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Iranian peace campaigners warn scientist's assassination could spark Middle East war

IRANIAN peace campaigners have condemned the assassination of scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh Mahabadi and warned it could spark a bloody conflict in the Middle East.

Mr Fakhrizadeh was murdered in a gun and bomb attack on the outskirts of Tehran on Friday. His bodyguard was also killed. 

The Iranian government has denounced an act of “state terror” by Israel, which has not commented on the killing but has a record of assassinations of Iranian scientists.

The brazen murder was condemned around the world, with the EU slamming a “criminal act” and countries including Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Qatar denouncing the “terrorist act.” The United Nations called for calm following the “extrajudicial killing.” But the US was officially silent.

The communist Tudeh Party of Iran said the scientist “was assassinated in Tehran by Israeli agents with the full knowledge and support of the Trump administration” and warned that Israel and the White House were seeking to provoke a conflict that would complicate any effort by incoming president Joe Biden to restore the six-party agreement on Iranian nuclear development, torn up by US President Donald Trump.

It pointed to the recent meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, where they are believed to have discussed how to maintain Mr Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran after his presidency ends.

“Every effort should be taken to avoid escalating tensions, potentially leading to a catastrophic military conflict in the region,” it warned.

But prominent voices in Iran demanded revenge.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani said Iran would respond “in a proper time,” though he added that “the Iranian nation is smarter than falling into the trap of the zionists” (the Israeli government). “They are thinking to create chaos.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for “the definitive punishment of the perpetrators and those who ordered it,” while parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf said: “The criminal enemy does not regret it except with a strong reaction.” One MP, Nasrollah Pezhmanfar, called for the expulsion of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would further complicate attempts to restore the nuclear deal.

National Security Commission member Fada Hossein al-Maliki said: “In these last days of the Trump presidency, the Israelis with these desperate moves aim to pursue a full-scale war in the region.”

Mr Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s nuclear weapons programme before it was disbanded in 2003. He is not believed to have been closely involved in Iran’s current nuclear energy programme.

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