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US beefs up Middle East military assets as Israel pounds Gaza, targets in Syria, Lebanon

GAZA: Concerns about the risk of a wider Middle East conflict triggered by the Israel-Hamas war rose on Sunday (Oct 22) with the US dispatching more military assets to the region as Israel pummelled Gaza anew and hit Hamas supporters in Lebanon and Syria.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said 266 Palestinians, including 117 children, had been killed by Israeli air strikes in the past 24 hours in the enclave, to which Israel laid “total siege” after a deadly mass infiltration into Israel by Hamas gunmen on Oct 7.

In neighbouring Syria – where Hamas’s main regional backer Iran has a military presence – Israeli missiles hit Damascus and Aleppo international airports early on Sunday, putting both out of service and killing two workers, Syrian state media said.

Along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where Iran-backed Hezbollah has skirmished increasingly with Israeli forces in support of Hamas, the Israeli military said it struck several Hezbollah targets overnight, including what it called a compound from which a missile had been fired at one of its drones.

In later incidents, Israeli forces struck three groups of fighters who launched or were preparing to launch anti-armour missiles across the border, the military said, adding that it also shot down a drone approaching from within Lebanon.

Iranian security officials told Reuters Iran’s strategy was for Middle East proxies like Hezbollah to pursue limited strikes on Israeli and US targets but avoid a major escalation that would draw in Tehran, a high-wire act for the Islamic Republic.

With violence around its heavily guarded borders increasing, Israel on Sunday added 14 communities close to Lebanon and Syria to its evacuation plan in the north of the country.

Israel began unrelenting air strikes on Gaza to its southwest after Hamas militants breached the border and carried out a shock rampage through nearby communities, killing 1,400 people, mainly civilians, and taking 212 hostages back to Gaza.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Sunday that Israel’s air and missile strikes in retaliation had killed at least 4,741 and wounded 15,898, with over a million of the tiny, densely populated enclave’s 2.3 million people displaced.

US BEEFING UP MILITARY PRESENCE

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington would send more military assets to the Middle East in support of Israel and strengthen the US defence posture in the region following “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces” – a reference to Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamist militants.

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

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

Drones and rockets targeted two military bases housing US forces in Iraq last week, the latest in a series of attacks after Iraqi militants warned Washington against intervening to support Israel against Hamas in Gaza.

Israel has amassed tanks and troops near the fenced border around Gaza for a planned ground invasion aiming to annihilate Hamas, after several inconclusive wars dating to its seizure of power there in 2007, after Israel ended a 38-year occupation.

Elaborating on Israel’s strategy in remarks to Fox TV, military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said it was “to have a weakened, tired and dislocated Hamas in preparation for our next stage of military operations”.

“Our working assumption,” he said, “is that Hamas has prepared the battlefield, that there are various dimensions of warfare ready for us – specifically tunnels – and that Hamas, at least in the first and the intermediate stages, will fight and will inflict heavy casualties on (Israeli forces).”

Hamas’ armed wing said it had fired rockets at Tel Aviv on Sunday. There was no immediate word of damage or casualties.

With Israel keeping up daily bombardments that laid waste to swathes of the densely populated enclave, Palestinians said they received renewed Israeli military warnings to move from Gaza’s north to the south to avoid the deadliest theatre of the war.

They said military leaflets dropped on the narrow territory, just 45km long, contained the added warning that they could be identified as sympathisers with a “terrorist organisation” if they stayed put.

“For your own safety, move southward. We will continue to attack in the area of Gaza City and increase attacks,” Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said most of the dead from air strikes over the past 24 hours were in Gaza’s south. Israel says it is only targeting militants and that they often use residential buildings as cover.

Related:

Israel to step up Gaza bombardment hours after relief convoy enters

Arab leaders denounce Israel attacks on Gaza as risks to region rise

“THE SITUATION IS TRAGIC”

Deprived of electricity and water under Israeli siege, Gazans in the southern town of Khan Younis said they were struggling to feed their children, forming long queues to get bread made scarcer by power blackouts and a lack of flour.“We are suffering extremely, waiting since dawn to get bread. If this continues for two more days it will be catastrophic,” said Saleh Skafi, a father of four from north Gaza now sheltering in Khan Younis. “The situation is tragic.”

The first humanitarian aid convoy allowed into Gaza since war erupted arrived in southern Gaza from Egypt on Saturday after days of tortuous negotiations. The UN said the 20-truck convoy brought life-saving medical supplies and some food.

A second convoy of 17 trucks loaded with medical and food supplies entered the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing on Sunday and was being inspected before proceeding into Gaza, security and humanitarian sources said.

But the UN humanitarian office said the volume of aid entering so far was just 4 per cent of the daily average before the hostilities and a fraction of what was needed with food, water, medicines and fuel stocks running out.

Moreover, Israel has refused to allow in fuel as part of aid shipments lest it end up in Hamas’ hands.

“Without fuel, the humanitarian response will stop. There will be no water, no functioning hospitals and bakeries,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA. “This cannot and should not happen.”

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