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Russia, China accuse US of 'deliberately' stoking Middle East tensions

Washington strikes Huthi uncrewed surface vessels in Yemen: Says it did not give Iraq advance warning of air strikes

By AFP

February 6, 2024 08:47 AM


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Russia and China accused the United States during a UN Security Council meeting on Monday of stoking already high tensions in the Middle East with its recent retaliatory strikes on Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria.

The US military struck dozens of targets in Syria and Iraq overnight on Friday into Saturday, in retaliation for a January 28 drone attack on a base in Jordan that killed three US soldiers.

The strikes, which targeted elite Iranian units and pro-Iranian militant groups, have led to fears that the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza could spiral into a regional conflict.

"It's clear that American airstrikes are specifically, deliberately aimed to stoke the conflict," said Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzia, whose country had called for the emergency meeting.

China's ambassador Jun Zhang similarly claimed that the "US actions will certainly exacerbate the vicious cycle of tit-for-tat violence in the Middle East."

Anger over Israel's devastating campaign in Gaza -- which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 -- has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

A UN official called for "all parties to step back from the brink and to consider the unbearable human and economic cost of a potential regional conflict."

"I appeal to the Council to continue to actively engage all concerned parties to prevent further escalation and the worsening of tensions that undermine regional peace and security," said Rosemary DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs.

The American strikes have drawn criticism from the governments of Iraq and Syria, and also from Iran, which denies any role in last month's drone attack.

"Any attempt to attribute these actions to Iran or its armed forces is misleading, baseless and unacceptable," Iranian ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani told the Council on Monday.

He pledged that if Iran faces "any threat, attack or aggression affecting its security," it would "not hesitate to exercise its inherent rights... to respond firmly."

The White House said Sunday it plans more retaliatory action.

"Let me be clear, United States does not desire more conflict in a region when we are actively working to contain and deescalate the conflict in Gaza," said deputy ambassador Robert Wood.

He added: "We are not seeking a direct conflict with Iran, but we will continue to defend our personnel against unacceptable attacks. Period."

US strikes Huthi uncrewed surface vessels

The US military said Monday it had struck explosive uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) operated by Huthi rebels in Yemen, days after a wave of joint strikes with Britain aimed at stopping continued attacks on international shipping.

"US forces identified the explosive USVs in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region," Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

The strikes against the two USVs, essentially explosive-laden drone boats, were carried out at 3:30 pm local time (1230 GMT), CENTCOM said, and follow repeated unilateral and joint actions taken by the United States against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels, whose attacks in solidarity with Palestinians in war-battered Gaza have disrupted global trade.

American forces also carried out air strikes against five missiles in Yemen on Sunday -- one designed for land attack and the others for targeting ships, the US military said.

Late Saturday, US and UK forces carried out their third wave of joint strikes, which hit 36 Huthi targets across 13 locations, according to a statement by the United States, Britain and other countries that provided support for the operation.

Huthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the next day that "these attacks will not deter us from our... stance in support of the steadfast Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip."

The Huthis began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

In addition to strikes against the Huthis, the United States set up a multinational naval task force aimed at protecting shipping on the transit route, which carries up to 12 percent of global trade.

US says it did not give Iraq advance warning of air strikes

The United States did not notify the Iraqi government in advance of recent strikes against pro-Iranian targets in the country, the State Department said Monday, clarifying White House statements suggesting otherwise.

"There was not a pre-notification, we informed the Iraqis immediately after the strikes occurred," State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

The United States carried out strikes in Syria and Iraq on Friday against targets of elite Iranian forces and pro-Iranian armed groups.

The strikes were in retaliation for an attack on January 28 that killed three American soldiers in Jordan, near the Iraqi and Syrian borders. Washington has blamed the attack on forces aligned with Tehran.

"The Iraqi government, like every country in the region, understood that there would be a response after the deaths of our soldiers," Patel added.

Regional tensions are already running high in the face of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, and both Iraq and Syria condemned the strikes, with Baghdad denouncing "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty" and warning of "disastrous consequences" for the country and beyond.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby had told reporters on Friday evening that Washington "did inform the Iraqi government prior to the strikes," angering Baghdad.

"I responded with information that I had been provided at the time," Kirby said on Monday.

"It was not as specific as it could have been, and I regret any confusion caused.

"That said, we had made no secret –- both to Iraqi officials and in public channels -– that we would respond to the attacks on our troops. And, we did, in fact, officially notify Iraq, as appropriate with standard procedure," he added.

Anger over Israel's devastating campaign in Gaza -- which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 -- has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Tensions between the US and Iraqi governments have deepened in recent months after Washington carried out previous strikes in response to a flurry of attacks on US-led troops since the Israel-Hamas war began.

US and allied troops in the region have been attacked more than 165 times since mid-October, mostly in Iraq and Syria, but the Jordan deaths were the first from hostile fire during that period.

A US-led coalition was set up in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group after it seized swaths of Iraq and Syria, with roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq and about 900 in Syria as part of the effort.

Washington and Baghdad opened talks on the future of the US-led troop presence late last month after repeated demands from Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani for a timetable for their withdrawal.


AFP


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