Pentagon warns more strikes on Iranian backed groups if they continue attacking US forces two secret Quds Force bases hit Sunday Israel says Beirut will get the Gaza treatment if Hezbollah continues hostilities
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday left open the possibility of more strikes against Iran-linked groups if attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria don’t stop, hours after overnight U.S. air strikes in Syria.
The U.S. military carried out its third air strike in as many weeks in Syria late on Sunday, targeting a training facility near the city of Albu Kamal and a safe house near the city of Mayadeen.
The strikes came after at least 40 attacks against U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed forces in recent weeks, as regional tensions mount over the Israel-Hamas war. At least 45 U.S. troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries or minor wounds.
“These attacks must stop, and if they don’t stop, then we won’t hesitate to do what’s necessary, again, to protect the troops,” Austin told reporters at a news conference in Seoul.
There is growing concern that the Israel-Hamas conflict could spread through the Middle East and turn U.S. troops at isolated bases into targets of heavier weaponry than the smaller rockets and one-way drones seen so far.
The United States has deployed additional air defenses and sent warships and fighter aircraft to the region since the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted on Oct. 7, including two aircraft carriers, to try to deter Iran and Iran-backed groups.
The number of troops added to the region is in the thousands.
Reuters has reported that the U.S. military was taking new measures to protect its Middle East forces during the ramp-up in attacks by suspected Iran-backed groups, and was leaving open the possibility of evacuating military families if needed.
The measures include increasing U.S. military patrols, restricting access to base facilities and boosting intelligence collection, including through drone and other surveillance operations, officials say.
It was still unclear whether anyone was killed in the latest U.S. strikes in Syria. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a U.S. review was under way.
Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group that it is on the verge of making a costly mistake should it continue carrying out attacks close to Israel’s northern border, adding that it would be the Lebanese citizens who would pay the price in an escalation of conflict.
Speaking while on a visit to troops at the IDF’s 91st Division’s base in northern Israel on Saturday, Gallant warned the Hezbollah leadership that it is “close to making a grave mistake,” The Times of Israel reported. He added that it would be the people of Beirut who would suffer should skirmishes continue in Israel’s north.
“Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon into a war that may happen, and it is making mistakes,” Gallant said. “If it makes mistakes of this kind, the ones who will pay the price are first of all the citizens of Lebanon. What we are doing in Gaza we know how to do in Beirut,” the minister warned.
On Friday, Israel killed seven Hezbollah fighters close to its Lebanese border, bringing to 78 the number who have died since the Hamas cross-border attack in southern Israel last month.
Speaking on Saturday in what were his second long-form comments since the start of Israel’s renewed conflict with Hamas in October, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that there had been “an upgrade” in the group’s operations on its front with Israel.
“There has been a quantitative improvement in the number of operations, the size and number of targets, as well as an increase in the type of weapons,” Nasrallah said, according to Reuters.
Israel says it is homing in on Palestinian Hamas militants who launched deadly attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, and says the group has command centres under and near the hospitals.
Hospitals in the north of the Palestinian enclave, including the al-Shifa complex, are blockaded by Israeli forces and barely able to care for those inside, with three newborns dead and more at risk from power outages amid intense fighting nearby, according to medical staff.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) managed to speak to health professionals at al-Shifa, who described a “dire and perilous” situation with constant gunfire and bombing exacerbating the already critical situation, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Israel says it is trying to free the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 and says the hospitals should be evacuated.
The European Union condemned Hamas for using “hospitals and civilians as human shields” in Gaza, while also urging Israel to show “maximum restraint” to protect civilians.
“These hostilities are severely impacting hospitals and taking a horrific toll on civilians and medical staff,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday in a statement issued on behalf of the 27-nation bloc.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Hamas was using hospitals and other civilian facilities to house fighters and weapons, which he said was a violation of the laws of war.
“The United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals where innocent people, patients receiving medical care, are caught in the crossfire and we’ve had active consultations with the Israeli Defense Forces on this,”
Israel declared war on Hamas more than a month ago after militants rampaged through southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, according to Israeli officials.
Palestinian officials said on Friday that 11,078 Gaza residents had been killed in air and artillery strikes since then, around 40% of them children.