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Gold surges as escalating Middle East tensions bolster demand

Production of gold at Krastsvetmet precious metals plant in Krasnoyarsk

By Ashitha Shivaprasad

(Reuters) - Safe-haven gold gained on Thursday as persistent tensions in the Middle East added to the metal's appeal despite robust economic data from the U.S. that raised prospects of fewer interest rate cuts.

Spot gold firmed 1% at $2,384.83 per ounce at 1:47 p.m. ET (1747 GMT). Prices touched an all-time high of $2,431.29 last Friday.

U.S. gold futures settled 0.4% higher at $2,398.

In the Middle East, Israel has signalled it will retaliate to a volley of attacks from Iran despite calls for restrain from Western countries but has not said how.

"When there are geopolitical tensions, the natural response is for investors to flee to gold, which is happening now. If the conflict further escalates, prices could go north of $2,500-$2,600, and if there is a ceasefire, then they could fall to $2,200," said Everett Millman, chief market analyst with Gainesville Coins.

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"Central bank purchases are also placing a floor beneath the prices," he added.

Bullion's upside came despite data showing U.S. weekly jobless claims were unchanged at low levels last week. Strong U.S. economic data and hawkish rhetoric from Fed officials have prompted investors to drastically rethink the chances of the Federal Reserve cutting rates any time soon. [US/]

Higher interest rates reduce the appeal of holding non-yielding gold.

Bank of China International (BOCI) analyst Xiao Fu said that with rate cut expectations from the Fed coming down and with the natural profit-taking that comes when prices rally quickly, there might be some pressure on gold, but a sharp decline is unlikely.

Spot silver rose 0.3% to $28.30 per ounce.

"The silver shortage narrative is gaining attention, with demand consistently outpacing new supply. This imbalance could lead to a significant price adjustment in the future," said Alexander Zumpfe, a precious metals trader at Heraeus Metals.

"Long-term trends in the silver market remain bullish, and while short-term price movements can be volatile and influenced by futures trading."

Platinum gained 0.7% to $944.25 and palladium added 0.1% to $1,027.34.

(Reporting by Ashitha Shivaprasad in Bengaluru; Editing by Tasim Zahid and Alan Barona)