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A handout picture provided by the US Air Force (USAF) shows A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron flying in formation during air refueling operations above the Strait of Hormuz.- AFP
A handout picture provided by the US Air Force (USAF) shows A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron flying in formation during air refueling operations above the Strait of Hormuz.- AFP

US troops head to the region; Airlines avoid Iran airspace

GAZA: Troop reinforcements from Zionist ally the United States headed to the region on Saturday, with fears of wider war growing more than six months into Zionist battle against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. After pulling forces from the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis one week ago, Zionist military said Saturday it was continuing to operate against militants in central Gaza. In central Gaza’s main city of Deir Al-Balah, fire burned in the rubble of a destroyed mosque.

Zionist military “demanded that the whole area be evacuated” before it was “wiped out in minutes”, said Abdullah Baraka, a witness. The military said it had struck more than 30 militant targets across the Palestinian territory over the previous day. Airlines said they are avoiding Iranian airspace, nearly two weeks after a strike, which Iran blamed on its arch foe (Zionists), destroyed Tehran’s consular annex at its embassy in Damascus, Syria. Violence involving Iran-backed groups around the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, has increased since Zionist forces began their retaliation against Hamas militants in Gaza.

Ways to retaliate

After meeting Kurilla on Friday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Zionist entity and the United States stood “shoulder to shoulder”, despite differences over the conduct of the Gaza war. “Our enemies think that they can pull apart Zionist entity and the United States, but the opposite is true—they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties,” Gallant said.

After calls with his Australian, British and German counterparts, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: “Iran does not seek to expand the scope of the war.” But he said it had no choice but to respond to the attack on its diplomatic mission. There are a number of ways Iran could retaliate, and not all pose the same risk of escalation, experts said. “What is certain is that Tehran does not want a direct war with Zionists, at least at the current stage,” said Eva Koulouriotis, an independent Middle East analyst.

On Saturday, the Dutch foreign ministry said its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Arbil, Iraq, would remain closed on Sunday “in connection with the rising tensions between Iran and Zionist entity”. Citing similar reasons, Germany reiterated a warning against travel to Iran. France earlier warned its nationals against travelling to the region, after the US embassy in Zionist entity announced it was restricting the movements of its diplomats over security fears.

German airline Lufthansa said its planes would no longer use Iranian airspace, and extended a suspension of flights to and from Tehran. Its subsidiary Austrian Airlines made a similar move. Australian airline Qantas said its long-haul Perth-London flights would avoid Iranian airspace. A potential widening of the Gaza conflict helped send Wall Street stocks lower on Friday. Oil and gold shot up.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads a coalition including religious and ultra-nationalist parties, is under pressure from anti-government protesters and relatives of the hostages demanding that the government get them home. On Friday, supporters of the captives again rallied in Tel Aviv. “Hostage deal now,” said one of their signs. The European Union on Friday imposed sanctions on the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, for “widespread” sexual violence during the October 7 attack.

Sirens in Sderot

Sirens had sounded in Sderot, just outside Gaza’s northern tip, before Zionist air defenses intercepted rockets fired from the territory on Friday, the military said. It added that an air strike killed several armed militants in northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun. Washington has ramped up pressure on Netanyahu to increase aid flows to Gaza where the United Nations warns of imminent famine. Zionist military said an undisclosed number of aid trucks had been allowed to enter Gaza Thursday through a newly opened border crossing. Despite repeated AFP requests for comment, Zionist authorities did not disclose the exact location of the new crossing.

Gallant had announced the new crossing on Wednesday, promising to “flood Gaza with aid”, but on Thursday the UN Security Council said “more should be done”. In the West Bank, where more than 460 Palestinians have been killed by Zionist troops or settlers since October 7, gunshots rang out and black smoke poured skywards from burning vehicles and buildings in the Palestinian village of Al-Mughayyir. Violence erupted on Friday afternoon when Jewish settlers who were part of a manhunt for missing 14-year-old Benjamin Achimeir raided Al-Mughayyir, an AFP reporter said.- AFP

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