US sees risk of Middle East escalation, threat to US troops

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sees the prospect of further attacks on its troops in the Middle East and the Israel-Hamas war escalating to the wider region, the top U.S. diplomat and defense officials said on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the United States did not want to see the conflict spread.

Blinken told NBC News actions by Iran and its proxies could spark an escalation and that the United States hoped for more hostages to be released by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and killed about 1,400 people.

Israel has since retaliated with deadly air strikes on Gaza, a 45 km-long (25-mile) enclave home to 2.3 million people that has been ruled since 2006 by Hamas. Israel’s air strikes have killed over 4,700 people, Palestinian officials say.

“We’re concerned about potential escalation. In fact, what we’re seeing … is the prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region,” Austin told ABC’s “This Week” program.

“If any group or any country is looking to widen this conflict and take advantage of this very unfortunate situation … our advice is: don’t,” he added.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Lisa Shumaker)