Fighting continues in Gaza as Israel says it will soon ‘break’ Hamas

Israel awaits attack by Iran or proxies as warnings grow of retaliation for killing of senior officer in Iran Damascus embassy strike

Israel vowed on Friday to hit back hard against an Iranian attack that appeared to be imminent, potentially plunging the Middle East into a dangerous conflagration after six months of fighting in Gaza.

Iranian leaders have made it clear they intend to avenge the air strike, attributed to Israel, on their embassy compound in the Syrian capital Damascus earlier this month which killed a senior Iranian commander as well as other military figures.

The White House on Friday described the prospect of an imminent attack by Iran on Israel as a real and viable threat, stressing that the US took its commitments to defend Israel seriously. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby added that the US was looking at its own force posture in the region in light of Tehran’s threat and was watching the situation very closely.

Two US sources told CBS on Friday that an Iranian attack against Israel may take place in the near future and include more than 100 drones and dozens of missiles targeted at military sites on Israeli soil. The sources added however that they had not ruled out the possibility that Iran would choose a more limited response in order to avoid a significant escalation.

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The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Friday that Israel was preparing for a direct attack from Iran in the next 48 hours.

A number of countries issued travel warnings for the region and the US embassy in Israel has instructed its staff not to travel outside the main cities.

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant met the head of the US army’s central command, Gen Michael Kurilla, at an Israeli air force base on Friday and discussed the preparations for an Iranian attack.

“The world now understands well who Iran is – the terrorist body that incites terror attacks across the Middle East, and funds Hamas, Hizbullah and additional forces, and now also threatens Israel,” Mr Gallant said. “We are prepared to defend ourselves on the ground and in the air, in close co-operation with our partners, and we will know how to respond.”

The Israeli military and the Mossad intelligence agency have approved offensive operational plans to attack Iran in the event of a strike on Israel that originates from Iranian territory.

Despite the tension, Iranian sources told Reuters that Tehran had relayed an indirect message to the White House that Iran would not act hastily or in a manner that would cause an escalation.

US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin reiterated Washington’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security in a phone call with Mr Gallant on Thursday night.

The White House said Washington did not want the conflict to spread in the Middle East, and the US had told Iran it was not involved in the Damascus attack. The White House said it warned Iran to not use that attack as a pretext to escalate the conflict in the region.

Meanwhile, Israel says the first aid lorries carrying food have entered Gaza through a new northern crossing, opened as part of efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in northern Gaza. The White House welcomed the move but said Israel needed to do more.

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