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Iranian official warns Israel that its embassies are not safe after deadly Damascus strike

JERUSALEM –

A top Iranian military adviser on Sunday warned Israel that none of its embassies were safe following a strike in Damascus last week blamed on Israel that killed 12 people, including two elite Iranian generals. Regional tensions have threatened to draw the Middle East into a wider conflict as Israel’s war against Hamas marks six months.

Israel has been preparing for an Iranian response to the strike without directly acknowledging its involvement. The remarks by Gen. Rahim Safavi signaled that the attack on a diplomatic mission could be met with a similar response.

“None of the embassies of the (Israeli) regime are safe anymore,” Safavi, a military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim agency.

Safavi spoke at a memorial ceremony in Tehran for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard generals who were killed in the strike that flattened an Iranian consular building in Damascus.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was prepared for any response.

“Whoever harms us or plans to harm us, we will harm them,” he told a Cabinet meeting. “We follow that principle in practice, all the time as well as in recent days.”

The surging regional tensions came at the six-month mark of the war, which was sparked when Hamas militants charged from Gaza into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 captive. Israel retaliated with fierce bombardment and a ground offensive that have killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to local health authorities.

Also Sunday, Israel’s military announced it was drawing back forces from the 98th paratroopers division who had been operating in the area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza. The Hamas stronghold has been the main focus of Israel’s offensive in recent months.

That brings Israeli troop levels in Gaza to some of the lowest levels since the war began, raising questions about plans for the war going forward, especially the fate of the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold and the war will not be complete until Hamas is destroyed. But the area now shelters some 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population. The prospect of an Israel offensive has raised global alarm, including from top ally the U.S., which has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians.

It wasn’t clear how the war’s intensity might change. Israel maintains troops in devastated northern Gaza and can send them south when needed.

The war’s six-month mark has been met with growing frustration in Israel, where anti-government protests have swelled and anger is mounting over what some Israelis see as government inaction to help free the remaining roughly 130 hostages, about a quarter of whom are said by Israel to be dead.

Negotiations in pursuit of a cease-fire in exchange for the hostages’ release were expected to resume in Cairo on Sunday, while pressure rose for action now.

“Humanity has been all but abandoned” in Gaza, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in a statement marking six months of war.

The UN and partners now warn of “imminent famine” for more than one million people in Gaza as humanitarian workers urge Israel to loosen restrictions on the delivery of aid overland, the only way to meet soaring needs as some Palestinians forage for weeds to eat.

Mothers who have given birth in Gaza since the war began are especially vulnerable.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said the bodies of 38 people killed in Israel’s bombardment had been brought to the territory’s remaining functional hospitals in the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 71 wounded, it said.

The ministry said 33,175 have been killed since the war began. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants but says two-thirds of the dead are children and women. Another 75,886 have been wounded.

Israel’s military continued to suffer losses, including in Khan Younis, where the military said four soldiers were killed in a battle with militants.

Over 600 Israeli soldiers have been killed since Oct. 7, including 260 in the Gaza ground operation, according to Israel’s government.

Goldenberg reported from Tel Aviv, Israel.

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