© Reuters. Satellite view of the U.S. military outpost known as Tower 22, in Rukban, Rwaished District, Jordan October 12, 2023 in this handout image. Planet Labs PBC/Handout via REUTERS
(Reuters) – Three U.S. service members were killed and at least 34 wounded in a drone attack by Iran-backed militants on U.S. troops in Jordan, said U.S. President Joe Biden, the first deadly strike against U.S. forces since the Israel-Hamas war erupted.
The attack, which Iran said it was not involved in, marks a major escalation in tensions that have engulfed the Middle East, amid concerns Israel’s war against Hamas militants could spread into a wider conflict involving Iran’s proxies in Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.
“While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq,” Biden said in a statement.
“Have no doubt – we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing,” he said.
At least 34 personnel were injured in the Sunday attack in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement on Monday that Tehran was not involved in the attack.
“Iran had no connection and had nothing to do with the attack on the U.S. base,” the mission said in a statement published by the state news agency IRNA.
It added: “There is a conflict between U.S. forces and resistance groups in the region, which reciprocate retaliatory attacks.”
The U.S. military said the attack occurred at a base near the Syrian border. It did not name the base, but a person familiar with the matter identified it as Tower 22 in Jordan.
Tower 22 holds a strategically important location in Jordan, at the most northeastern point where the country’s borders meet Syria and Iraq. Little is publicly known about the base. But it includes logistics support and there are 350 U.S. Army and Air Force troops at the base.
The conflict in Gaza began on Oct. 7 when Hamas fighters stormed border defences to attack Israeli bases and towns, killing more than 1,200 people and seizing more than 200 hostages. More than 100 hostages remain captive.
Israel’s intense bombardment of Gaza since Oct. 7 has killed nearly 25,000 Palestinians, says health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, and left millions homeless.
Missile attacks in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen this month by Iran-backed militants has highlighted the increasing risk of a wider regional conflict pitting Iran and its allies against Israel and the U.S.
While the United States has maintained an official line that Washington is not at war in the region, it has been retaliating against the Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria and carrying out strikes against Yemen’s Houthi military capabilities.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have continued to attack shipping in the region, and on Monday said they had launched a rocket at U.S. warship Lewis B. Puller as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden a day earlier.
GAPS IN HOSTAGE TALKS
Talks held on Sunday initiated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt to broker a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas were “constructive” but meaningful gaps remain, the Israeli prime minister’s office said.
“There are still significant gaps in which the parties willcontinue to discuss this week in additional mutual meetings,”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
It said the talks took place in Europe, without giving aspecific venue.
The World Court ordered Israel on Friday to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire as requested by the plaintiff South Africa.
While the ruling denied Palestinian hopes of a binding orderto halt the war in Gaza, it also represented a legal setback forIsrael, which had hoped to throw out a case brought under thegenocide convention established in the ashes of the Holocaust.
On the ground in Gaza, the heaviest fighting in weeks is nowtaking place in crowded areas jammed with hundreds of thousandsof people who fled from earlier fighting elsewhere.
Israel kept up its bombardment of the main southern city ofKhan Younis, reporting “intensive battles” and strikes on dozensof Hamas fighters and infrastructure from the air and ground.
Residents said Israeli forces blew up buildings and housesin the western part of the city as gun battles raged.
Palestinians say Israel has hampered efforts to rescue thedead and wounded as well as blockading hospitals, which Israeldenies, blaming Hamas fighters for operating near them.
In a new setback for stricken Palestinians, the UnitedStates said it was pausing funding to the UN aid agency forPalestinian refugees (UNRWA) after Israel alleged that 12 UNRWAemployees were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
UNRWA said it was urgently investigating and “any UNRWAemployee who was involved in acts of terror” would be heldaccountable.