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Israel blames Iran after attacks on embassy staff

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel accused arch-enemies Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of being behind twin bomb attacks that targeted Israeli embassy staff in India and Georgia on Monday, wounding four people.

Tehran denied involvement in the attacks, which amplified tensions between two countries already at loggerheads over Iran's nuclear program, and accused Israel of carrying out the attacks itself. Hezbollah made no comment.

In the Indian capital New Delhi, a bomb wrecked a car taking an Israeli embassy official to pick up her children from school, police said. The woman needed surgery to remove shrapnel but her life was not in danger.

Her driver and two passers-by suffered lesser injuries.

Israeli officials said an attempt to bomb an embassy car in the Georgian capital Tbilisi failed, and the device was defused.

Israel had put its foreign missions on high alert ahead of the fourth anniversary this past Sunday of the assassination in Syria of the military mastermind of Hezbollah, Imad Moughniyeh - an attack widely assumed to be the work of Israeli agents.

Israel is believed to be locked in a wider covert war with Iran, whose nuclear program has been beset by apparent sabotage, including the unclaimed killings of several Iranian nuclear scientists, most recently in January.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed both Iran and Hezbollah, accusing them of responsibility for a string of recent attempted attacks on Israeli interests in countries as far apart as Thailand and Azerbaijan.

"Iran and its proxy Hezbollah are behind each of these attacks," said Netanyahu, who dismisses Iran denials that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon. "We will continue to take strong and systematic, yet patient, action against the international terrorism that originates in Iran."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast rejected Netanyahu's accusation, saying it was Israel that had carried out the attacks as part of its psychological warfare against Iran.

"It seems that these suspicious incidents are designed by the Zionist regime and carried out with the aim of harming Iran's reputation," the official news agency IRNA quoted Mehmanparast as saying.

Israeli officials have long made veiled threats to retaliate against Lebanon for any Hezbollah attack on their interests abroad, arguing that as the Islamist group sits in government in Beirut, its actions reflect national policy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington that the United States had no information yet on who was responsible, adding: "These incidents underscore our ongoing concerns of the targeting of Israeli interests overseas."

MOTORCYCLE ATTACK

The New Delhi blast took place some 500 meters (yards) from the official residence of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

B.K. Gupta, the New Delhi police commissioner, said a witness had seen a motorcyclist stick a device to the back of the car, which had diplomatic registration plates.

"The eyewitness ... says it (was) some kind of magnetic device. As soon as the motorcycle moved away a good distance from the car, the car blew up and it caught fire," said Gupta.

The Iranian scientist killed in Tehran last month died in a similar such attack by a motorcyclist who attached a device to his car. No one has claimed responsibility for that, although Iran was quick to accuse agents of Israel and its U.S. ally.

Israel named the injured woman as Talya Yehoshua Koren, who worked at the embassy and was married to the defense attache.

"She was able to drag herself from the car and is now at the American hospital, where two Israeli doctors are treating her," an Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Thailand said last month its police had arrested a Lebanese man linked to Hezbollah, and that he later led them to a warehouse stocked with bomb-making materials. Also last month, authorities in Azerbaijan arrested two people suspected of plotting to attack Israel's ambassador and a local rabbi.

In a speech on January 24, Israel's military chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, accused Hezbollah of trying to carry out proxy attacks while avoiding direct confrontation.

"During this period of time, when our enemies in the north avoid carrying out attacks, fearing a harsh response, we are witnesses to the ongoing attempts by Hezbollah and other hostile entities to execute vicious terror attacks at locations far away from the state of Israel," Gantz said.

"I suggest that no one test our resolve."

Israel and Hezbollah fought an inconclusive and costly war across the Lebanese border in 2006.

(Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee, Annie Banerji and Arup Roy Choudhury in New Delhi, Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Mark Heinrich, Alastair Macdonald and Kevin Liffey)

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