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Source: The Guardian

Nov 4, 2023

UK urges Iran to use influence to avert escalation in Israel-Hamas conflict

James Cleverly also says Iranian-backed threats against people in UK are unacceptable in call with Tehran counterpart

By Patrick Wintour

The UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, in a rare phone call with his Iranian counterpart, has underlined western warnings that Tehran must use its influence with other groups in the Middle East to prevent escalation in the Gaza conflict.

It is not clear from the readouts given by either side whether Cleverly spelled out any consequences to Iran if it was deemed to be actively stoking a wider war, or if he provided any intelligence to show that the west knew the depth of Iran’s involvement.

The Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, rejected Cleverly’s message by repeating the longstanding line that Iran does not control militant groups in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria or Yemen, also known as the “axis of resistance”.

In a longer readout of the call than the brief summary provided by the UK Foreign Office, the Iranian foreign ministry said Cleverly was urged to adopt a realistic approach to the conflict and recognise that the “resistance forces” were fighting an occupation by an Israeli government that was committing war crimes amounting to genocide and acting without any proportionaliity.

Amir-Abdollahian said international law gave people of an occupied country a legitimate right to defend themselves.

“In that vein, he noted, the massacre of more than 9,000 Palestinian civilians, in an act of revenge and genocide openly declared by the Zionist regime, is not acceptable by any metric,” the Iranian foreign ministry reported.

Amir-Abdollahian said the extensive support provided by the US government to Tel Aviv was responsible for the escalation of the war in the region.

The leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, claimed in a speech on Friday the group was warned through US intermediaries that the US would attack Iran if Hezbollah joined the war against Israel.

Nasrallah’s speech suggested that the threat of a full-blown immediate escalation had receded, but the possibility of a slow escalation remains in what is a highly volatile environment.

Attacks on US bases in Iraq are likely to increase, but Hamas would most like to see Hezbollah tie down Israeli forces by opening up a full second front on the boundary between south Lebanon and Israel. Hezbollah has already lost 50 fighters.

Some Iranian officials believe that the long-term damage being done to the US and Israel’s international standing is so great that they do not need at this stage to try to tip the military balance.

In his call, Cleverly also said Iranian-backed threats against people in the UK were unacceptable and must stop. The British intelligence services have said there have been as many as 15 credible threats to the lives of people in the UK.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, earlier this week scoffed at suggestions that the country’s Basij volunteer paramilitary force were organising pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London and Paris.

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