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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

UN chief asks for halt to 'all hostile acts' in the Middle East

Guterres's comments came as a calm night followed intense attacks on parts of Syria by Israel

Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Thursday, May 10, 2018. Guterres has stated that he is 'deeply concerned' about the U.S. decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. Photographer: Christopher Goodney / Bloomberg
Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), speaks during an interview in New York, U.S., on Thursday, May 10, 2018. Guterres has stated that he is 'deeply concerned' about the U.S. decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal. Photographer: Christopher Goodney / Bloomberg

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to "all hostile acts" to avoid "a new conflagration" in the Middle East after Israeli forces bombed Iranian targets inside Syria.

Mr Guterres's comments came as a calm night followed intense attacks on parts of Syria by Israel, which said the strikes on Thursday were retaliation for an Iranian rocket barrage on its positions in the Golan Heights. Israel has called on the UN to immediately condemn Iran's attack. Iran's Foreign Ministry called the offensive a blatant violation of Syria's sovereignty.

In Iran's first official reaction to the attack, a Friday report in state-run IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying the Israeli attack on Syria under "fabricated and baseless excuses" is a breach of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

He added that Syria has the right to defend itself "against the aggressors".

The Security Council, deeply divided over Syria, is highly unlikely to issue a statement and as of Friday morning no council member had asked for a meeting.

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The scope of the attacks, which Israel called its largest in Syria since 1973, raised the spectre of a conflict between Iran and Israel.

Near Syria's capital Damascus, opposition fighters and their families left three southern suburbs that were held by rebels bringing the area under government control for the first time in years, Syrian state media and a war monitor say.

Syria's state news agency SANA said opposition fighters who decided to stay in the suburbs of Babila, Beit Sahem and Yalda will hand over the weapons and return to normal life.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 8,400 fighters and civilians left the area since May 3 and the last group left Thursday night.

Syrian state TV and the Observatory said police forces are getting ready to enter the area on Friday to guarantee security.

With the capture of the three suburbs, the only area outside government control in Damascus is that of the neighborhood of Hajar al-Aswad and the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk that are partially controlled by ISIS.

Government forces have been on the offensive against ISIS in the area since last month and its capture would boost security in Bashar Al Assad's seat of power.