Connect with us

Published

on

Iran has blamed Israel for a deadly air strike on its consulate in Syria, in which two of its senior military commanders were killed.

Mohammad Reza Zahedi, a senior commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) elite Quds Force, died in the explosion, which destroyed the Iranian consulate building in the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Mohammad Hadi Haji Rahimi, a deputy commander in the Quds Force, was also killed, along with five other officers, according to the IRGC.

They are the most senior leaders of the force to be killed since the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020.

Damascus map

The IRGC blamed Israel for the strike, as did Iran’s foreign ministry, which labelled it an “abhorrent” and “brutal” attack.

Tehran’s ambassador to Damascus, Hossein Akbari, who was not injured in the strike, promised the Iranian response would be “harsh”.

Israel declined to comment on the incident. The White House also did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Follow live updates on our Middle East blog

Mohammad Reza Zahedi was reportedly killed in the explosion, which destroyed the Iranian consulate building in the Syrian capital, Damascus. Pic: Fars News Agency
Image:
Mohammad Reza Zahedi. Pic: Fars News Agency

Emergency services work at a destroyed building hit by an air strike in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 1, 2024. An Israeli airstrike has destroyed the consular section of Iran's embassy in Damascus, killing or wounding everyone inside, Syrian state media said Monday. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)
Image:
Emergency services work at a destroyed building hit by an air strike in Damascus, Syria. Pic: AP

Emergency services work at a destroyed building hit by an air strike in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April 1, 2024. An Israeli airstrike has destroyed the consular section of Iran's embassy in Damascus, killing or wounding everyone inside, Syrian state media said Monday. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)
Image:
Emergency services work at a destroyed building hit by an air strike in Damascus, Syria. Pic: AP

Read more from Sky News:
Before-and-after photos show scale of hospital destruction
Villagers duped into selling kidneys and told organ would regrow

The deaths of the two commanders and the destruction of the Iranian consulate are likely to further inflame tensions in the Middle East.

Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, called the strike “a breach of all international conventions”.

A spokesperson for the ministry told Iranian state TV that Tehran would decide on the type of “response and punishment against the aggressor”.

Syria’s foreign minister Faisal Mekdad, who later attended the scene, said his country “strongly condemns this atrocious
terrorist attack that targeted the Iranian consulate building in Damascus and killed a number of innocents”.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Pakistan also condemned the attack, while Hamas – which is backed by Iran – said it condemned the strike “in the strongest terms”.

Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad walks with Iran's ambassador in Damascus Hossein Akbari, near a damaged site after what the Iranian media said was an Israeli strike on a building close to the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria April 1, 2024. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi
Image:
Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad walks with Iran’s ambassador in Damascus Hossein Akbari following the strike. Pic: Reuters

Who is Mohammad Reza Zahedi?

A top commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Guardsman Brigadier General Zahedi was a leading figure in its elite Quds Force – a unit specialising in military intelligence and unconventional warfare.

He was a mid-ranking commander during the Iran-Iraq war, having joined the IRGC two years after the revolution of 1979.

Having previously served as a commander in the Revolutionary Guard’s ground forces, he served as the head of the Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon until 2015.

According to the IRGC-affiliated Sabereen News, Guardsman Brigadier General Haji Rahimi was one of Mr Zahedi’s deputies.

He earlier served as the deputy commander of the IRGC Quds Force for coordination but was recently sent to Syria upon his own request to serve as Mr Zahedi’s deputy.

Continue Reading

World

Trail of destruction in Lebanon’s ‘ghost towns’ – as daily explosions fuel fears of escalating war

Published

on

By

Trail of destruction in Lebanon's 'ghost towns' - as daily explosions fuel fears of escalating war

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon has told Sky News the dangers in the region have not gone away and called for calm, wisdom and de-escalation as a matter of urgency.

Joanna Wronecka spoke from her office in Beirut about her worries and appealed for restraint from all those involved.

“I’m very concerned,” she said. “Because we need just a small miscalculation and the situation can escalate even more.”

She was referring to the spike in cross-border firing between the Israeli military and the Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who’ve been trading attacks with growing intensity since 7 October.

UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka
Image:
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka

It’s resulted in around 100,000 Lebanese fleeing their homes along the border and around 80,000 being forced to leave their communities on the Israeli side.

We saw a trail of destruction as we joined a UN peacekeepers patrol in south Lebanon.

UNIFIL peacekeepers
Image:
UN peacekeepers on patrol in south Lebanon.


Village after village, town after town have been left like ghost towns, with those homes still standing now emptied of residents. We saw multiple houses and buildings flattened, craters in roads and acres of farmland left burned and unusable.

In Alma Shaab town, a few hardy folk have opted to stay despite the dangers.

“It’s dangerous to stay here,” Nader Eid said. “But we have to. We have to survive and we have to keep our home safe… and to keep Alma safe.”

Read more:
Middle East violence ‘will not stop until Gaza war ends’
Situation in northern Israel ‘untenable’
Are Israel and Lebanon heading for war?

Exchange of fire is regular and often

Walking past crushed buildings which were once people’s homes, Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Vio from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says the exchange of fire and attacks is regular and often.

“For sure, it’s daily,” he says. “Every day we can count some different kind of activity and in different numbers.”

The UN mission in the country, only weeks ago, marked its 46th anniversary but used it to call for all involved to lay down their weapons and talk peace.

Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Vio
Image:
Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Vio

Before the Hamas attack inside Israel on 7 October, the border area was judged to have enjoyed a relative period of calm and stability but that all changed with the events across the border.

Since then Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops have been exchanging more and more serious fire, violating the terms of an earlier agreement contained in the UN Resolution 1701.

That agreement preserved what’s known as the Blue Line – an official demarcation area on disputed territory between Lebanon and Israel. All sides agreed this would be a demilitarised zone with no militia or military engagement in this area.

But Israeli forces continue to strike inside Lebanon at locations they say are being used by Hezbollah to mount attacks inside Israel.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

IDF footage of alleged strikes on Hezbollah

Hezbollah argues they are mounting strikes in support of the Palestinians under Israeli bombardment in Gaza, as well as distracting IDF troops on a separate additional front.

There are many suspicions among the Lebanese that the Israeli attacks are an attempt to snatch territory from them.

Whatever the motivations, the daily explosions have fuelled concerns across the region over the potential for the war to escalate hugely, drawing in multiple militias in multiple countries.

‘Lebanon is in a very sensitive place’

Ms Wronecka says: “One mistake, one miscalculation can make a difference and put this region in a completely new situation. And taking Lebanon’s geopolitical position into account, Lebanon is in a very sensitive place.

“So we deploy every day, every moment to speak about responsibility and restraint.”

Lebanon is home to around 250,000 Palestinian refugees, among them an 85-year-old man called Abu Jamal.

He fled to safety in Lebanon more than seven decades ago during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The hugely traumatic event became known as the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) and saw more than half the Palestinian population displaced and dispossessed with many never returning to their homes.

Abu Jamal with his key
Image:
Abu Jamal

‘I pray to see my country… before I die’

Mr Jamal sees many parallels between what’s happening now in Gaza and what he fears may happen in parts of Lebanon too.

He was eight when he left his family home – a day he remembers with searing clarity.

He has a large key which he says was the key to his family’s front door, now part of Israel. He said: “My dad told me that it would be one or two months and we’d go back home – and we’ve been here in Lebanon for 76 years.

“This is the key to our home. I’m still hanging it in my bedroom. I pray to God we return back to our country Palestine. I pray I see my country and our land before I die.”

Reporting with cameraman Jake Britton, specialist producer Chris Cunningham and Lebanon producer Jihad Jineid.

Continue Reading

World

‘Ukraine will not be the second Afghanistan,’ says Zelenskyy after US aid package approval

Published

on

By

'Ukraine will not be the second Afghanistan,' says Zelenskyy after US aid package approval

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the crucial US aid package for Ukraine sends “sends a powerful signal” that his country “will not be the second Afghanistan”.

After months of deadlock, Democrats and Republicans joined together in the US House of Representatives to approve a package – worth $60.8bn (£49bn) – to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

Speaking on NBC News show Meet The Press, Mr Zelenskyy said the aid is “a show of leadership from the United States”.

“This aid will strengthen Ukraine and send the Kremlin a powerful signal that it will not be the second Afghanistan,” he said.

“The US will stay with Ukraine, they will protect Ukrainians and democracy.

“Half a year we have been waiting. Now we have reached this important moment and this positive vote.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Moment US approved $60.8bn Ukraine aid

The aid package will now go to the US Senate, where it is expected to be passed on Tuesday.

During the months of delays, some Republicans were critical of the aid proposal and argued America should be focussing on its own southern border instead of European ones.

Asked about the opposition, Mr Zelenskyy said: “The Americans are not funding the war. They, first and foremost, protect freedom and democracy all over Europe.

“Ukraine is fighting, and sending it sons and daughters to the front line. It reduces the price for the whole Europe, NATO and the US.

“The US army does not have to fight to protect NATO countries – Ukrainians are doing that. It’s only the ammo that [aid] is providing.

Read more from Sky News:
What the aid package means for Ukraine
Man arrested over ‘plot to assassinate Zelenskyy’

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

‘Grateful’ Zelenskyy reacts to US aid

‘We will have a chance for victory’

Addressing how the money will be used, Mr Zelenskyy said he hopes to get “tangible assistance to soldiers on the frontline as soon as possible”.

“We will have a chance for victory if Ukraine really gets the weapons system which we need so much,” he said. “This support will really strengthen the armed forces.”

Ukraine’s priorities are long-range artillery and air defences, Mr Zelenskyy added.

The US House’s decision to approve the aid was praised by UK Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron, who called the funding “a vital step forward”.

“If Putin ever doubted the West’s resolve to back Ukraine, this shows our collective will is undimmed,” he wrote on X.

“With support, Ukraine can and will win.”

Continue Reading

World

Sydney stabbings attack: Hundreds of mourners gather at candlelight vigil

Published

on

By

Sydney stabbings attack: Hundreds of mourners gather at candlelight vigil

Mourners gathered to pay tribute to the six killed in a stabbing at an Australian shopping mall.

New South Wales Police identified the man behind the attack at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Bondi Junction on 13 April as Joel Cauchi, 40.

He was shot and killed by an officer after fatally stabbing six people – five women and one man – and injuring several others, including a nine-month-old baby.

Eight days after the attack, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on Bondi Beach in Sydney, where Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese paid respects to those killed.

Anthony Albanese addresses a candlelight vigil at Sydney's Bondi Beach. Pic: AP
Image:
.Pic: AP

Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

Mr Albanese said the gathering was “to grieve for all that has been stolen from us”.

“All that has been stolen from us, all the possibility and potential, all the kindness and humanity, all the love and laughter of the six lives snatched away,” the prime minister added.

“To honour all they were and respect all they meant, all the years of joy they should have known, all the memories they should have a chance to make.”

Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

Mourners hold candles at a vigil for victims of the Bondi shopping mall stabbing. Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

After Mr Albanese’s speech, the crowd took part in a minute’s silence before New South Wales (NSW) premier Chris Minns said “this week we saw a single bouquet left on Oxford Street grow into a sea of flowers”.

He also said the vigil would be an opportunity to “stand by those that have lost loved ones and remember those that have been killed.”

Amy Scott, the NSW police officer who killed Cauchi, was in attendance in the vigil.

Amy Scott, who shot and killed the Sydney stabbing attacker, at the vigil. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Pic: Reuters

Amy Scott at the Community Candlelight Vigil with other police officers. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Pic: Reuters

Five of the six killed were women, and authorities previously said they are looking into the possibility that Cauchi targeted women in the attack.

NSW officials named the victims as Ashlee Good, 38, Dawn Singleton, 25, Jade Young, 47, Pikria Darchia, 55, Cheng Yixuan, 25 and on-duty Westfield security guard Faraz Tahir, 30.

Read more from Sky News:
‘A very sick boy’: Attacker’s parents apologise
Thousands in Canary Islands call for limit on tourism

(Clockwise) Yixuan Cheng, Dawn Singleton, Ashlee Good, Faraz Tahir, Pikria Darchia and  Jade Young
Image:
(Clockwise) Yixuan Cheng, Dawn Singleton, Ashlee Good, Faraz Tahir, Pikria Darchia and Jade Young

Ms Good tried to save her nine-month-old baby Harriet when she was attacked by the 40-year-old – who suffered from schizophrenia.

She was said to have passed her baby to two men after she was badly injured.

It comes after NSW health minister Ryan Park shared on Sunday evening that the baby has been released from hospital.

Follow Sky News on WhatsApp
Follow Sky News on WhatsApp

Keep up with all the latest news from the UK and around the world by following Sky News

Tap here

“I can confirm the child who has been receiving care at Sydney Children’s Hospital following last weekend’s tragic events at Bondi Junction has been discharged home,” he said in a statement.

“She continues to receive care from the expert clinicians at Sydney Children’s Hospital.”

Continue Reading

Trending