Islamic State said it carried out Iran suicide bombings that killed dozens: War updates

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The Islamic State claimed responsibility Thursday for the two bombings that killed dozens at a remembrance for a slain general in Iran, the latest development to rock the Middle East amid the chaos caused by the Hamas-Israel war.

Israel and its chief ally, the U.S., have been grappling with repeated assaults from Iran-backed militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen as they attempt to keep the war from expanding.

An Israeli link to Wednesday’s suicide attacks in the central Iran city of Kerman, where at least 84 were killed and more than 280 wounded, had the potential to provoke Iranian retaliation and further destabilize the region.

But according to the Associated Press, experts who follow the Islamic State confirmed the statement taking responsibility, circulated online among jihadists, came from the extremists, who are probably trying to exploit the region’s turmoil.

The European Union’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, said this week he fears the Middle East could become “engulfed in flames.”

Israel destroys Shifa Hospital tunnels:More ‘terrorist infrastructure’ eyed

Developments:

∎ Former Vice President Mike Pence visited southern Israel on Thursday, saying the U.S. stood with Israel even as the world community “always seems to find its way eventually to criticizing Israel, particularly in places like the United Nations.”

∎ Palestinians fleeing combat zones have once again been attacked as an Israeli airstrike killed a married couple, seven of their children and three other children in a southern Gaza home located in an area the Israeli military had declared safe.

∎ The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said it received reports that gunmen boarded a merchant ship about 500 miles east of Eyl, Somalia. Shipping companies, including global giant Maersk, have cut back on transiting through the nearby Red Sea amid increased Houthi attacks targeting ships believed to be Israeli or traveling to Israel.

∎ The Israeli Defense Ministry rejected a U.N. claim that it hasn’t been able to deliver humanitarian aid to northern Gaza for three days because of the fighting and difficulties accessing the area. The ministry said it had expanded access to border crossings and accused the U.N. of “stalling.”

∎ The Beirut apartment destroyed in the attack that killed Arouri was being used by Hamas for the first time since the militant group vacated it ahead of its Oct. 7. attack on Israel, the Lebanese Al-Akhbar news outlet reported. Arouri had just returned after spending several weeks in Qatar and Turkey, Al-Akhbar reported.

Saleh Arouri killed:Top Hamas leader dies in apparent Israeli strike

US airstrike kills militia leader in Iraq, heightening tensions

The Pentagon acknowledged Thursday launching an airstrike that killed a senior commander of an Iran-backed militia in Baghdad, an attack condemned by the Iraqi military.

Brigade commander Mushtaq Jawad Kazim al-Jawari, known as Abu Taqwa, was among at least two men killed when their vehicle was struck near the headquarters of the Harakat al-Nujaba militia, which the U.S. believes had attacked American personnel in the region.

Militias in Iraq and Syria have launched at least 100 operations against coalition forces since the start of the Hamas-Israel war, which the U.S. is trying to keep from spilling into other countries.

Harakat al-Nujaba is nominally under the control of the Iraqi military, which said in a statement it blamed the U.S.-led coalition forces for the “unprovoked attack on an Iraqi security body operating” under the government’s authority.

The Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said the strike was “necessary and proportionate” and that no civilians were harmed. “Abu Taqwa was actively involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel,” Ryder said.

Houthis launch another Red Sea attack despite US threat

A day after the U.S. and 12 allies issued an ultimatum for Houthi rebels from Yemen to stop attacking ships in the Red Sea, an armed sea drone from the militant group came within about two miles of U.S. Navy and commercial vessels in the Red Sea before exploding Thursday.

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who heads the Navy’s operations in the Middle East, did not provide details on why the unmanned surface vessel blew up, but said it was “packed with explosives.”

Cooper told reporters there have been 25 attacks on merchant ships in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since Nov. 18. In mid-December, the U.S. announced the formation of a multination coalition under the title Operation Prosperity Guarding intended to deter the assaults and protect the merchant ships.

Noting the defensive mission of the operation, Cooper said, “We are certainly mindful of the continued threat and expect the Houthi attacks may continue.”

Israeli jet hits targets in Lebanon

An Israeli fighter jet pounded an observation post and “infrastructure” of Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon on Thursday. The Israeli military said its assault on Hezbollah positions in Lebanon, coming a day after Hezbollah rockets slammed into Israel, also included an attack on an anti-tank squad and and a mortar attack to “remove a threat.”

Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Israel have been firing rockets back and forth across the border sporadically since the war began Oct. 7, but the Hezbollah attacks have increased in recent days, the Israeli military says. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has pledged to “punish” Israel for Tuesday’s drone attack that killed several militants, including second-in-command Saleh Arouri.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah has tried to balance the need to support Gaza with concerns for Lebanon’s national interests. But if the Israelis launch a war on Lebanon, the group is ready for a “fight without limits,” he said.

“They will regret it,” he said. “It will be very, very, very costly.”

Israel: ‘Short window of time’ to avoid confronting Hezbollah

There is still a chance to keep the growing tensions with Hezbollah from turning into a bigger confrontation, though that time frame is dwindling, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday.

“There is a short window of time for diplomatic understandings, which we prefer,” Gallant told White House envoy Amos Hochstein in Tel Aviv. “We will not tolerate the threats posed by the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, and we will ensure the security of our citizens.”

Israel is pushing for the safe return of 80,000 residents of northern Israel displaced from their homes near the Lebanon border by the Hezbollah shelling. Israel has demanded that Hezbollah respect a 2006 U.N. cease-fire requiring it to pull back from the Israeli border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke with Hochstein and said he’s seeking a “fundamental change” on Israel’s border with Lebanon but did not elaborate.

Hamas leader mourned amid fears war will spread

Thousands of mourners waving Palestinian and Hamas flags marched along Beirut streets Thursday for the funeral of Hamas second-in-command Saleh Arouri, killed days earlier in an apparent Israeli drone attack in the Lebanese capital.

The remains of Arouri, with his rifle sitting atop his coffin, and two of the other victims of the Tuesday attack were taken to a Beirut mosque for prayers, then carried by the crowd to the Palestine Martyrs Cemetery. High-level Palestinian, Hamas and even some Lebanese officials attended the funeral.

“The enemy is running away from its failures and defeats (in Gaza) to Lebanon,” senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech aired during the funeral. He called Arouri’s death “proof of (Israel’s) bloody mentality.”

Lebanese officials and state media said Arouri was one of seven Hamas members killed in the assault. Israel, which has not claimed responsibility, was on high alert amid increased military activity across the Lebanese border.

The escalation comes despite efforts by the Biden administration and other governments to keep the Israeli-Hamas war from spreading across the region.

Israel blocks tax payments to Palestinian Authority

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich refused to allow the transfer of Palestinian tax funds to Gaza, saying he feared the money would be funneled to Hamas. The U.S. and other nations are urging Israel to release the funds so the Palestinian Authority can pay the salaries of public workers and other bills. Smotrich, however, has focused on the authority’s plan to provide some relief to the families of “martyrs, prisoners and wounded” Palestinians.

“I greatly appreciate the support of the USA and President Biden for Israel, but as long as I am the Minister of Finance, we will not transfer a single shekel to the Palestinian Authority that will go to the families of the terrorists and Nazis in Gaza,” Smotrich said.

Smotrich, leader of the far-rigth Religious Zionism Party, drew the ire of the U.S., Britain and France earlier this week when he promoted his “voluntary emigration” plan that would encourage Palestinians to leave Gaza after the war.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Source: www.usatoday.com

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