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US restricts travel of embassy workers in Israel as Iran retaliation looms

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Editor’s Note: This page is a summary of news on the Israel-Hamas war for Thursday, April 11. For the latest news on the conflict in the Middle East, view our story for Friday, April 12.

The U.S. State Department issued a security alert Thursday for its personnel and their families in Israel, limiting where they can go amid increased concerns of an Iranian attack.

“Out of an abundance of caution, U.S. 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,’’ the alert says. “U.S. government personnel are authorized to transit between these three areas for personal travel.’’

There’s no reference in the alert to an impending Iranian strike, but Tehran has signaled it will retaliate for the April 1 assault on its consulate in Damascus, which killed seven senior Iranian military officers. Israel is widely believed to have launched that attack, although it has not claimed responsibility.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reached out in the last day to the foreign ministers of China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey “to make clear that escalation is not in anyone’s interest and that countries should urge Iran not to escalate,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Thursday.

With the Israel-Hamas war still raging past the six-month mark, the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is also urging American citizens to be mindful of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, warning against visiting the embattled Palestinian territory.

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

Israel to ‘flood Gaza with aid’: War of words with Iran also heats up

Developments:

∎ Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrated near a Jerusalem enlistment office, protesting a recent court ruling that means “Haredim” men will be drafted for the first time since Israel was founded in 1948.

∎ Israel is prepared for military confrontations beyond Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, amid concern that Iran was getting ready to strike Israel. “Whoever harms us, we will harm them,” he said.

∎ The Israel Defense Forces said it began a “precise, intelligence-based operation to strike terrorist infrastructure and eliminate operatives in central Gaza” overnight into Thursday.

∎ Russia urged countries in the Middle East to show restraint to avoid “complete destabilization” of the region. Russia also warned its citizens against traveling to the Middle East.

Tehran must retaliate for the deadly attack on its consular compound in Damascus last week because the U.N. Security Council failed to condemn the strike or take any action against Israel, Iran’s U.N. mission said in a statement posted Thursday on the X platform.

“Had the U.N. Security Council condemned the Zionist regime’s reprehensible act of aggression on our diplomatic premises in Damascus and subsequently brought to justice its perpetrators, the imperative for Iran to punish this rogue regime might have been obviated,” the statement said.

Despite its threats, Iran has indicated to the U.S. through an intermediary that it will respond in a manner that avoids an escalation of hostilities with Israel and wouldn’t rush into it, Reuters reported. The U.S. has maintained it was not involved in or given advance notice of the attack.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the April 1 attack on an Iranian consulate annex building adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Syria that killed seven high-ranking Iranian military officers, including Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi of the elite Quds Force. Tensions between the nations have increased, and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Wednesday that “the evil regime made a mistake and must be punished.”

The top U.S. commander for the Middle East reportedly arrived in Israel on Thursday for meetings with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other senior defense officials to discuss an anticipated military response from Iran, Haaretz.com reported. Gen. Erik Kurilla’s trip comes a day after Blinken spoke with Gallant and “reiterated the United States’ support for Israel’s security and made clear that the U.S. will stand with Israel against any threats by Iran and its proxies,” the State Department said in a statement.

U.S. Central Command, in an email to USA TODAY, declined to confirm Kurilla’s trip: “We do not discuss flag officer travel for operational security.”

A senior Hamas official on Thursday deflected questions from journalists concerning fears that many hostages could be dead. The possibility gained traction after Hamas said it was not sure it could provide 40 living Israeli civilian captives as part of a cease-fire proposal. Dr. Basem Naim, a member of political bureau of Hamas, said a cease-fire agreement is needed to provide time and safety to collect information on the captured Israelis. They are held in different places by different militant groups − and some are “under the rubble, killed with our own people” and heavy equipment is required to find them, he said.

No one is asking about the thousands of Palestinians kidnapped by Israel since the Hamas-led attack Oct. 7 that ignited the war, he said.

“The most outrageous is the repeated questions regarding the hostages in Gaza, how many alive or dead, does Hamas rejected the proposal because it can’t release 40 hostages in the first phase, etc …” he said in a statement posted on Telegram. “The lives of their people aren’t more precious than ours.”

A UNICEF convoy was hit by gunfire Wednesday as it tried to deliver aid to northern Gaza, the latest in a series of violent obstructions faced by aid workers in the enclave.

“The incident has been raised with relevant Israeli authorities,” UNICEF said in a statement. “Sadly, humanitarians continue to face risks in delivering lifesaving aid.”

The incident occurred nine days after a World Central Kitchen aid convoy was attacked by Israeli rockets, killing seven workers − and the same day Israel promised to greatly increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a USA TODAY request for comment on the incident.

UNICEF spokesperson Tess Ingram told Al Jazeera she was in one of the vehicles at a “holding point” area at a checkpoint. She said three rounds hit the car where she was sitting. The mission had been authorized and the Israeli authorities knew about the convoy, Ingram said. After the shooting, Israeli authorities continued to delay the convoy and it eventually was forced to return to Rafah.

“So those life-saving supplies never made it to the children in northern Gaza,” Ingram said.

Israel’s Southern Command chief, Major General Yaron Finkelman, met with representatives of U.N. agencies, the Red Cross, IMC, USAID and the American Humanitarian Coordinator as part of “increasing coordination and cooperation on the issue of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli military announced.

The meeting comes as Israel announced plans to greatly increase access to humanitarian aid for Gaza residents. Plans include a new border crossing designed make it easier to bring humanitarian supplies from overseas and from Jordan to the east.

“These breakthroughs have a direct impact on the flow of aid – we plan to flood Gaza with aid,” Gallant said. “It will also streamline security checks and strengthen our work with international partners.”

Contributing: Reuters

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