1 of 2 | Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone conversation Sunday that Israel's actions in Gaza could draw his country into the conflict unless they are curbed. File Photo by Iranian President Press Office/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Iranian leaders on Sunday issued stark warnings that the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza could trigger a "wider war" in the Middle East unless Israel curbs its retaliatory measures against Hamas.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian each said that if Israeli forces don't halt their "crimes" against civilians in Gaza, Iran could be drawn into the conflict, state-run media reported.
Meanwhile, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the United States is working feverishly to avoid a spread of the war but could not rule out Iran intervening either directly or through its allies, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he will again visit Israel on Monday.
Iran issued the warnings as Israel massed its armed forces along the Gaza Strip's northern border in preparation for a much-anticipated ground assault into the Palestinian enclave in retaliation for last weekend's multi-pronged assault by Hamas into Israel in which 1,300 Israelis, many of them civilians, were killed.
At least 2,300 Palestinians, also including hundreds of woman and children, have died in the last week amid Israel's armed response.
During a phone conversion with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, Raisi warned that if "Zionist crimes," including the "massacre of Gazan people," are not stopped, the situation will be exacerbated and the war "will further spread," according to Iran's official news agency IRNA.
Raisi said 700 Palestinian children had died in Gaza during the Israeli response and declared those deaths "cannot be justified by any means," comparing the actions to those of Nazi Germany during World War II.
The Iranian president told Macron the next "moments and minutes are of vital importance" and urged Israel's Western allies to use their influence to halt Israel's advance.
Similarly, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned during a visit to Qatar on Sunday that if Israel "does not stop its crimes in Gaza, tomorrow will be too late."
"Iran cannot just watch this situation as a bystander," he said in an interview, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency. "If the scope of the war expands, heavy losses will be inflicted on the United States."
There were signs on Sunday that the conflict was spreading to Israel's northern border. One person was killed and three others wounded after Hezbollah fired multiple mortar rounds and anti-tank guided missiles at an IDF post in the border community of Shtula, emergency responders said.
Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they were in response to the death of Lebanese journalist Issam Abdallah, who was killed while six other news media members were wounded in shelling on Friday by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, according to Al Jazeera.
When asked about the Iranian threats during an appearance on CBS News' Face the Nation on Sunday, Sullivan said the United States is "concerned about proxy forces.
"Lebanese Hezbollah, a proxy force of Iran, is there, a raid on Israel's northern border with considerable military capacity and a history of attacking the State of Israel. And in fact, we have seen in the last few days skirmishes across that northern border that only enhances the risk of escalation.
"But of course," he added, "we can't rule out that Iran would choose to get directly engaged some way; we have to prepare for every possible contingency."
Sullivan said Washington has been "communicating privately with Iran," and stressed that while President Joe Biden and other Western leaders remain supportive of Israel's efforts to defeat Hamas, they are insisting Israeli leaders must "embrace the rule of law and the laws of war."
The United States will work with the United Nations as well as Egypt, Jordan and other countries "to do all that we can to ensure the protection of civilians and that those civilians have access to the basic necessities of food and water, of shelter, of medicine," Sullivan said.
Blinken announced he will extend his week-long round of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East with a return trip to Israel on Monday. He revealed the plans after meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Sunday.
"This is an extremely difficult and tenuous time for the region in the wake of the slaughter perpetrated by Hamas," he told reporters in Cairo, saying the U.S. administration's goals in the talks were to show support for Israel, prevent the conflict from spreading, to secure the release of hostages and address the "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza.
Israel needs to respond to Hamas "in a way that affirms the values that we have for human life and human dignity, taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians," the secretary said.
A man carries away the body of a child killed in Israeli bombardment after being rescued from the rubble of a building in Rafah in the southern of Gaza Strip on October 19, 2023. Photo by Ismail Muhammad/UPI | License Photo