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Iran will attack Israel 'sooner than later': Biden

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Washington, April 13 (IANS) US President Joe Biden has told reporters at the White House that he expects Iran will attack Israel “sooner than later,” media reports said.

“I don’t want to get into secure information but my expectation is sooner than later,” Biden said to reporters on Friday when asked how imminent an Iranian attack on Israel would be, CNN reported.

Asked what his message to Iran is right now, the President said, “Don’t.”

In response to more shouted questions from reporters in the room, asking if American troops were at risk — Biden returned to the podium and said that the US is “devoted” to the defence of Israel.

“We are devoted to the defence of Israel. We will support Israel, we will help defend Israel and Iran will not succeed,” Biden said.

The US has been on high alert for a significant Iranian retaliatory attack on Israel in recent days as fears grow of a wider regional war, CNN reported.

There remains a “real,” “credible” and “viable” threat of Iran launching strikes, the White House said on Friday, following Israel’s attack on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria last week that killed three Iranian generals.

Biden, who warned this week that Iran was threatening a “significant attack” on Israel, has been receiving constant updates on the situation from his national security team.

The US and several other countries, including Britain and France, issued new travel guidelines for government employees in Israel as the Iranian threat loomed.

“We’re watching this very, very closely,” said John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, who declined to provide information about the expected timing of the threat.

The US will attempt to intercept any weapons launched at Israel if it’s feasible to do so, two US officials told CNN, an indication of the level of ongoing cooperation between the two militaries.

US Navy forces in the Red Sea have previously intercepted long-range missiles launched from the Houthis in Yemen towards Israel. US forces in Iraq and Syria could also potentially intercept drones and rockets targeting northern Israel, depending on the location from which they’re launched, CNN reported.

The Defence Department is also moving additional assets to the Middle East region “to bolster regional deterrence efforts and increase force protection for US forces,” a US Defence official told CNN, as Israel and the US brace for a potential Iranian attack.

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The Pentagon has been working specifically to bolster air defences for the US troops stationed in Iraq and Syria who came under attack by Iran-backed proxy forces over 100 times between October and February. In January, three US service members were killed when a drone got through US air defences at the Tower 22 base in Jordan.

The US is not anticipating that Iran or its proxies will attack US forces as part of its retaliation but is moving the assets just in case.

“It would be imprudent if we didn’t take a look at our own posture in the region to make sure that we’re properly prepared,” Kirby added.

CNN reported last week that the US was on high alert and actively preparing for an attack by Iran targeting Israeli or American assets in the region. Officials said such an attack could come within the week.

CNN reported earlier this week that an Iranian attack on Israel would likely be carried out by Iranian proxy forces in the region rather than by Iran directly, according to two people familiar with US intelligence on the matter.

Tehran is wary of a dramatic escalation in the fighting, the sources said, and does not want to give the US or its allies an excuse to attack Iran directly.

The sources said Iran and its proxy militia groups do not appear poised to attack US troops or other assets in the region, but they noted that Iran does not have perfect command and control over all its proxy forces, so the possibility of an attack on US assets cannot be completely ruled out, CNN reported.

The sources told CNN that US intelligence assesses that Iran has urged several of its proxy militia groups to simultaneously launch a large-scale attack against Israel, using drones and missiles, and that they could attack as soon as this week.

“The threat is very clear and credible,” said one of the sources.

“They have put the pieces in place to conduct the attack now. Just waiting for the right time.”

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Biden spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, about the threat of an Iranian attack during a telephone call last week.

A direct strike on Israel by Iran is one of the worst-case scenarios the Biden administration is bracing for, as it would guarantee rapid escalation of an already tumultuous situation in the Middle East. Such a strike could lead to the Israel-Hamas war broadening into a wider, regional conflict — something Biden has long sought to avoid, CNN reported.

Biden is receiving briefings multiple times a day on the situation, Kirby said.

He added on Friday that US officials were in “constant communication” with their Israeli counterparts about the matter and that steps were underway to ensure Israel is able to defend itself.

“We are certainly mindful of a very public and what we consider to be a very credible threat made by Iran in terms of potential attacks on Israel,” Kirby said on Friday.

He pointed to a visit to Israel on Friday by US Central Command Chief General Erik Kurilla to have “those conversations directly with his IDF counterparts”.

Kurilla’s trip to Israel was moved up because of the expectation of an Iranian response to Israel’s targeting of the Iranian consulate in Damascus, Syria, last week, CNN reported.

There have also been a number of conversations in which US officials have urged Israel not to escalate the situation in retaliating against Iran, according to one of the US officials said.

Separately, US officials were frustrated with their Israeli counterparts over the lack of information Israel shared prior to carrying out the strike in Damascus last week, sources told CNN.

Israel only informed a US official when its planes were already in the air en route to Syria, another US official said.

“We were not aware that Israel was going to carry out this airstrike in advance,” the official added.

“Minutes before it happened and when Israeli planes were already in the air, Israel reached out to a US official to say they were in the process of conducting a strike in Syria. It did not include any details on who they were targeting or where it would be conducted, and the strike was already underway before word could be passed through the US government.”

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, China and Saudi Arabia to urge them to press Iran not to escalate the conflict in the Middle East after threats made by Iran against Israel, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Thursday.

Miller added that the US has also “engaged with European allies and partners over the past few days” to deliver a similar message on Iran. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron have both spoken to the Iranian Foreign Minister in recent days.

Blinken “has been making clear to every country that has any semblance of a relationship with Iran that it is in their interest to use that relationship to send a message to Iran that they should not escalate this conflict. But I will let those countries speak for themselves about what action they may or may not take,” Miller said.

The US State Department has restricted the travel of US government personnel in Israel in the wake of public threats against Israel by Iran, CNN reported.

“Out of an abundance of caution, US government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv (including Herzliya, Netanya, and Even Yehuda), Jerusalem, and Be’er Sheva areas until further notice,” a security alert posted by the US Embassy on Thursday said, “US government personnel are authorised to transit between these three areas for personal travel.”

“The security environment remains complex and can change quickly depending on the political situation and recent events,” the alert noted.

France has advised its citizens to “absolutely refrain” from travelling to Iran, Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories due to the risk of “military escalation,” the French Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The Ministry added that families of diplomatic staff in the Iranian capital Tehran will be returned to France and civil servants will be banned from work missions to those countries and territories.

The French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne issued the new recommendation following a crisis meeting on the region, the Ministry said in a post on X.

–IANS

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Zelensky calls on Saudi Crown Prince in Jeddah

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Riyadh, June 12 (IANS) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah on Wednesday, media reports said.

Ukraine is bringing together dozens of world leaders and international organisations at the Burgenstock resort in Switzerland this weekend to mount pressure on Russia and outline a path towards peace.

Zelensky arrived in the coastal city earlier on Wednesday and was received by the deputy governor of the Makkah region Prince Saud bin Mishal bin Abdulaziz.

In a post on social media platform X, the Ukrainian President said the two leaders discussed preparations for the summit, “its expected outcomes and their possible implementation.”

Bilateral relations between Ukraine and Saudi Arabia were also discussed, Zelensky added.

Ukraine has invited more than 160 nations to participate at the summit and Zelensky has said garnering support from as many countries as possible will be key to the summit.

–IANS

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2019 Easter Sunday bombings: Lanka to probe why prior info from Indian intel was ignored

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Colombo, June 12 (IANS) Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed a Committee of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate the actions taken by the Lankan intelligence services on the prior information received from their Indian counterparts regarding the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings which killed around 270 people.

President Wicremesinghe’s decision follows the findings of the final report of the Commission of Inquiry dated January 31, 2021, which highlighted that Indian Intelligence agencies and other sources had provided advance warnings about the impending attacks.

“The committee’s mandate includes examining whether adequate actions and measures were taken by the State Intelligence Service (SIS), Chief of National Intelligence (CNI), and other relevant authorities based on the prior intelligence, and evaluating the sufficiency of these measures,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said in a statement on Wednesday.

President Wickremesinghe has given full powers to the committee headed by retired high court judge A.N.J. De Alwis to question relevant officials and examine important documents to thoroughly investigate these matters.

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Additionally, the committee will investigate the circumstances surrounding the Directorate of Military Intelligence’s (DMI) initial belief that the Vavunathivu killing of two police officers on November 30, 2018, was connected to the LTTE.

This belief was held for four months before suspects with alleged links to the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ) were identified.

A compact disk containing the final report of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2019 bomb attacks has been provided to the committee, with a Senior Assistant Secretary to the President serving as the Secretary to the Committee of Inquiry.

The committee is expected to submit its report, including findings and recommendations, to the President by September 15, 2024.

A series of coordinated bomb attacks on three star hotels in Colombo and three churches carried out by ISIS suicide bombers on Easter Sunday in 2019 resulted in the death of 270 people, including at least 45 foreign nationals, besides injuring over 500 others.

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–IANS

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Taliban courts deliver punishments for sodomy, 'moral corruption'

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Islamabad, June 12 (IANS/DPA) The Taliban’s Supreme Court said on Wednesday that three convicts have been separately punished in two Afghan provinces for allegedly committing sodomy and “moral corruption”.

A convict in Zurmat district of Paktia province was sentenced to one year in prison and whipped 36 times for committing moral corruption. The specific nature of the crime was not disclosed.

Another two convicts were publicly punished in the Balkhab district of Sar-e-Pul for sodomy. One received a one-year sentence and 21 whips, while the other received six months and 31 whips.

In a separate development from Paktika province, a murder case in Mata Khan district was resolved through mediation by local officials, tribal elders, and religious scholars, resulting in forgiveness from the victim’s family, according to the Supreme Court.

The Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has seen the reintroduction of corporal punishment, including executions and whipping, for crimes such as murder, robbery and adultery.

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The United Nations has criticised the Taliban’s use of corporal punishment, saying it violates the UN Convention against Torture, and has called for an end to the practice.

The Taliban authorities have rejected the criticism, saying this form of punishment is in line with the country’s law and necessary to ensure security and safety for the public.

–IANS/DPA

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Death toll in Kuwait building blaze climbs to 49 (2nd Ld)

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Kuwait City, June 12 (IANS/DPA) The death toll in a fire that erupted on Wednesday in a building housing workers in Kuwait has risen to 49, the Gulf country’s state news agency Kuna reported, citing the Interior Ministry.

Local media said the fire broke out in a six-floor building crammed with migrant workers in al-Mangaf area, south of the capital Kuwait City.

The blaze occurred while the workers were asleep and some residents had to jump from the building in an attempt to survive, Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas reported, citing witnesses.

Kuwait’s Emir Meshal Al Ahmad has ordered investigations to determine the cause of the blaze and bring to account those found responsible, Kuna said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasser Abu Salib said without elaborating that stringent measures would be taken against the building’s owners.

He added that the ministry was investigating the circumstances of the fire and identifying the victims.

Initially, officials had put the death toll at more than 35.

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Most fatalities were caused by smoke inhalation, according to a security official.

The Health Ministry earlier Wednesday said at least 43 people had been transferred to hospitals for treatment.

–IANS/DPA

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South Africa on high alert after five confirmed cases of monkeypox

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Johannesburg, June 12 (IANS) South Africa is on high alert following the outbreak of monkeypox in May, with five laboratory-confirmed cases including one death, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Wednesday.

Phaahla told the media that all five patients diagnosed with monkeypox, also known as Mpox, three from KwaZulu-Natal Province and two from Gauteng Province, were men between the ages of 30 and 39 with no history of travel. Two remain hospitalized, two have been discharged, and one died on Monday in a hospital in Johannesburg, reported Xinhua News Agency.

“All five cases were classified as severe cases as per the World Health Organization (WHO) definition requiring hospitalization. Since the beginning of 2024, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has received 12 Mpox test requests, with three testing positive. The other two cases were diagnosed by private laboratories,” said the minister. “Guidelines have been updated and shared widely across networks of healthcare workers using various platforms.”

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According to him, the outbreak response team, consisting of experts from various government sectors, the WHO, and other stakeholders, has embarked on contact tracing and case finding in the affected provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

“We can disrupt the local transmission by supporting those diagnosed with this disease in taking their treatment to prevent infecting others. We can prevent avoidable deaths by cooperating with health officials when they conduct contact tracing and case finding,” Phaahla said, adding that they have held webinars about Mpox disease with more than 500 healthcare workers.

Fabian Ndenzako, a doctor with the WHO in South Africa, said they are working with the South African government to provide medicine for those infected with Mpox. A total of 10 doses of vaccine have been packaged in Geneva, Switzerland, and are awaiting paperwork to be processed and then shipped to South Africa.

The WHO defines an outbreak of monkeypox when two cases are confirmed. Ndenzako noted that since all five cases have no travel history, the country could be sitting on a high number of Mpox cases.

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Monkeypox is an infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Most people fully recover, but some get very sick. The virus can be transmitted to humans through physical contact with someone infectious, with contaminated materials, or with infected animals. Symptoms of monkeypox include an unexplained acute rash and back pain, swollen lymph nodes, acute onset of fever, headache, muscle and body aches, and low energy.

According to the WHO, from January 1, 2022, to May 31, 2024, a total of 97,208 laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox were reported, including 186 deaths from 117 countries. South Africa recorded five cases of monkeypox in 2022, with no cases reported in 2023.

–IANS

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