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2,000 US troops put on deployment alert amid Middle East crisis

By AFP - Oct 18,2023 - Last updated at Oct 18,2023

WASHINGTON — The US military on Tuesday ordered 2,000 personnel to prepare for deployment to the Middle East as a show of force amid the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the deployment would allow the United States "to respond more quickly" to the crisis, while the White House stressed it did not intend to put US combat forces on the ground.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said preparing the troops for deployment "is really about sending a signal of deterrence".

"We don't want to see this conflict escalate and widen," Kirby said on CNN. "There are no plans or intentions to put US boots on the ground in combat in Israel."

The move comes as President Joe Biden heads to Israel on Wednesday to underscore Washington's support for its close ally.

But Biden also hopes to prevent the escalating war in Gaza from spilling over into a wider Middle East conflict.

So far, the White House has seen no signs of a deepening engagement by Iran in the conflict, according to Kirby.

“Outside of the rhetoric... no we haven’t,” Kirby said.

The United States has already deployed two aircraft carriers to the region “to deter hostile actions against Israel”, Austin said last week.

US media reported the troops being readied for deployment would cover support roles, such as medical assistance and handling explosives.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops killed four militants attempting to enter its territory from Lebanon on Tuesday, the army said, as tensions run high on the border between the two countries.

Israel has traded fire with Hizbollah and allied Palestinian militants in Lebanon on a near-daily basis since October 8, the day after Hizbollah’s Palestinian ally Hamas launched a massive attack on Israel.

The Israeli army, whose reprisal strikes on Hamas in the Gaza Strip have killed more than 2,700 people, also mostly civilians, said its forces opened fire on militants who had attempted to cross the northern border with Lebanon in the morning.

Later, anti-tank missiles targeted Israeli forces in two locations, with Israeli tanks and artillery retaliating against the “origins of the fire” and Hizbollah military posts, the army said.

Hizbollah said in a statement afterwards that its fighters had targeted “a Zionist tank in the Ramim barracks” at noon.

Since the start of the war triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, clashes on the Israel-Lebanon border have left more than 10 people dead on the Lebanese side.

Most of the dead have been combatants, but they also include a Reuters journalist and two civilians.

On the Israeli side, at least three people have been killed.


‘Grave mistake’ 


Lebanon’s state-owned National News Agency said areas along the western section of the border had come under “continuous” bombardment overnight.

Homes in the village of Dhayra were hit, resulting in casualties, NNA reported, without elaborating on how many villagers had been wounded or whether any had been killed.

“The enemy [Israel] used phosphorus bombs and targeted civilians,” the news agency said.

The Israeli army denied it had been using the incendiary weapon white phosphorus in either Gaza or south Lebanon, after Human Rights Watch accused it of doing so last week.

It did not immediately comment on Tuesday’s NNA report.

The international community fears the opening of a second front in the conflict, with Hizbollah joining Hamas in the fight against Israel.

Israel has begun evacuating thousands of residents from 28 locations in the north.

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