Mysterious US Military Movements in Iraq... Syria a Possible Target

Norwegian soldiers prepare to board a Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise at Ain Al-Asad Air Base in July (US Army)
Norwegian soldiers prepare to board a Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise at Ain Al-Asad Air Base in July (US Army)
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Mysterious US Military Movements in Iraq... Syria a Possible Target

Norwegian soldiers prepare to board a Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise at Ain Al-Asad Air Base in July (US Army)
Norwegian soldiers prepare to board a Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise at Ain Al-Asad Air Base in July (US Army)

Photos of US military convoys moving in separate cities are circulating on the local media in Iraq amid reports that the Shiite factions are “aware of an imminent operation, and have been asked to avoid escalation.”

However, Major General Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, denied in a televised statement any US military movements.

In turn, a government official told Asharq Al-Awsat that the alleged movements “are limited to locations outside the Iraqi border.”

But three Iraqi figures, including a leader in an armed faction stationed in northwestern Iraq, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US was repositioning its troops in the region, in preparation for a military operation outside Iraq.

The leader noted that the armed factions believe that the strategic objective of the operation was to “change the rules of engagement with the Russians in Syria.”

“What we have now is just speculation, based on limited information, as the Americans do not share much with Baghdad about their operations,” he underlined.

According to the Iraqi figures, “the Americans will also try to cut off the Iranian supply route towards Syria and Lebanon, through Iraqi territory (...). This is all we know so far.”

Unusually, factions known for their positions against the US presence are maintaining calm over the recent US movements.

A leader in the Coordination Framework said: “The faction leaders recently discussed information about the American moves, and received an Iranian message that what the Americans are doing - whatever it is - is not a cause for concern.”



Abdollahian: No Agreement on Palestine was Reached without Consulting Iran

Abdollahian speaks to a group of Tehran University students on Saturday. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)
Abdollahian speaks to a group of Tehran University students on Saturday. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)
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Abdollahian: No Agreement on Palestine was Reached without Consulting Iran

Abdollahian speaks to a group of Tehran University students on Saturday. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)
Abdollahian speaks to a group of Tehran University students on Saturday. (Iranian Foreign Ministry)

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Abdollahian said that no agreement on Palestine had been reached without consulting Iran, and warned of an “uncontrollable explosion” in the Middle East if the United States continued to support Israel in the war against Hamas in Gaza. This came after Washington used its veto against a draft resolution in the UN Security Council.
 In a phone call with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday, Abdollahian said: “As long as America supports the crimes of the Zionist regime and the continuation of the war… there is a possibility of an uncontrollable explosion in the situation of the region.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry’s statement came after the United States used its veto, on Friday, against a draft resolution in the UN Security Council calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip.
He praised the UN chief’s decision to use Article 99 of the UN Charter, as “brave action to maintain international peace and security.”
In a speech to the students of the University of Tehran on Saturday, Abdollahian said that no agreement had been reached on Palestine without consulting Iran, stressing the close coordination between diplomacy and the field, in reference to the cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Quds Force, which is entrusted with the foreign operations of the Revolutionary Guards.
“We support the resistance groups, and this is within the framework of our values, but they make decisions according to their interests and conditions,” Abdollahian said.
He continued: “The resistance’s decision to attack US bases in the region was because of [US] explicit support [for Israel].”
 The Iranian minister reiterated previous statements about his country receiving messages from the US, saying: “In one of these messages, they asked us to tell the resistance groups, to stop their attacks on [US] bases.”
He added: “Our answer was clear: We will not issue any orders because they are independent, and Iran respects their decisions and continues to support them.”


UN Chief Says He Will Not Give Up Appeals for Ceasefire in Gaza

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting called in response to the Secretary-General invoking Article 99 of the United Nations charter to address the humanitarian crisis being caused by conflict between Israel and Hamas in New York, New York, USA, 08 December 2023. EPA/JUSTIN LANE
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting called in response to the Secretary-General invoking Article 99 of the United Nations charter to address the humanitarian crisis being caused by conflict between Israel and Hamas in New York, New York, USA, 08 December 2023. EPA/JUSTIN LANE
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UN Chief Says He Will Not Give Up Appeals for Ceasefire in Gaza

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting called in response to the Secretary-General invoking Article 99 of the United Nations charter to address the humanitarian crisis being caused by conflict between Israel and Hamas in New York, New York, USA, 08 December 2023. EPA/JUSTIN LANE
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting called in response to the Secretary-General invoking Article 99 of the United Nations charter to address the humanitarian crisis being caused by conflict between Israel and Hamas in New York, New York, USA, 08 December 2023. EPA/JUSTIN LANE

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday he will not give up appealing for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, adding that the war undermined the credibility and authority of the Security Council.
Gueterres was speaking at the Doha Forum conference as Washington vetoed on Friday a proposed UN Security Council demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas, Reuters said.
"I urged the Security Council to press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and I reiterated my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared," Guterres said.
"Regrettably, the Security Council failed to do it, but that does not make it less necessary," he said.
"I will not give up," Guterres added.
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the gathering that Doha will continue to pressure Israel and Hamas for a truce despite "narrowing" chances.
Qatar has been leading negotiations between the group and Israel.
Sheikh Mohammed said hostages were released from Gaza because of negotiations and not because of Israel's military actions.
The head of UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinians, said the dehumanization of Palestinians has allowed the international community to tolerate Israel's continued attacks on Gaza.
"There is no doubt that a humanitarian ceasefire is needed if we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza," UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said.
The United States and Israel oppose a ceasefire because they believe it would only benefit Hamas. Washington instead supports pauses in fighting to protect civilians and allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas in a deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.


Jordan Says Israel Aims to Expel Palestinians from Gaza

File photo: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at a press conference after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Amman, Jordan (Reuters)
File photo: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at a press conference after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Amman, Jordan (Reuters)
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Jordan Says Israel Aims to Expel Palestinians from Gaza

File photo: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at a press conference after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Amman, Jordan (Reuters)
File photo: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at a press conference after a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Amman, Jordan (Reuters)

Jordan's foreign minister Ayman Safadi said on Sunday Israel was implementing a systematic policy of pushing Palestinians out of Gaza by a war that has killed thousands of civilians.
In remarks at a conference in Doha, Safadi, whose country borders the West Bank and had absorbed the bulk of Palestinians after Israel's creation in 1948, also said Israel had created an "amount of hatred " that would "haunt the region" and "define generations to come", reported Reuters.


UNRWA Chief Says Dehumanization of Palestinians Enable Israeli Attacks

Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts (Reuters)
Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts (Reuters)
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UNRWA Chief Says Dehumanization of Palestinians Enable Israeli Attacks

Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts (Reuters)
Palestinian employees of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) take part in a protest against job cuts (Reuters)

The head of UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinians, on Sunday said that dehumanization of Palestinians has allowed the international community to bear continued Israeli attacks in Gaza.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the refugee agency is on the verge of collapsing in Gaza, adding that an immediate ceasefire is needed to end “hell on earth” in Gaza.

On Sunday, Israeli forces pushed into southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled in search of shelter from bombardments and intense fighting with Hamas.

Aid groups have sounded the alarm on the "apocalyptic" humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory, warning it is on the brink of being overwhelmed by disease and starvation.

For its part, Hamas said Sunday that Israel had launched a series of "very violent raids" targeting the southern city of Khan Yunis and the road from there to Rafah, near the border with Egypt.


French Frigate Downs Drones Over Red Sea

 A French frigate - File photo by AFP
A French frigate - File photo by AFP
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French Frigate Downs Drones Over Red Sea

 A French frigate - File photo by AFP
A French frigate - File photo by AFP

A French frigate shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards it from the coast of Yemen, the French military said on Sunday.

"The interception and destruction of these two identified threats" were carried out late Saturday by the frigate Languedoc, which operates in the Red Sea, the general staff said in a press release.

The interceptions happened at 2030 GMT and 2230 GMT, it added, and were 110 km (68 miles) from the Yemeni coast, AFP reported.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis on Saturday threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into the besieged Gaza Strip.

The latest warning comes amid heightened tensions in the Red Sea and surrounding waters following a series of maritime attacks by Houthis since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7.

An American destroyer shot down three drones last week while providing assistance to commercial ships in the Red Sea targeted by attacks from Yemen, according to Washington, which denounced "a direct threat" to maritime security.


Israeli Army Says Five Soldiers Have Died

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
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Israeli Army Says Five Soldiers Have Died

Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip next to military vehicles amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in this handout image released December 7, 2023. Israel Army /Handout via REUTERS

The Israeli army said in a statement early on Sunday that five of its soldiers have died in the Gaza War.
Four soldiers were killed in the battle in Southern Gaza, while the fifth succumbed to his wounds after fighting on October 7, according to the Israeli army statement posted on X.


Ben-Gvir Calls On War Cabinet Not to Allow Palestinian Workers Back Into Israel

A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)
A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)
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Ben-Gvir Calls On War Cabinet Not to Allow Palestinian Workers Back Into Israel

A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)
A Palestinian police officer checks the documents of Palestinian workers as they enter the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing to Israel, September 28, 2023 (Reuters)

Israeli media outlets said Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called on the war cabinet not to allow the re-entry of Palestinian workers into Israel from the West Bank, as it deliberates the matter.

“Bringing workers from the Palestinian Authority, who are covered in incitement, into Israel now, is the continuation of the concept and understanding that we did not understand anything from October 7th!” Ben-Gvir wrote in a post on X.

Since the war began on October 7, only 5,000 Palestinian workers out of 100,000 previously given permits to take jobs in Israel and the occupied West Bank, have been allowed to enter Israel after being classified as essential.


Iraq's Kataeb Hezbollah Vows More Attacks on US Forces

FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo
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Iraq's Kataeb Hezbollah Vows More Attacks on US Forces

FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Military vehicles of US soldiers are seen at the al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS/John Davison/File Photo

Attacks by Iraq's Kataeb Hezbollah militia against US interests on Friday are the start of "new rules of engagement," a security official from the group said in a social media post.

The Iran-aligned group, while not claiming responsibility for a rare attack on the US embassy in Baghdad on Friday, claimed the embassy was a forward operating base for planning military operations, Reuters reported.

The attack was condemned by the US and by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, who said it was an act of terrorism against a diplomatic mission.

But Kataeb Hezbollah (KH) said the facility was a base involved in planning military operations. Those who described it as a diplomatic mission were "subservient" and self-interested, Abu Ali al-Askari, a security official from the group, said in a social media post.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a Friday call with Sudani, singled out KH and another group, Haraket Hezbollah al-Nujaba, for the recent targeting of US personnel and said the US reserved its right to respond.

US officials have reported more than 80 attacks against US interest in Iraq and Syria since mid-October, most claimed by an umbrella-group of Iran-aligned Iraqi militias over Washington's backing of Israel in its war in Gaza.

The group claimed 11 attacks against US forces on Friday, the most in a single day since they began in mid-October.

Sudani has ordered security forces to investigate the embassy attack and on Saturday replaced the regiment in charge of security in Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone area where the attacks occurred, according to his office.

In an apparent challenge to Sudani, KH said that members of Iraq's security forces that were cooperating with US forces were "accomplices in its crimes".

As well as diplomatic staff in Iraq, the United States has about 2,500 troops in the country on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces battling remnants of ISIS, which in 2014 seized large swathes of both Iraq and Syria before being defeated.


Egyptians Head to the Polls

An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)
An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)
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Egyptians Head to the Polls

An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)
An election banner for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Cairo (EPA)

Egyptians headed to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election in which Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is poised to win a third term in power.
Voting, which runs from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. (0700-1900 GMT), is spread over three days, with results due to be announced on Dec. 18.
As voting began on Sunday morning, small crowds gathered at polling stations in Cairo, where pictures of Sisi have proliferated in the weeks leading up to the election. Riot police were deployed at entrances to Tahrir Square in the center of the capital.
Three candidates are qualified to stand against Sisi in the election. Farid Zahran, leader of the left-leaning Egyptian Social Democratic Party; Abdel-Sanad Yamama, from the Wafd, a century-old but relatively marginal party; and Hazem Omar, from the Republican People's Party.
Approximately 67 million Egyptians are eligible to vote, according to the election authority, out of a total population of 104 million. 


Israeli Forces Push into Southern Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
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Israeli Forces Push into Southern Gaza

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on Gaza's al-Shuja'ia district as seen from Nahal Oz, Israel, 09 December 2023. EPA/ATEF SAFADI

Israeli forces pushed Sunday into southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled in search of shelter from bombardments and intense fighting with Hamas militants.
Aid groups have sounded the alarm on the "apocalyptic" humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territory, warning it is on the brink of being overwhelmed by disease and starvation, AFP reported.
Hamas, which runs Gaza, said Sunday that Israel had launched a series of "very violent raids" targeting the southern city of Khan Yunis and the road from there to Rafah, near the border with Egypt.
A source close to Hamas and Palestinian militants Islamic Jihad told AFP both groups were involved in "fierce clashes" with Israeli forces on Sunday near Khan Yunis. An AFP journalist reported strikes in the area.
At least 17,700 people, mostly women and children, have died in two months of fighting in the narrow strip of territory, according to the latest figures from Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas after the group's unprecedented attacks on October 7, when its fighters broke through Gaza's militarized border, killed about 1,200 people and seized hostages, according to Israeli officials.
Israel on Saturday said 137 captives remained in the Palestinian territory.
With few options for safety, people across the Gaza Strip sought refuge in hospitals on Saturday.
In the northern Gaza City, an AFP journalist said thousands were sheltering in the Al-Shifa hospital, which is no longer functioning and partly destroyed following an Israeli raid last month.
Hundreds of makeshift tents fashioned from scraps of fabric and plastic filled the hospital's courtyards and garden amid collapsed walls.
Suheil Abu Dalfa, 56, from the city's Shejaiya district, said he had fled heavy bombardment by Israeli planes and tanks.
"It was madness. A shell hit the house and wounded my 20-year-old son," he told AFP.

"We fled to the Old City, everything was just strikes and destruction... we didn't know where to go," he said.
"We don't know if they will storm the hospital again."
In central Gaza, Hamas health authorities said Saturday that 71 dead bodies had arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah over 24 hours.
And in the south of the territory, 62 dead bodies had arrived at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, the health authorities said.
An AFP correspondent at the hospital saw a child on a makeshift stretcher and others waiting for care on the floor, while firefighters outside tried to douse a burning building hit by an Israeli strike.
The situation "is not just a catastrophe, it's apocalyptic", said Bushra Khalidi of Oxfam.
'Death sentence for children'
An estimated 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced.
Blocked from leaving the narrow territory, they have turned Rafah, near the crossing with Egypt, into a vast camp.
The United Nations children's agency said Saturday that nearly one million children had been forcibly displaced by the conflict.
With fighting intensifying in southern Gaza, where Israel previously urged civilians to seek shelter, children are running out of safe places to go.
"They are now being pushed further and further south into tiny, overcrowded areas without water, food, or protection, putting them at increased risk of respiratory infections and waterborne disease," said Adele Khodr of UNICEF.
"The restrictions and challenges being placed on the delivery of lifesaving aid going into and across the Gaza Strip are another death sentence for children."
As alarm grew over Gaza's worsening humanitarian situation, Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi urged his forces to "press harder" in their campaign.
"We're seeing more and more terrorists killed, more and more terrorists wounded, and in recent days we're seeing terrorists surrendering -- this is a sign their network's falling apart," he said at a ceremony in Jerusalem.
National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli TV that 7,000 "terrorists" had been killed, without elaborating on the source of the figure.
In Tel Aviv, some Israelis held a pro-peace demonstration.
Hundreds of others gathered in what has come to be known as Hostages Square, calling for action to save the captives held by Hamas with signs bearing messages such as "They trust us to get them out of hell".
The Israeli army says it has lost 93 soldiers in the campaign, with two others injured in a failed bid to rescue hostages on Thursday night.
Hamas said a hostage, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, was killed in the operation, later confirmed by his kibbutz community in Beeri, one of the worst hit on October 7.
UN force hit
A rare UN Security Council vote on a ceasefire in the conflict was vetoed on Friday by the United States, whose envoy Robert Wood said the proposal was "divorced from reality" and would leave Hamas in power in Gaza.
Iran, which backs Hamas, warned of an "uncontrollable explosion in the situation of the region" following the veto.
In Yemen, Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened on Saturday to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into Gaza.
The French military said Sunday that one of its frigates had shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards the vessel from the coast of Yemen.
Regular exchanges between Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement have further fuelled fears of a wider regional conflict.
Israel's army said it retaliated on Saturday after unspecified "launches" from Lebanon, including with fighter jets.
A United Nations peacekeeping position in southern Lebanon was hit on Saturday without causing casualties, the UN force said, adding it was seeking to verify the source of the fire.
Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the health ministry said three people were killed on Saturday.

The military earlier said it has arrested 2,200 people in the West Bank, 1,800 of them Hamas members, since the Israel-Hamas war began.