US said to back strikes on Iran targets in Iraq, Syria as Gaza truce hopes rise

US said to back strikes on Iran targets in Iraq, Syria as Gaza truce hopes rise
Th US has said it wants to carry out retaliatory attacks on targets including Iranian personnel, following a deadly incident by the Jordan border.
6 min read
02 February, 2024
Three US troops were killed by the Jordan-Syria border last week, in the first incident of its kind in the region since the start of the Gaza war [Getty/file photo]

The planned targets for US strikes in Iraq and Syria in response to the killing of three US soldiers by a drone near the Jordan-Syria border include "Iranian personnel and facilities", CBS News reported on Thursday, citing American officials.

The United States has assessed that the drone, which also wounded more than 40 people, was made by Iran, four US officials told Reuters. Sources said Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were pulling senior officers out of Syria.

The CBS report follows days of conjecture about how Washington would retaliate after three US soldiers were killed on Saturday in a strike on their base.

The fatalities were the first US deaths in an escalation of tensions across the Middle East since Israel's brutal war in Gaza began in October, which has killed over 27,000 Palestinians - mostly women and children.

Even as fighting has intensified this week, diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire in the Palestinian enclave have accelerated.

Qatari and Egyptian mediators presented Hamas with the first concrete proposal for an extended halt to fighting, agreed with Israel and the US at talks in Paris last week.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations told Reuters the text envisages a first phase of 40 days, during which fighting would cease while Hamas freed remaining civilians among the more than 100 hostages it still holds. Further phases would see the handover of Israeli soldiers and bodies of dead hostages.

Such a long pause would be a first since October 7, when Israel retaliated against the Hamas attack and went on to wage a war in the territory, as well as imposing a complete siege depriving Palestinians of humanitarian aid.

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A Palestinian official said Hamas was unlikely to reject the proposal outright, but would demand guarantees that fighting would not resume, something Israel has not agreed to.

A source in the Iraqi government told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, that "the government has received signals from Washington indicating it would respond to the attack by targeting Iraqi factions. However, these messages were before the cessation of attacks by the Kataeb Hezbollah, adding that the prime minister has not yet received any American assurances Iraq would be spared from the retaliation.

The source pointed out that more Iraqi factions have agreed to halt their operations against US forces, most notably the groups Al-Awfiyaa and Imam Ali, after recent pressures from the government and leadership within the Coordination Framework. However, evacuation operations of the positions, warehouses, and weapon depots of these factions continue.

The spokesperson for the Saraya Sayyid al-Shuhada group within the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, Kazem Al-Fartousi, confirmed the possibility of other factions joining the cessation of attacks on US targets.

In a televised statement on Thursday, he stated that "the suspension of attacks by the Iraqi Kataeb Hezbollah Brigades follows governmental efforts to pave the way for negotiations". He also said  "other factions might follow suit".

He noted that the current ceasefire negotiations in Gaza could have implications for Iraq, adding: "We need political representation in the dialogue with Washington to define the relationship between the two countries. We hope it leads to scheduling the withdrawal of US forces; otherwise, dialogue will have no value."

Reports of ceasefire denied

A positive-sounding speech by a Qatari spokesman at Johns Hopkins University in Washington briefly triggered some celebrations in Gaza - and a drop in the price of crude oil.

But a Qatari official in Doha told Reuters there was no ceasefire deal yet, and that Hamas had "received the proposal positively" but not responded yet.

And Taher Al-Nono, media adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, told Reuters: "We have received the proposal that was put together in Paris but we haven’t yet given a response to any of the parties."

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"We can’t say that the current stage of negotiation is zero and at the same time we can’t say that we have reached an agreement."

Celebrations and cheer in central and southern Gaza were soon suppressed by an air strike on a house in Gaza's main southern city, Khan Younis, that wounded 13 people, according to hospital officials.

Israel started a huge ground assault last week to capture Khan Younis, and combat has also surged in northern areas that Israel claimed to have subdued weeks ago.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant claimed Israeli forces had now dismantled the Hamas brigade in Khan Younis, and that they had killed 10,000 Palestinian fighters and wounded the same number again since the war began nearly four months ago.

He said those forces would now press on to Rafah on the enclave's southern edge, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people are sheltering, mainly cold and hungry in makeshift tents and public buildings.

Residents said Israeli forces had pounded areas around hospitals in Khan Younis overnight, and stepped up attacks close to Rafah.

Osama Ahmed, 49, a father of five from Gaza City now sheltering in western Khan Younis, said there had been fierce resistance in the city, and relentless bombardment from air, ground and sea as Israeli tanks advanced.

"They haven’t entered deep into Al-Mawasi where we live but every day they get closer," he told Reuters by phone. "All we want is a ceasefire now."

US puts pressure on Israel

Appeals to Israel from its main ally, the United States, show little sign of having succeeded in easing the plight of Gaza's civilians.

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Washington is stepping up indirect pressure, however.

US President Joe Biden issued an executive order that aims to punish Israeli settlers who carry out attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank in an surge of violence triggered by the war in Gaza.

Biden is also under pressure to respond firmly to the killing of US soldiers - which Washington says bears the "footprints" of Kataeb Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian militia based in neighbouring Iraq - without igniting a wider war with Iran.

That group said on Wednesday it was suspending military action against US forces to avoid embarrassing Baghdad.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who have lost more than half a dozen of their members to Israeli strikes since December, are pulling their senior officers out of Syria, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Iranian advisers assist armed groups in both Iraq, where the US has around 2,500 troops, and Syria, where it has 900.

Further afield, the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which controls the most populous parts of Yemen, has attacked shipping in the Red Sea in what it says is solidarity with Gaza, drawing retaliatory strikes from the United States and Britain.

Overnight, the US military said it had hit up to 10 drones in Yemen being prepared for launch, while a US Navy ship downed three Iranian-made drones and a Houthi anti-ship missile.

Two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen hit the water rather than their likely target, the Liberian-flagged, Bermuda-owned freighter M/V KOI, US Central Command said.