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February 2, 2024 Israel-Hamas war

What we covered

  • The US said it struck 85 targets linked to Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria on Friday in response to a drone strike in Jordan that killed three American soldiers. The aircraft used included long-range bombers flown from the United States, according to officials.
  • President Joe Biden said adversaries should heed US warnings, while his defense secretary vowed: "This is the start of our response." The US is seeking to deter further attacks on its troops while avoiding a full-scale conflict with Iran in a region already roiled by the Israel-Hamas war.
  • Meanwhile, Israel's defense minister said the military will focus on the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled following the Israeli bombardment of other cities.
  • At least 17,000 children are unaccompanied or separated from their parents in the enclave, according to UNICEF, with nearly all children needing mental support.
  • Here's how to help humanitarian efforts in Israel and Gaza.
12:06 a.m. ET, February 3, 2024

Our live coverage of Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza and the US strikes in Iraq and Syria has moved here.
10:44 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

Analysis: What to make of the US strikes against pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria

US President Joe Biden, right, and US First Lady Jill Biden, second from right, participate in a dignified transfer of the three soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware on February 2. Kyle Mazza/Anadolu/Getty Images

It was meant to sound devastating, and likely felt so to the pro-Iranian militias on the receiving end. But Friday night’s airstrikes against over 80 targets inside Iraq and Syria were — so far — a comparatively limited response to the worst loss of US military life in the region in nearly three years.

Friday night tried to sound loud, but will likely not echo for long. US Central Command said the US deployed heavy bombers — the B-1B Lancer — to hit 85 targets in seven locations. The strikes may be determined to have caused more damage when the sun rises. But it was far from the most pain the Pentagon was capable of delivering.

There might be more. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin suggested this was the beginning. But on Friday, the US response lasted just 30 minutes, the White House said. It was short, perhaps sharp, but not a shock.

That was a clear and calculated choice. The Biden administration faced a near-impossible task: Hit hard enough to show you mean it, but also ensure your opponent can absorb the blow without lashing out in return. The US had telegraphed its response for over five days, with senior US officials briefing about its nature, its severity, and even hinting at its targets.

Read more on the analysis here
9:05 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

US lawmakers react to military strikes in Iraq and Syria

Lawmakers are reacting to strikes the US conducted in Iraq and Syria on Friday that were in response to a drone attack in Jordan that killed three American soldiers.

The Biden administration notified Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top leaders ahead of the airstrikes, Hill sources told CNN.
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Mike Johnson, a Republican, criticized the military response, writing in part, “The administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response. The public handwringing and excessive signaling undercuts our ability to put a decisive end to the barrage of attacks endured over the past few months.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, a Democrat, praised the response of US President Biden, saying in a statement that “this was a strong, proportional response. In fact, the 85 targets struck tonight mark a greater number than the prior administration.”
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a Republican, said, "Finally" and added on X, formerly known as Twitter, "Iran needs to know the price for American lives,"
9:29 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

What to know about Jewish settlers in the West Bank and why they are so controversial

The White House has set its sights on Israel’s settlers, a controversial movement that has grown in power over the years and is seen by the outside world as a major impediment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

On Thursday, the State Department announced the first round of sanctions targeting Israeli settlers accused of perpetrating violence in the West Bank. The sanctions block their financial assets and bar them from entering the US.
Settler violence in the West Bank has jumped sharply since Israel's war against Hamas began, with settlers burning cars, destroying infrastructure and assaulting and killing Palestinians.
The West Bank is home to 3.3 million Palestinians, and it is where the bulk of Jewish settlements are located.

Israel has continued to expand settlements over decades, despite signing a series of peace agreements with the Palestinians in 1990s called the Oslo Accords that envisaged the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since the war started on October 7, the White House has doubled down on a longstanding US position supporting the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects.

Only four settlers were targeted in the US move this week. But there are 700,000 of them living in the West Bank and, according to the international community, the presence of every one of them there is illegal. The Palestinians want the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza for a future state, a position that is supported by much of the rest of the world.

Here’s all you need to know about Jewish settlers.
8:05 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

What we know so far about the US military's strikes in Iraq and Syria

A screengrab from a video, geolocated by CNN to the town of Qaim, Iraq, shows the aftermath of US military strikes in the area according to the Iraqi Military. An apparent weapons depot has been hit, and a number of flares from projectiles are seeing rocketing into the sky. Obtained by CNN

The retaliation for a drone strike that killed three American soldiers in Jordan last weekend has begun: The US military launched major airstrikes on 85 targets in Iraq and Syria on Friday.
The White House declared the operation — which lasted about 30 minutes — a success, but few details were immediately available about the damage and any deaths or injuries on the ground. Casualties were expected, a Pentagon official said.
US officials say the strikes hit four facilities in Syria and three in Iraq, where security officials reported damage in the city of Al-Qaim. The sites allegedly belonged to various Iran-backed militias, which the US blames for the strike in Jordan.
Here's what you need to know:
The strikes were retaliatory — and came with a warning: The deadly drone strike in Jordan was just the latest in a series of more than 165 attacks on American forces in the Middle East by various Iranian proxy groups since the outbreak of the current Israel-Hamas war.
US President Joe Biden said the strikes demonstrate that his administration will not tolerate the harm of Americans. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed the attack was just "the start of our response." Both men said the US retaliation will continue "at times and places of our choosing."
Biden is seeking a delicate balance: The US government is threading a needle — it wants to deter further attacks on its troops while avoiding a full-scale conflict with Iran.
The Jordan attack followed weeks of efforts by the US and regional leaders to prevent a wider Mideast war, even as conflicts spread involving Tehran's proxies, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

B-1 bombers played a key role in the attack: Air Force B-1 bombers were among the US aircraft that carried out the strikes, a defense official told CNN. The B-1 is a long-range heavy bomber that can deploy precision and non-precision weapons.

The bomber crews flew to the region from the US in a single non-stop flight, according to Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims. The military is confident it "hit exactly what we meant to hit," Sims said, crediting the precision of the B-1 crews.

The US alerted Iraq, but not Iran: National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the US informed the Iraqi government of its plans before carrying out the strikes. However, he said there had been no communications — backchannel or otherwise — with Iran since the Jordan attack.
The US does not plan to strike inside Iran: A senior official with the Biden administration told CNN the US will not strike inside Iran – only focusing on targets outside of the country. Striking inside Iran would have been a huge escalation, and officials have telegraphed that is unlikely to happen.
8:28 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

Palestine Red Crescent Society calls for humanitarian corridor to evacuate Khan Younis hospital

Tents erected by the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent for Palestinians displaced by the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza on December 31, 2023 in Al-Mawasi, Gaza.  Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) called for a humanitarian corridor Friday to help evacuate wounded people and others wishing to leave Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis.

The hospital in southern Gaza has been besieged for 12 consecutive days, enduring "relentless bombing and direct gunfire" in the surrounding area, PRCS said in a news release.

PRCS said four people were killed Friday, including the director of the Youth and Volunteers Department, Hadiya Hamad. It claimed six others were injured when Israeli forces fired at the organization's headquarters, which is sheltering thousands of displaced people.

The Israel Defense Forces did not provide a direct response to PRCS' allegations Friday, but said in a statement to CNN that its activity in Khan Younis will continue for several days until it dismantles "Hamas’ military framework and Hamas strongholds."

The IDF claims the area surrounding the hospital is home to a "significant component" of Hamas' Khan Younis Brigade.

Aid workers have been raising alarm for days about the situation at hospitals in the southern city, with PRCS and the Israeli military providing at-times contradictory accounts from the ground. CNN cannot independently verify either side's claims, due to the difficulties of reporting from the war zone.

7:10 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

US strikes hit Iraqi city of Al-Qaim, Iraqi security officials say

US strikes hit facilities used by al Hashed al Shabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), in the Iraqi city of Al-Qaim, located in the western part of Anbar province along the Iraq-Syria border, according to Iraqi security officials and the mayor of Al-Qaim.

The US views the PMU as Iran-backed militias and considers some of them responsible for carrying out attacks on US targets in Iraq and Syria.

 In a statement, Yahya Rasool, the spokesperson of Iraq’s Armed Forces, decried the strikes as a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty.”

“The city of Al-Qaim and the Iraqi border areas are being subjected to airstrikes by US aircraft, at a time when Iraq is striving hard to ensure the stability of the region,” Rasool said.
“These strikes are considered a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, posing a threat that could drag Iraq and the region into undesirable consequences, the outcomes will be dire for the security and stability in Iraq and the region,” the spokesman continued.

The mayor of Al-Qaim, Turki Al-Mahalawi, said the strikes hit three houses used as weapon warehouses by the PMU. 

6:54 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

B-1 bombers were used in US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, official says

In this June 2023 photo from the US Air Force, a B-1B Lancer aircraft conducts a demonstration on in TanTan, Morocco. 1st Sgt. John Etheridge/US Army/File

Air Force B-1 bombers were among the US aircraft that carried out strikes Friday in Iraq and Syria, a defense official told CNN.
The B-1 is a long-range heavy bomber that can deploy precision and non-precision weapons.

The bomber crews that flew from the US made it in one non-stop flight, Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday.

The US is "really confident" in the precision of its strikes on the militia targets, Sims said, crediting the B-1 bombers for that assessment.

"Initial indications are we hit exactly what we meant to hit, with a number of secondary explosions associated with the ammunition and logistics locations" the US targeted, he said.

Sims said the US expected there to be casualties when it selected its targets.

"We know that there are militants that use these locations," he said. "We made these strikes tonight with an idea that there would likely be casualties associated with people inside those facilities."
The post was updated with additional details from a briefing by Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, Director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the B-1 bomber mission.
6:27 p.m. ET, February 2, 2024

Strikes were designed around weather and there was no communication with Iran, US officials say

The timing of Friday's strikes on targets in Iraq and Syria was designed around the weather in the region, according to Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims, who said the US was looking to avoid “unnecessary casualties.”

Friday was the “best opportunity” weather-wise to launch the strikes, Sims said.

While American munitions can operate in cloud cover, the US waited until good weather in “an interest of ensuring that we're hitting all the right targets.”

The US bombers that carried out the strikes flew from the United States, Sims said.

The National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the United States informed the Iraqi government of its plans. However, he said there had been no communications — backchannel or otherwise — with Iran following the attack that killed three Americans in Jordan last weekend.

The United States said it launched attacks on 85 targets in Iraq and Syria in response to a drone strike Sunday by Iran-backed militants on a US military outpost in Jordan.