Tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated dramatically after a US air strike killed Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an Iran-backed umbrella organisation comprising several militias.
The Pentagon confirmed the attack, which took place at Baghdad international airport in Iraq on Friday, saying it came “at the direction” of President Donald Trump.
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Soleimani and al-Muhandis’s deaths are a potential turning point in the geopolitics of the Middle East and Iran has vowed a “harsh” response.
Here are all the latest updates amid heightened tensions.
Saturday, January 4:
Palestinians in Gaza mourn Soleimani
Hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza mourned Soleimani’s death, erecting a tent in his honour in the heart of Gaza City.
Leaders of Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Islamic Jihad – both backed by Iran – joined mourners at the tent, where US and Israeli flags were laid on the ground for visitors to tread on as they entered. The flags were later set on fire.
“We are loyal to those who stood with the resistance and with Palestine and we hold the US administration and the Zionist occupation fully responsible for the consequences of this deplorable crime,” Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, said.
US should not ‘abuse force’: Chinese FM
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart in a call that the US should not “abuse force” and should instead seek solutions through dialogue.
“The dangerous US military operation violates the basic norms of international relations and will aggravate regional tensions and turbulence,” Wang told Mohammad Javad Zarif according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.
“China opposes the use of force in international relations. There is no way out for military means, nor for extreme pressure,” the ministry quoted Wang as saying.
France discusses Middle East tensions with Germany and China
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement that he had discussed the situation in the Middle East with his German and Chinese counterparts.
He added that all three had agreed on the need to avoid any escalation in the tensions.
“We have all noted in particular our agreement in the importance of preserving the stability and sovereignty of Iraq, and the whole of the region in general, as well as the need for Iran to avoid any new violation of the Vienna Agreement,” he said, following a telephone call with Germany’s Heiko Maas and China’s Wang Yi.
Qatari FM meets Iranian counterpart
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran, state-run Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.
The two officials discussed the latest developments in the region, “especially the events in Iraq as well as ways of calm to maintain collective security of the region,” QNA said.
NATO suspends training missions in Iraq
NATO has suspended training missions in Iraq, a spokesman for the alliance said, following the US killing of Soleimani.
“NATO’s mission is continuing, but training activities are currently suspended,” said the spokesman, Dylan White.
He also confirmed that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had spoken by telephone with US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper “following recent developments”.
The NATO mission in Iraq, which numbers in the hundreds, trains the country’s security forces at the request of Baghdad to prevent the return of ISIL.
Iran will punish Americans wherever they are within its reach: Guards commander
Iran will punish “Americans” wherever they are within reach of the Islamic republic in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani, Tasnim news agency quoted a senior Revolutionary Guards commander as saying.
General Gholamali Abuhamzeh, the commander of the Guards in the southern province of Kerman, raised the prospect of possible attacks on ships in the Gulf, and said Iran reserved the right to take revenge against the US for the death of Soleimani.