The governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany have advised their citizens to leave Lebanon, amid growing concerns that the Israeli assault on the beseiged Gaza Strip could trigger a wider conflict in the region.
The three nations issued advisories on Thursday, as Israeli forces continued to exchange fire with armed groups in southern Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah group is the dominant force.
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“We recommend that US citizens in Lebanon make appropriate arrangements to leave the country; commercial options currently remain available,” a statement from the US Embassy in Beirut said.
Separately, the US Department of State issued a global alert warning its citizens that tensions in the Middle East could increase the potential for violent attacks against Americans.
The move comes as Israel prepares for an anticipated ground invasion of Gaza, and rising fears that a ground incursion would heighten the risk of a wider regional war.
Iran and some groups that it backs throughout the region, including the formidable Hezbollah in Lebanon, have suggested that they may not sit on the sidelines if fighting between Hamas and Israel continues to spiral.
An explosion at a hospital in Gaza on Tuesday, for which Israel and the armed group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have traded blame, sparked a wave of protests in cities across the region against Israel’s continuing bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
Israel launched its campaign of air raids on October 7 after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel, killing at least 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials. More than 3,700 people have been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, according to Palestinian officials.
The US State Department raised its travel advisory for Lebanon to the highest level on Tuesday, and countries including France, Canada, Australia and Spain have also warned citizens against travelling there.
Analysts say the cross-border exchanges between Israel and armed groups in southern Lebanon have remained relatively contained, but Hezbollah has said it was fully ready to contribute to the conflict with Israel.
Israel’s defence minister said on October 15 that Israel had no interest in waging war on its northern front, and that if Hezbollah restrained itself then Israel would also keep the situation along the border as it was.
The US has sought to deter other armed groups in the region, including groups with ties to Iran in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, from joining Hamas to fight Israel. Washington has dispatched two aircraft carriers to the region and is preparing 2,000 military service members for potential deployment to assist Israel.
Worldwide Caution: Due to increased tensions in various locations around the world, the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State @StateDept advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased… pic.twitter.com/waIpqmWu2m
— Travel – State Dept (@TravelGov) October 19, 2023
While a wider confrontation would likely be costly for any parties involved, it remains unclear if the precarious balance will hold.
The Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq, which hosts US troops, had been attacked by missiles and drones. Separately, the Pentagon confirmed that a US warship shot down a series of missiles and drones over the Red Sea, saying that they were launched from Yemen. The warship was in the vicinity, but not the target of the attack, it said.
It is not immediately clear who carried out the attacks and whether they are related to the fighting in Israel-Palestine.