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Middle East crisis live: US to take ‘all necessary action’ to defend troops after three killed in drone attack


US to take ‘all necessary actions’ after troops killed in Jordan drone attack, says Lloyd Austin

The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, has vowed the US will take “all necessary actions” to defend its troops after three servicemen were killed and dozens injured following a drone attack by Iran-backed militants on a US service base on the border of Jordan and Syria.

“Let me start with my outrage and sorrow (for) the deaths of three brave US troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded,” Austin said at the start of a meeting with the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, at the Pentagon.

The president and I will not tolerate attacks on US forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend the US and our troops.

Austin’s comments came as the spectre of a direct US-Iranian military conflict drew closer following the drone attack, which marked the first time American military personnel have been killed by hostile fire in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October.

US air force general Charles Quinton Brown Jr. (2L) looks on as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) speaks during a meeting with Nato’s Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon in Washington DC. Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/AFP/Getty Images

Key events

Joe Biden is under pressure from Republicans to strike Iran directly, and even bomb Tehran, after three US troops were killed in a drone attack on a military outpost in Jordan.

US forces have faced a near-daily barrage of drone and missile strikes in Iraq and Syria since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas, but Saturday’s attack on Tower 22 draws the US much closer to a direct conflict with Iran, an outcome both sides insist they wish to avoid, but may now be unable to prevent as the incidents proliferate and escalate in impact.

Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks but Islamic Resistance in Iraq have claimed responsibility as part of efforts, galvanised by the Israel-Hamas war, to try to drive US troops out of Iraq and Syria.

It is the first time American military personnel have been killed by hostile fire in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October.

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In a statement, the US president pointedly said the US would hold all those responsible to account at a time of the US choosing, and the Pentagon made no attempt to disguise its belief that Iran is ultimately behind the attacks.

Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Tel Aviv and nearby cities on Monday, after weeks of relative quiet in central Israel.

As we reported earlier, rocket sirens sounded in major cities across central Israel earlier today, sending residents running for shelter.

Israel’s military said 15 rockets had been fired, six of which were intercepted. There were no reports of casualties.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

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A top UN official has arrived in Israel to gather details over alleged sexual violence committed by Hamas during their 7 October attacks.

Pramila Patten, the UN envoy for sexual violence in conflict, was invited by Israeli foreign ministry “so that she could receive an unmediated impression of the extent of the atrocities and then bring Hamas’s crimes to the attention of the proper international authorities”, the ministry said in a statement.

During her trip, Patten will meet survivors, witnesses and representatives of security forces to collect evidence of sexual violence committed against women and men during the 7 October attack, it says.

She will also visit the occupied West Bank, where she will meet with the Palestinian Authority, civil society organisations, and recently released hostages, according to a statement from the UN last week.

The visit was “neither intended nor mandated to be investigative in nature, a mandate which is vested in other entities of the United Nations system, which have expressed their willingness and availability to investigate”, her office said. The statement continued:

The mission of the special representative aims to give voice to survivors, witnesses, recently released hostages and those affected to identify avenues for support, including justice and accountability and to gather, analyse and verify information to inform reporting to the security council in the exercise of her mandate.

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US to take ‘all necessary actions’ after troops killed in Jordan drone attack, says Lloyd Austin

The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, has vowed the US will take “all necessary actions” to defend its troops after three servicemen were killed and dozens injured following a drone attack by Iran-backed militants on a US service base on the border of Jordan and Syria.

“Let me start with my outrage and sorrow (for) the deaths of three brave US troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded,” Austin said at the start of a meeting with the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, at the Pentagon.

The president and I will not tolerate attacks on US forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend the US and our troops.

Austin’s comments came as the spectre of a direct US-Iranian military conflict drew closer following the drone attack, which marked the first time American military personnel have been killed by hostile fire in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October.

US air force general Charles Quinton Brown Jr. (2L) looks on as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) speaks during a meeting with Nato’s Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon in Washington DC. Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/AFP/Getty Images
Bethan McKernan

Bethan McKernan

Sunday’s event in Jerusalem drew horrified reaction from elsewhere in the Israeli political spectrum, as well as criticism from the US, Israel’s most important ally.

The leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, said the coalition government, elected in 2022, had “reached a new low”, adding:

This poses international damage, undermines potential negotiations, endangers soldiers, and reflects a grave lack of responsibility.

A senior US official told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth:

The radical right’s conference with calls to renew Jewish settlement in Gaza is simply repulsive.

“This is an awful mistake by Netanyahu, who didn’t prevent it. It raises questions as to whether Bibi has his hands on the wheel at all,” he said, using the prime minister’s well-known moniker.

Netanyahu’s office did not comment on the conference, but when asked about it the day before it said attendees were “entitled to their opinions”.

The prime minister has previously dismissed suggestions that Israel will re-establish a civilian presence in Gaza after the conclusion of the war. However, earlier this month he said he would “not compromise on full Israeli security control over all of the territory west of the Jordan [River] – and that is in opposition to a Palestinian state”.

Netanyahu’s coalition government, the most rightwing in Israel’s 75-year history, has made settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank a priority since it took office at the end of 2022. Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are viewed as illegal by the majority of the international community, including the Biden administration.

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Bethan McKernan

Bethan McKernan

In their remarks on Sunday, both Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, called for the re-establishment of Jewish settlements in Gaza and the north of the West Bank, known to some Israelis as Samaria. Ben-Gvir said:

We must encourage voluntary migration. Let them leave. Part of correcting the mistake of the sin of the preconception that brought us to 7 October is to return home to Gush Katif [southern Gaza] and to northern Samaria. We have to return home, because that is the Torah, that is morality, that is historic justice, that is logic and that is the right thing.

He reiterated his support for bringing back the death penalty for terrorism offences. Smotrich said in his speech:

I took a beating in the eighth grade when we opposed the terrible folly of the Oslo accords.

“We yelled until we were hoarse: ‘Don’t give them guns,’ and they didn’t listen to us,” he said, referring to the failed peace process with the Palestinians in the 1990s.

I had the privilege of fighting against the expulsion from Gush Katif and northern Samaria. I paid for that with my own liberty.

The Israeli national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, (striped tie) dancing at the conference. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

Other members of the coalition government in attendance included: Shlomo Karhi, the Likud communications minister; Orit Strook, a member of the far-right Religious Zionist party and the minister of settlements and national missions; Yitzhak Goldknopf, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party and the housing minister; and the Likud member of the Knesset Haim Katz.

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Bethan McKernan

Bethan McKernan

Ministers and parliamentarians in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government attended a conference on Sunday calling for the resettlement of the Gaza Strip and “voluntary migration” of the Palestinian population elsewhere.

The event in Jerusalem , called the “Victory of Israel Conference: Settlement Brings Security”, hosted speeches by well-known extremists in Netanyahu’s cabinet, including the national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and the finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, and was attended by 1,000 people, including 11 cabinet ministers and 15 members of the Knesset, some of them being members of the prime minister’s Likud party.

The prominent role of government figures in the far-right conference appears to violate the international court of justice ruling last week that Israel must “take all measures within its power” to avoid acts of genocide in its war in Gaza, including the “prevention and punishment of genocidal rhetoric”.

Participants, who included influential rabbis, settlement leaders and families of soldiers fighting in the Gaza Strip, were presented with maps and detailed preparations for the re-establishment of a Jewish presence in the areas inside what is considered internationally as the borders of a would-be Palestinian state.

Several participants carried guns, and outside the convention centre vendors sold T-shirts reading: “Gaza is part of the land of Israel.” One speaker was Rabbi Uzi Sharbag, a former leader of the banned far-right terrorist group Jewish Underground.

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Negotiators agree on new hostage deal framework to put to Hamas today – report

Officials from Israel, the US, Egypt and Qatar have agreed on a framework for negotiations aimed at brokering a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, according to a report.

A draft is being presented to Hamas today, NBC reported, citing a source familiar with the talks.

The proposed deal would allow for the remaining American and Israeli hostages to be freed, starting with the women and children, the source said.

This would be accompanied by phased pauses in the fighting and aid deliveries to Gaza, along with the exchange of Palestinian prisoners, they said.

A statement from the Israeli prime minister’s office on Sunday said talks in Paris aimed at brokering a hostage deal were “constructive” but meaningful gaps remain. The statement said the parties would continue to hold discussions this week.

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The US and the UK have announced sanctions against individuals who they said targeted Iranian dissidents and activists for assassination at the direction of the Iranian regime.

The group, said to run “at the behest of Iran’s ministry of intelligence and security”, is alleged to have conducted assassinations and kidnappings “across multiple jurisdictions”, said the US treasury department in a statement.

It said the network has carried out “numerous acts of transnational repression” including assassinations and kidnappings in an attempt “to silence the Iranian regime’s perceived critics”.

The network is led by Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, who was identified as an Iranian narcotics trafficker, and includes members of his family, it said.

In a separate statement, the UK Foreign Office announced sanctions against seven individuals and one organisation who it said were involved in threats to kill journalists on British soil, and others it said were part of international criminal gangs linked to Iran. It said:

The Iranian officials designated today are members of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Unit 840, which was exposed in an ITV investigation into plots to assassinate two television presenters from news channel Iran International on UK soil. This plot was just the latest credible reporting of the regime’s attempt to intimidate or kill British nationals or UK-linked individuals.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said the sanctions package “exposes the roles of the Iranian officials and gangs involved in activity aimed to undermine, silence and disrupt the democratic freedoms we value in the UK”, adding:

The UK and US have sent a clear message – we will not tolerate this threat.

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Rocket sirens have been reported in Tel Aviv for the first time in more than a month.

Sirens sounded in other major cities across central Israel including Rishon LeZion, Holon and Bat Yam.

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Patrick Wintour

Patrick Wintour

Israel has struck an Iran-linked site south of the Syrian capital, Damascus, killing several people, two days after regional tensions rose again when three US troops were killed in a drone attack on a military outpost in Jordan.

The Israeli strikes, which also left an unspecified number injured, were not regarded as a direct response to the attack on the Tower 22 base on the Jordan-Syria border. The US has vowed to take revenge for the loss of its forces, and it is unlikely that Washington would subcontract this task to Israel.

The strikes hit an area on the edge of a southern suburb of Damascus. Photograph: Yamam Al Shaar/Reuters

Iranian and Syrian official media said Monday’s attacks came from the Golan Heights and were attributed to Israel. The strikes hit the area of Aqraba, on the edge of the southern Damascus suburb of Sayyida Zeinab, according to the Dama Post. There was no immediate comment from Israel.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition Syrian war monitor, said the strikes hit a farm housing members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group and other Iran-backed factions. It said seven people were killed, including four Syrians, one of whom was the bodyguard of a member of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards. It did not give the nationalities of the others.

Israel frequently mounts strikes against Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps bases inside Syria, but the intensity of the attacks has been raised since the 7 October attack by Hamas.

Summary of the day so far …

It is 5pm in Gaza City and Tel Aviv, 6pm in Damascus, 6.30pm in Tehran and 8pm in Islamabad. Here are the headlines …

  • John Kirby has said that the White House is not seeking a war with Iran or regional escalation. He said: “What we want is a stable, secure, prosperous Middle East, and we want these attacks to stop.” The US president, Joe Biden, has blamed Iran-backed groups for the unmanned aerial drone attack on US forces which killed three service personnel in Jordan, the first deadly strike against US forces since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October.

  • A dossier drawn up by Israel claims that a school counsellor employed by the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza was involved in kidnapping an Israeli woman during atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October. Another employee of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a social worker, helped to bring the body of an Israeli soldier into Gaza and distributed ammunition, the dossier claims.

  • They were among 12 UNRWA staff alleged by Israel to have taken part in the 7 October attacks or in the aftermath. As a result of the claims, a string of western countries including the US and the UK have suspended funding to the agency. Austria and Romania said on Monday they were also suspending funds to UNRWA, and the EU said it was considering future payments to the agency “in light of the very serious allegations”.

  • UNRWA said on Monday that it would not be able to continue operations in Gaza and across the region beyond the end of February if funding were not resumed. An estimated 2 million people are dependent on UNWRA services. The charity ActionAid has described the withdrawal of funding for UNRWA by some donor nations as a “death sentence” for the population of Gaza.

  • Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appeared to confirm on Monday that Israel had circulated the intelligence dossier, and described the relief agency as “perforated with Hamas”. Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, has posted to social media that he has cancelled planned meetings with UNRWA, and directly called on the head of the organisation, Philippe Lazzarini, to resign.

  • The overall death toll in Gaza since 7 October has reached 26,637 Palestinians, with a further 65,387 injured in Israeli strikes, according to the Gaza health ministry. 215 Palestinians were killed in the last 24 hours, the ministry reported. On Friday, the international court of justice in The Hague told Israel it must “take all measures within its power” to desist from killing Palestinians in contravention of the genocide convention.

  • Hani Mahmoud, writing for Al Jazeera from Rafah, has described the situation in Khan Younis as “heart-wrenching”, reporting “large-scale bombings in densely populated areas, more evacuation orders, and mass arrests” by Israeli forces. Israel’s military has issued a statement in which it claims to have killed “dozens of armed terrorists in battles in the central Gaza Strip”, and says that activities “against terrorist operatives and infrastructure are continuing in Khan Younis and Gaza City”.

  • Five Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in four different incidents in the Israeli-occupied West Bank in the past 24 hours, the Palestinian health ministry said on Monday. Palestinian news agency Wafa reports that 378 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank since 7 October.

  • Protesters, including some relatives of those being held hostage in Gaza by Hamas, have gathered again at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, with the intention of blocking humanitarian aid entering Palestinian territory. OCHA’s latest update on the Gaza-Israel conflict said aid deliveries to northern and central Gaza are increasingly being denied by Israel.

  • Far-right Israeli ministers and ministers belonging to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party have attended a conference on the resettlement of Gaza, at which the national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, said Israelis needed “to find a legal way to voluntarily emigrate [Palestinians]”

  • Media in Syria said an apparent Israeli airstrike on a Damascus suburb where Iran-backed fighters have a presence killed two people on Monday.

  • The UK added eight designations under its Iran sanctions regime.

  • Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, held talks in Islamabad with his Pakistan counterpart, Jalil Abbas Jilani. Jilani said the two countries were able to bring the “situation back to normal in the shortest possible time” after the recent exchange of airstrikes because both sides had agreed to resume dialogue to resolve all issues.

  • US officials have rejected a claim by Yemen’s Houthis that they attacked US navy vessel the USS Lewis B Puller.

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Here are some of the latest images sent to us over the newswires from inside the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians continue to flee the Israeli military ground operation and bombing in Khan Younis, heading for makeshift camps in the overcrowded south of the Gaza Strip. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Smoke rises above Khan Younis, as seen from Rafah where tens of thousands of Palestinians are forced to shelter in tents. Photograph: Reuters
Palestinians search for bodies and survivors among the rubble of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes in Deir al-Balah. Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA

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Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, has posted to social media that he has cancelled planned meetings with UNRWA, and called on the head of the organisation, Philippe Lazzarini, to resign.

Katz added: “Supporters of terrorism are not welcome here.”

I have just canceled the meetings of @UNRWA head, @UNLazzarini, with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel on Wednesday.@UNRWA employees participated in the massacre of October 7.

Lazzarini should draw conclusions and resign. Supporters of terrorism are not…

— ישראל כ”ץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) January 29, 2024

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