No damage to Iran’s nuclear sites, UN watchdog says after explosions heard near major airbase

Flights diverted around western Iran without explanation

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 19 April 2024 07:18 BST
Related: Iran launches dozens of missiles and drones toward Israel

Nuclear facilities in Iran were left untouched, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed on Friday after explosions were heard near a major air base in Isfahan.

Iran fired its air defence batteries and shut down flight operations in several parts of the country as Israel allegedly launched retaliatory missiles in an overnight attack.

It was unclear if Iran came under attack, as no Iranian official directly acknowledged the possibility and Israel’s military has so far not responded to The Independent’s request for comment.

However, US media reports cited American officials stating it was an Israeli missile strike that the US was informed about earlier on Thursday.

Anonymous Israeli officials were quoted by The New York Times claiming the assault.

The incident comes amid rising tensions in the Middle East after Iran launched an unprecedented missile-and-drone attack on Israel in retaliation against a strike on Iran’s consulate in Syria earlier this month.

Israel last week had warned of a military response “to exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us” without sharing further details.

A handout image grab made available by the Iranian state TV, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), shows what the TV said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on Friday
A handout image grab made available by the Iranian state TV, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), shows what the TV said was a live picture of the city of Isfahan early on Friday (IRANIAN STATE TV (IRIB)/AFP via)

Commercial planes began diverting their routes early Friday morning over western Iran without explanation as state media reported "explosions" had been heard over Isfahan.

Air defence systems in Isfahan were activated against “an object suspected to be a drone”, the Fars news agency reported citing sources. It said three explosions were heard near an army base in the city’s northwest.

Isfahan, located around 350km south of capital Tehran, is considered to be a strategically important region and home to Iran’s several nuclear sites along with a major military air base.

The nearby city of Natanz is one of Iran’s nuclear enrichment sites and has been repeatedly targeted by suspected Israeli sabotage attacks.

The UN watchdog said it continues to monitor the situation very closely and called for extreme restraint from all sides, stressing that nuclear facilities should never be a target in military conflicts.

Dubai-based carriers Emirates and FlyDubai diverted flights around western Iran, though local warnings to aviators suggested the airspace might have been closed.

Iran later announced it grounded commercial flights in Tehran and across areas of its western and central regions.

Hossein Dalirian, a spokesperson for Iran’s civilian space programme, said on the X that several small” “quadcopter” drones had been shot down.

A state television reporter in Isfahan said: “Several small drones were flying in the sky over Isfahan, which were fired at.”

Tehran appeared to have downplayed the attack, with an Iranian official telling Reuters that the explosions heard in Isfahan were a result of the activation of Iran’s air defence systems. The unnamed official claimed no missile attacks were carried out against Iran.

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