The US is beefing up Middle East military assets as Israel attacks Gaza and beyond

  • Recent developments
  • Over 50 Gazans were killed in Israeli airstrikes overnight, according to medical sources
  • Israeli missile strikes targeting Damascus, Aleppo airports – Syrian state media
  • A civilian was killed, airports were disabled – state media

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Fears that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could spread across the Middle East rose on Sunday as the United States sent more military assets to the region as Israel struck targets in Gaza and elsewhere.

More than 50 Palestinians were killed overnight in Israeli airstrikes, Gaza medical sources said.

Syrian state media reported that Israeli missile strikes targeting Damascus and Aleppo international airports in neighboring Syria early Sunday killed a civilian worker and put the airports out of service.

Israel said its aircraft struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon on Saturday and one of its soldiers was hit by an anti-tank missile in cross-border fighting, killing six of its fighters from the Iran-backed group.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati on Saturday that the Lebanese people would suffer if his country was absorbed, the State Department said.

Israel began its “total blockade” of Gaza after an Oct. 7 cross-border attack on southern Israel by militants from the Islamist movement Hamas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, in a shock frenzy that stunned Israel.

Gaza’s health ministry said on Saturday that retaliatory Israeli air and missile strikes had killed at least 4,385 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, and displaced more than a million of the tiny territory’s 2.3 million people.

Escalating attacks

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington would send more military assets to the Middle East to support Israel and bolster the U.S. security posture in the region following “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces.”

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Austin said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional Patriot air defense missile system battalions will be sent to the region, and more troops will be put on standby.

Washington has already deployed a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 marines.

Drones and rockets targeted two military bases in Iraq where US forces are stationed last week, the latest in a series of attacks after Iraqi militants warned Washington against supporting Israel against Iran-backed Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A deadly blast at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday was likely caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza, not an Israeli strike, Canada’s Department of National Defense said, reaching similar conclusions with the United States and France.

Israeli warplanes struck a compound under a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank early Sunday, which the military said the militants were using to organize attacks.

Israeli forces killed a fifth Palestinian overnight in the West Bank, bringing the death toll there to 90 since the start of the war, the Palestinian health ministry said on Sunday.

At least 11 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli attack on the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, and Israel is attacking the southern city of Rafah, Palestinian media reported.

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The attacks came hours after Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari called on the Gazans to move south out of harm’s way.

“Move south for your own safety. We will continue to attack and escalate attacks in the area of ​​Gaza City,” Hagari told Israeli reporters on Saturday.

Help is coming, invasion looms

The first humanitarian aid convoy since the outbreak of war arrived through the Rafah border crossing on Saturday. The United Nations said the 20-truck convoy was carrying life-saving supplies to be received by the Palestinian Red Cross.

But the UN humanitarian office said the volume of goods entering on Saturday represented just 4% of Gaza’s daily average imports.

Biden, a longtime staunch supporter of Israel, cheered the arrival of aid after days of intense negotiations. He said the United States is committed to ensuring that additional aid is available to Palestinians who are without food, water, medicine and fuel.

“We will continue to work with all parties,” Biden said in a statement.

Israel has massed tanks and troops near the fenced border around Gaza for a planned ground invasion aimed at destroying Hamas, after several inconclusive battles since seizing power there in 2007.

“We are going to go into the Gaza Strip… destroy Hamas operatives and Hamas infrastructure,” Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi told troops in a video released by the Israeli military on Saturday. “The images that fell two weeks ago on Saturday and their memories will remain in our minds.”

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Michelle Nichols in New York, and the Washington and Jerusalem bureaus; By Bill Stewart and Lincoln Feist; Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard

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A veteran reporter with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.

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