Philippines labels China as an ‘aggressor’ fanning tensions in the South China Sea


WASHINGTON, VATICAN CITY: The US warned against any “escalation” in the Middle East in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Sunday, hours after the Pentagon moved to step up military readiness in the region.

The US has seen a “prospect of significant escalation of attacks on our troops” in the region, Austin said, adding that the US military was preparing for “the ability to respond.”

“If any group or any country is looking to widen this conflict and take advantage of this very unfortunate situation that we see, our advice is: don’t,” he told ABC News.

“We maintain the right to defend ourselves and we won’t hesitate to take the appropriate action,”  he added. 

His comments came hours after the Pentagon said it was upping readiness in the region in response to “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces.”

Austin ordered the activation of air defense systems and notified additional forces that they may be deployed soon. Austin did not say how many US troops would be added to those already in the region.

The Pentagon’s moves came after what Austin had earlier described in a statement as “detailed discussions” with President Joe Biden.

“These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for US forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel,” Austin said.

The steps continued the Biden administration’s response since Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip stormed Israel on Oct. 7, taking more than 200 hostages and killing at least 1,400 people. 

Israel has since vowed to destroy Hamas, and says around 1,500 of the group’s fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area initially under attack.

Austin said he had activated deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD battery and additional Patriot battalions “throughout the region.”

He added: “Finally, I have placed an additional number of forces on prepare-to-deploy orders as part of prudent contingency planning, to increase their readiness and ability to quickly respond as required.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC News actions by Iran and its proxies could spark an escalation and that the US hoped for more hostages to be released by Hamas.

Tensions are rising along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon after the Israeli army traded fire with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah amid fears of a new front opening as Israel battles Hamas.

In south Lebanon on Saturday, Hezbollah said four of its fighters were killed. Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said one of its fighters was also killed. 

Armed factions close to Iran have threatened to attack US interests in Iraq over Washington’s support for Israel. Multiple Iraqi bases used by US-led coalition troops have been targeted in several attacks in recent days.

China calls for truce

China believes “force is not a way to resolve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is once again calling for a ceasefire, its envoy for the Middle East pleaded in Egypt, the Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

Egypt on Saturday hosted a “summit for peace” where UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for swift “action to end this godawful nightmare.”

Beijing’s envoy for the Middle East, Zhai Jun, met Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit on the sidelines of the summit.

The Chinese diplomat called for an “immediate ceasefire and an end to the fighting as quickly as possible,” his ministry said in a statement.

“China believes that force is not a way to resolve the problem and that responding to violence with violence will only lead to a vicious circle of revenge,” Zhai said according to the statement, which mentioned neither Israel nor Hamas.

China has so far maintained good relations with Israel, but it has supported the Palestinian cause for decades and traditionally backs a two-state solution.

China said on Thursday it was “deeply disappointed” by the US decision to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a “humanitarian pause” in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Washington justified its veto because the text did not mention Israel’s right to defend itself.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said it was “crucial to prevent the conflict from expanding or even losing control and causing a serious humanitarian crisis,” as he met with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli in Beijing on Thursday.

Source: Arab News

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