Iran accuses Israel of killing senior commander in strike on Damascus consulate

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Good morning. Iran has blamed Israel for an air strike on the consular section of its embassy in Damascus, which killed three senior members of the Revolutionary Guards.

The death of Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Zahedi, a prominent commander of the Revolutionary Guards, marks a significant escalation in hostilities that have engulfed the region since Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7.

Iran’s network of proxies in the region — dubbed “the axis of resistance” — have since October engaged in exchanges of fire with Israel and attacked US forces and bases across the Middle East, leading to heightened fears of a broader regional conflagration. 

But in recent weeks Tehran had sought to ease tensions with Washington. Senior US and Iranian officials held indirect talks in January and both sides have shown signs of attempting to de-escalate the hostilities.

Sanam Vakil of the Chatham House think-tank said that while Tehran has made clear it wants to avoid a direct conflict with Israel and the US, the strike on the diplomatic mission could “force Iran’s hand”. Here are more details on the attack.

  • Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed “immediate action” to close Al Jazeera in Israel, after the Israeli parliament passed a law granting him powers to shut down foreign broadcast networks deemed a “security risk”.

  • Israel-Hamas war: Israeli forces withdrew from al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City yesterday after a major two-week operation that has destroyed much of Gaza’s largest medical facility.

And here’s what else I’m keeping tabs on today:

  • Economic data: South Korea reports consumer price index for March, while the Singapore Institute of Purchasing & Materials Management publishes its monthly purchasing managers’ index for the city-state.

  • Cross-Strait relations: Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou embarked on an 11-day trip to China yesterday where he is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Reuters)

  • Election: Senate elections take place in Pakistan.

Five more top stories

1. The head of Sequoia Capital’s former India unit says the country is getting a “huge” boost from investors moving their money away from China as geopolitical tensions reshape the global venture capital market. “We think a reallocation from China to India is real,” Peak XV managing director Shailendra Singh told the FT in his first interview since Sequoia Capital split off its China and India units last year.

2. British MPs targeted by Chinese hackers are contesting government reassurances that an attempted cyber attack was unsuccessful. UK politicians targeted by the Wuhan-based hacking group APT31 say they have identified “tracker pixel” emails in their inboxes that should have been intercepted.

3. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling party has suffered a resounding defeat in Turkey’s local polls. Turkey’s opposition scored decisive mayoral victories in races across the country, including economic powerhouses Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa and Antalya, dealing the strongman his most severe electoral setback since his rise to power two decades ago.

  • Erdoğan’s mis-steps: Turkey’s strongman leader misjudged voter anger over the economy and the threat from the opposition in local polls.

  • Opinion: Sunday’s vote is a wake-up call for Erdoğan, who is more vulnerable than he thinks, writes Gönül Tol of the Middle East Institute.

4. Shares in Donald Trump’s $10bn media business sank 21 per cent after financial results filed yesterday showed it generated less than $1mn in revenue in the fourth quarter. Auditors of Trump Media & Technology Group — which was taken public last week in a merger with a blank-cheque company — warned of “substantial doubt” about the future of the business.

5. Banks will have to cut their exposure to commercial real estate because of a $2tn “wall” of property debt coming due in the next three years, according to a leading US brokerage. Newmark, which handled $50bn of loan sales for failed Signature Bank, estimates that $670bn of the loans maturing by 2026 are “potentially troubled”.

The Big Read

Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Abu Dhabi royal Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed al-Nahyan, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman © FT montage/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia wants mining to contribute $75bn to its economy by 2035, up from $17bn. Oman has started building what could be the world’s largest green steel plant that plans to use iron ore from Cameroon. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund is now Glencore’s second-biggest shareholder. Hungry to diversify their economies beyond fossil fuels, Gulf nations are redirecting petrodollars to secure minerals used in the green transition — and becoming a new force in the global mining sector.

We’re also reading . . . 

  • China’s ‘hypocrisy’: Rana Foroohar is not impressed by Beijing’s complaints about US protectionism.

  • The future of weight-loss drugs: Pills are the holy grail of convenience, making them a key development in next-generation obesity treatments.

  • Dodgy data: Economists are questioning whether official jobs reports can be relied upon for an accurate read of the labour market.

Chart of the day

Hong Kong’s deepwater port at the heart of the Pearl River Delta has long made it a desirable trading gateway to the greater China region. Once the world’s busiest port, Hong Kong is now the 10th-largest port in the world by volume as the city’s manufacturers shift to mainland China and competition from other Chinese ports rise, analysts said.

Take a break from the news

Nearly 17 years after the last Harry Potter book, the boy wizard is still enticing visitors to the UK — even to places with no obvious connections to the books or films.

The sign above The Shop That Must Not Be Named
Welcome to the baffling, all-consuming and ever-expanding world of Pottourism © Sam Wright

Additional contributions from Tee Zhuo and Sarah Ebner

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