Iran has condemned what it called a “disproportionate and unacceptable” attack by Pakistan on its territory, which came in response to an Iranian strike, raising fears of escalating military exchanges between the two neighbors.

While criticizing Islamabad for the scale of the attack, Iran’s Foreign Ministry also appeared to try and allay concerns of rising tensions, striking a conciliatory tone in its statement on January 18 by referring to Pakistan as a “friend and brother.”

Pakistani warplanes launched air strikes early on January 18 on alleged militant targets in Iran, an attack that Tehran said killed at least nine people, including six children and two women, according to Iran’s Foreign Ministry.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Pakistan’s charge d’affaires in response to the attack, the first by another country on Iranian soil since the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

The strikes in Sistan-Baluchistan Province came after an attack by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province on January 16 that killed two children.

In a statement on January 18, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry expressed concern with “recent developments that started” with Iran’s attacks against targets in Iraq on January 16 before it attacked Pakistan.

“We hope that all issues will soon come to an end through dialogue and cooperation without further threatening regional security and stability,” the ministry said, adding that Ankara “is ready to contribute to the peaceful resolution” disputes.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry later said Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Turkey’s top diplomat Hakan Fidan had spoken on the phone, with the Iranian official expressing his country’s desire to “expand relations with neighboring countries.”

In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said China was ready to mediate between Iran and Pakistan.

“The Chinese side sincerely hopes that the two sides can exercise calm and restraint and avoid an escalation of tension,” spokeswoman Mao Ning said.

“We are also willing to play a constructive role in de-escalating the situation if both sides so wish,” she said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres urged both countries “to exercise maximum restraint to avoid a further escalation of tensions,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

U.S. President Joe Biden said the air strikes by Pakistan and Iran on each other’s territory showed Tehran was not “particularly well-liked in the region.”

The United States is trying to understand how the situation will develop, Biden said. The White House also warned against any escalation.

Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told reporters that none of the people killed was Iranian. Some reports said all of those killed were Pakistani citizens.

Alireza Marhamati, an official in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan Province, said Pakistan used three drones to target a border village. He added that all of those killed were citizens of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the strikes targeted “terrorist” bases.

“This morning Pakistan undertook a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts in Sistan-Baluchistan Province of Iran. A number of terrorists were killed during the intelligence-based operation codenamed Marg Bar Sarmachar,” the statement said.

The Pakistani retaliatory strike came hours after Islamabad recalled its ambassador from Iran in protest to the IRGC’s attack, and said it “reserves the right to respond” to Iran’s “illegal attack.”

The statement also said that Iran bears responsibility for the “consequences” of the attack.

The IRGC claimed its January 16 strike targeted sites in Balochistan that were linked to the Sunni Baluch militant group Jaish al-Adl.

A man in Peshawar, Pakistan, watches a news channel on television inside a shop after the Foreign Ministry announced the country had conducted air strikes inside Iran targeting separatist militants on January 18.

A man in Peshawar, Pakistan, watches a news channel on television inside a shop after the Foreign Ministry announced the country had conducted air strikes inside Iran targeting separatist militants on January 18.

Following the IRGC’s strikes, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told his Pakistani counterpart on a call that Tehran “strongly respects” Islamabad’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and described Pakistan as a “brother.”

The porous, 900-kilometer border between Iran and Pakistan has proved difficult to control, allowing various militant groups, particularly those who harbor Baluch nationalist ideologies, to operate in the area.

On January 16, Iraq also recalled its envoy from Tehran after civilians were killed in an IRGC missile strike in Irbil in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. Iranian missiles also struck Idlib in Syria.

The IRGC said the attacks in Iraq and Syria had targeted “spy headquarters” and “terrorist” targets.

The exchange of strikes is likely further strain relations between Iran and nuclear-armed Pakistan while also raising the prospect of wider conflict in the Middle East amid the ongoing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

With reporting by AFP and AP

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