean Navy's destroyer ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong (bottom) and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Ariake (top) sailing in formation during a joint maritime drill in international waters south of the southern Jeju island. (Photo by Handout / South Korean Defense Ministry / AFP)

A US carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt has held a three-day joint exercise with its allies Japan and South Korea as US President Joe Biden met for talks with leaders from Japan and the Philippines at the White House. The dueling military and diplomatic maneuvers are meant to strengthen the partners' solidarity in the face of China’s aggressive military actions in the region.

A number of US and South Korean guided missile destroyers and a Japanese warship joined the April 10-12 drill in the disputed East China Sea, where worries about China territorial claims are rising. The Associated Press was one of several news organizations allowed a front-row look at the drills.

Rear Adm. Christopher Alexander, commander of Carrier Strike Group Nine, said the three nations conducted undersea warfare exercises, maritime interdiction operations, search and rescue drills and work focused on communication and data sharing. He told journalists Thursday on the Roosevelt that these drills would help improve communication among the United States and its allies and "better prepare us for a crisis in the region."

F/A-18E Super Hornet combat jets took off from the carrier’s flight deck, which also had anti-submarine MH-60R Seahawk helicopters. Journalists were flown more than an hour from Kadena Air Base, the hub of US Pacific air power. Kadena is on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, which is home to about half of the 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan.

"It is a busy time; there is a lot going on in the world," Alexander said. "The significance of this exercise is we have three like-minded countries, three like-minded navies that believe in peace, security and stability in the western Pacific."

The participation of Japan and South Korea was another sign of improving ties between the sometimes wary neighbors. The two US allies' relationship has often been strained by the memory of Japan's half-century colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Washington has been pressing them to cooperate so the three partners can better deal with threats from China and North Korea.

This week's huge parliamentary election defeat of the governing party of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has sought better relations with Japan, could constrain his Japan-friendly efforts, but experts believe ties will remain stable.

The latest naval exercise is part of Biden's work to deepen security and diplomatic engagement with Indo-Pacific nations. Biden invited Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos to the White House for their first trilateral talks Thursday, and has declared that the US defense commitment to the Pacific allies is "ironclad."

Tensions between China and the Philippines have risen over repeated clashes by the two nations’ coast guard vessels in the disputed South China Sea. Chinese coast guard ships also regularly approach disputed Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands near Taiwan.

Beijing has defended its operations in the South China Sea and blamed the United States for creating tensions. China's President Xi Jinping had a series of talks this week with senior officials from Vietnam, Russia and Taiwan.

The US-Japan-South Korea naval exercises follow four-way drills held in the South China Sea, where Japan joined the United States, Australia and the Philippines. Participants carefully avoided mentioning China and said they were holding the exercises to safeguard a peaceful and stable Indo-Pacific.

An area of long-simmering disputes, the South China Sea serves a key sea lane for global trade. Concerned governments include Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Taiwan.


Israeli Man Pleads Not Guilty to Firearms Offences in Malaysia

Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Israeli Man Pleads Not Guilty to Firearms Offences in Malaysia

Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Israeli Shalom Avitan (C) is escorted by Royal Malaysia Police officers as they arrived at Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 12 April 2024. (EPA)

An Israeli man, who was arrested in Malaysia last month carrying six guns and dozens of bullets, pleaded not guilty in a Kuala Lumpur court on Friday to charges of unauthorized trafficking and possession of firearms, his lawyer said.

Shalom Avitan, 38, faces two charges of illegally trafficking six guns and unauthorized possession of 158 bullets, the lawyer, Jeffrey Ooi, told Reuters.

Avitan arrived in Malaysia from the United Arab Emirates on March 12 on a French passport, police said. He was detained by police at a Kuala Lumpur hotel with a bag containing the weapons on March 27 and produced an Israeli passport upon questioning, officials have said.

Security was tight around the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex on Friday. Avitan was escorted into court by more than a dozen police officials.

Malaysia has harsh penalties for gun offences. If convicted, Avitan could face up to 40 years in prison, and no less than six strokes of the cane.

Police are investigating Avitan's motives and have not ruled out the possibility that he could be part of an Israeli crime ring, or a spy. Officials have said Avitan claimed he was in Malaysia to hunt down another Israeli citizen over a family dispute.

A married Malaysian couple was charged earlier this week with supplying the firearms to Avitan. Police have detained eight other people, including two Turkish nationals and a Georgian man, in connection with the case, state media reported.

Authorities beefed up border security following Avitan's arrest, given the country's criticism of Israel's actions in the Gaza war. Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.


IAEA Chief Says Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant Attacks Risk Dangerous Shift in Ukraine War

The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
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IAEA Chief Says Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant Attacks Risk Dangerous Shift in Ukraine War

The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)
The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters before an emergency meeting at the request of both Ukraine and Russia, to discuss attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, after both countries accused each other of drone attacks, in Vienna, Austria April 11, 2024. (Reuters)

Drone attacks on the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine must stop as they could pose "a new and gravely dangerous" stage in the war, the UN nuclear watchdog chief told his agency's 35-nation Board of Governors on Thursday.

Drones attacked Zaporizhzhia, Europe's biggest nuclear power plant, on Sunday, hitting a reactor building in the worst such incident since November 2022, though nuclear safety was not compromised, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said.

Moscow and Kyiv have repeatedly accused one another of targeting the plant since Russia seized it weeks after it invaded Ukraine. Both countries requested an emergency meeting of the IAEA's Board soon after Sunday's attack.

"The most recent attacks ... have shifted us into an acutely consequential juncture in this war," IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the Board gathering.

He called on the Board to "unanimously to support the role of the IAEA in monitoring" principles aimed at preventing an accident at the plant, including that it not be attacked.

Since no draft resolutions have been submitted to the Board meeting, it is likely to boil down to an exchange of statements by the countries convening behind closed doors in Vienna.

"We are meeting today, and I will meet with the UN Security Council next week, because it is of paramount importance to ensure these reckless attacks do not mark the beginning of a new and gravely dangerous front of the war," Grossi said, adding: "Strikes must cease."

Russia's representative to international organisations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, described as a "very serious flaw" Grossi's failure to single out Ukraine as the guilty party.

"I get the feeling that they are afraid," Russian news agencies quoted Ulyanov as telling Russian journalists.

"It is simply not done to speak badly of Ukrainians because they are supposed to be the victims. An atmosphere is being created which essentially encourages the Ukrainian side to commit reckless actions, like these attacks," he said.

But he said he believed there would be no more incidents.

The Ukrainian statement to the meeting said the incident was part of a longstanding Russian disinformation campaign.

"But this time it is many times more dangerous, since these are not just words, but a real encroachment on the physical integrity of a nuclear facility," the statement said.

"Russia's attempt to pin the blame on Ukraine is a desperate effort to hide its guilt."


Biden Administration Closing 'Gun Show Loophole'

Customers shop for handguns at the Des Moines Fairgrounds Gun Show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, US March 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Customers shop for handguns at the Des Moines Fairgrounds Gun Show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, US March 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Biden Administration Closing 'Gun Show Loophole'

Customers shop for handguns at the Des Moines Fairgrounds Gun Show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, US March 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Customers shop for handguns at the Des Moines Fairgrounds Gun Show at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, US March 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

The White House announced a crackdown on firearms sales at gun shows and over the internet that evade US federal background checks.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who heads the White House Office on Gun Violence Prevention, told reporters the move addresses the so-called "gun show loophole."

"Currently, gun stores are required by law to conduct a background check for every gun sale," Harris said.

"But for decades, many dealers who sell weapons someplace other than the traditional gun store... have gotten away without conducting background checks," she said.

"All gun dealers now must conduct background checks, no matter where or how they sell their merchandise."

Gun violence is common in the United States, a country where there are more firearms than people. Attempts to clamp down on gun rights are always met with stiff political resistance.

Harris said thousands of unlicensed dealers sell tens of thousands of guns a year without conducting background checks.

Among those who have been able to purchase firearms through the "gun show loophole" are domestic abusers and violent felons, she said.

"Under this regulation, it will not matter if guns are sold on the internet, at a gun show, or at a brick-and-mortar store," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

"If you sell guns predominantly to earn a profit, you must be licensed, and you must conduct background checks," Garland said.

A senior White House official said the Biden administration expects the move will be challenged in court by gun rights groups.

"All of the major actions that the president has taken to reduce gun violence have been challenged," the official said. "And in court after court, the actions are frequently being upheld.

"We have confidence that this is legal."


North Korea's Kim Jong Un Says Now Is Time to be Ready for War

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a military university in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this picture released on April 11, 2024 by the Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a military university in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this picture released on April 11, 2024 by the Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights
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North Korea's Kim Jong Un Says Now Is Time to be Ready for War

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a military university in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this picture released on April 11, 2024 by the Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a military university in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this picture released on April 11, 2024 by the Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS Purchase Licensing Rights

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said unstable geopolitical situations surrounding his country mean now is the time to be more prepared for war than ever, as he inspected the country's main military university, KCNA news agency said on Thursday.

Kim gave field guidance on Wednesday at Kim Jong Il University of Military and Politics, named after his father who died in 2011, which KCNA said is the "highest seat of military education" in the country.

North Korea has stepped up weapons development in recent years under Kim and has forged closer military and political ties with Russia, allegedly aiding Moscow in its war with Ukraine in return for help with strategic military projects.

Kim told university staff and students that "if the enemy opts for military confrontation with the DPRK, the DPRK will deal a death-blow to the enemy without hesitation by mobilizing all means in its possession," KCNA reported.

DPRK is short for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name, Reuters reported.

"Outlining the complicated international situation ... and the uncertain and unstable military and political situation around the DPRK, he said that now is the time to be more thoroughly prepared for a war than ever before," KCNA said.

Earlier this month, Kim supervised the test launch of a new hypersonic intermediate-range ballistic missile using solid fuel, which analysts said would bolster the North's ability to deploy missiles more effectively than liquid-fuel variants.

North Korea has accused the United States and South Korea of provoking military tensions by conducting what it called "war maneuvers" as the allies have conducted military drills with greater intensity and scale in recent months.


Israeli Defense Minister Says Direct Iranian Attack Would Require Appropriate Response

 An Israeli tank maneuvers next to the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, April 10, 2024. (Reuters)
An Israeli tank maneuvers next to the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, April 10, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israeli Defense Minister Says Direct Iranian Attack Would Require Appropriate Response

 An Israeli tank maneuvers next to the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, April 10, 2024. (Reuters)
An Israeli tank maneuvers next to the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, April 10, 2024. (Reuters)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that Israel would respond directly to any attack by Iran.

“A direct Iranian attack will require an appropriate Israeli response against Iran," Gallant told US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, according to remarks issued by his office.

The Pentagon said the two discussed the United States' "iron-clad" commitment to Israel's security against threats from Iran and its proxies.

"Echoing President Biden's unequivocal message to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary Austin assured Minister Gallant that Israel could count on full US support to defend Israel against Iranian attacks, which Tehran has publicly threatened," the Pentagon said.

It added that a visit by the top US general for the Middle East, Army General Michael "Erik" Kurilla, to Israel had been moved up so he could meet with Israeli military leadership and discuss "current security threats." Kurilla has been travelling to Israel regularly in recent months.


Chinese Official Talks with North Korean Counterpart in Nations’ Highest-Level Meeting in Years

Zhao Leji, current Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee member, applauds as he is introduced as a member of the Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022. (AFP)
Zhao Leji, current Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee member, applauds as he is introduced as a member of the Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022. (AFP)
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Chinese Official Talks with North Korean Counterpart in Nations’ Highest-Level Meeting in Years

Zhao Leji, current Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee member, applauds as he is introduced as a member of the Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022. (AFP)
Zhao Leji, current Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee member, applauds as he is introduced as a member of the Communist Party of China's Politburo Standing Committee, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 23, 2022. (AFP)

A top Chinese official arrived in North Korea and held talks on how to boost their cooperation, North Korea’s state media reported Friday, in the counties’ highest-level meeting in about five years.

Zhao Leji, who is chairman of China’s National People’s Congress and considered the No. 3 official in the ruling Communist Party, arrived in North Korea on Thursday. China’s government earlier said he will stay in North Korea until Saturday.

Zhao met his North Korean counterpart Choe Ryong Hae later Thursday and discussed how to promote exchanges and cooperation on all areas such as politics, economy and culture, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

The two also exchanged views on unspecified regional and international issues of mutual concerns, KCNA said.

Zhao is one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s top leadership body headed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Zhao's visit to North Korea marked the first bilateral exchange involving a Chinese Politburo Standing Committee member since the coronavirus pandemic started. In 2019, the two countries held two summit meetings between Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Observers say North Korea and China are expected to hold a number of exchanges this year to mark the 75th year since they established diplomatic ties.

North Korea has been seeking to boost its cooperation with China and Russia in the face of a standoff with the United States and South Korea over the North's advancing nuclear program.

China, North Korea’s biggest aid benefactor, is believed to have long provided clandestine assistance to North Korea in violation of international sanctions.

Kim traveled to Russia in September for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The US, South Korea and others accuse North Korea of supplying conventional weapons for Russia’s war in Ukraine in return for advanced weapons technologies and other support.


US Does Not Expect to Be Drawn into War but Predicts Attack by Iran against Israel

Iranians burn an Israeli flag during a rally marking Quds Day and the funeral of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who were killed in a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy complex in the Syrian capital Damascus, in Tehran, Iran, April 5, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Iranians burn an Israeli flag during a rally marking Quds Day and the funeral of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who were killed in a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy complex in the Syrian capital Damascus, in Tehran, Iran, April 5, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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US Does Not Expect to Be Drawn into War but Predicts Attack by Iran against Israel

Iranians burn an Israeli flag during a rally marking Quds Day and the funeral of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who were killed in a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy complex in the Syrian capital Damascus, in Tehran, Iran, April 5, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Iranians burn an Israeli flag during a rally marking Quds Day and the funeral of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who were killed in a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy complex in the Syrian capital Damascus, in Tehran, Iran, April 5, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

The United States expects an attack by Iran against Israel but one that would not be big enough to draw Washington into war, a US official said late on Thursday.

The White House said earlier Washington did not want conflict to spread in the Middle East and the US had told Iran it was not involved in an air strike against a top Iranian military commander in Damascus.

The White House added it warned Iran to not use that attack as a pretext to escalate further in the region.

Suspected Israeli warplanes bombed Iran's embassy in Damascus on Monday in a strike for which Iran has vowed revenge and in which a top Iranian general and six other Iranian military officers were killed, ratcheting up tension in a region already strained by the Gaza war.

Iranian sources told Reuters Tehran has signaled to Washington that it will respond to Israel's attack on its Syrian embassy in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it will not act hastily, as Tehran presses demands including a Gaza truce.

The United States has been on high alert about possible retaliatory strikes from Iran and US envoys have been working to lower tensions.

Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Israel's military assault on Hamas-governed Gaza has since killed over 33,000 according to the local health ministry, displaced nearly all of Gaza's 2.3 million population, caused a humanitarian crisis and led to genocide allegations that Israeli denies.

Iran-backed groups have declared support for Palestinians, waging attacks from Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq. Tehran has avoided direct confrontation with Israel or the United States, while declaring support for its allies.