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Iran, Israel appear to pull back from brink as US approves military aid

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Tehran, Iran—Iran and Israel appeared to step back from the brink of broader conflict as lawmakers in the United States approved new Israeli military aid on Saturday despite growing criticism of its ally’s war in Gaza.

Iran downplayed Israel’s reported retaliation for its unprecedented drone and missile attack, tamping down fears that escalating attacks between the arch enemies could tip over into a broader war in the Middle East.

However, a deadly blast at an Iraqi military base underlined the persisting tensions in the region, as did more deadly Israeli strikes in Gaza and intensifying clashes in the West Bank.

Aiming to bolster Israel’s defenses, including its Iron Dome air defense system, the US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in new military assistance for the country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the aid bill, writing on X, formerly Twitter, that it “demonstrates strong bipartisan support for Israel and defends Western civilization.”

But the Palestinian presidency condemned it as “an aggression against the Palestinian people” and a “dangerous escalation.”

The money would “translate into thousands of Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip” and the West Bank, said Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Iran plays down Israel attack

After Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones a week ago in Tehran’s first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory, Israel had warned it would hit back.

The Iran attack was itself in retaliation for an air strike—widely blamed on Israel—that levelled the Iranian consulate in Damascus and killed seven Revolutionary Guards on April 1.

The Israeli retaliation appeared to come on Friday, when Iranian media reported blasts in the central province of Isfahan.

Fars news agency reported “three explosions” close to Qahjavarestan, near Isfahan airport and the 8th Shekari army airbase.

“What happened last night was no attack,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told NBC News.

“It was the flight of two or three quadcopters, which are at the level of toys that our children use in Iran,” he added.

“As long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests, we will have no response.”

No Israeli comment

Israeli officials have made no public comment on what—according to a senior US congressional source who spoke to Agence France Presse (AFP)—were retaliatory Israeli strikes against Iran.

While tensions rose after the attack on Iran’s consulate, violence involving Iran-backed groups had already been surging across the Middle East since the outbreak of the Gaza war.

Officials in Iraq said one person was killed and eight wounded in an explosion at a military base south of Baghdad housing pro-Iranian armed groups.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah group said three of its fighters were killed in an Israeli strike in south Lebanon on Saturday.

The Hamas ally has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with the Israeli army since the Gaza war began.

Violence has also flared in the other occupied Palestinian territory, the West Bank.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least 14 people had been killed during a 40-hour Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

The Israeli army said it killed 10 militants during the raid on Nur Shams camp. The Palestinian health ministry said 11 people were wounded, including a paramedic, who was shot trying to reach earlier casualties.

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