US working to prevent spread of Gaza conflict: Asst. Secretary of State Barbara Leaf

Suzy Elgeneidy , Friday 2 Feb 2024

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf on Thursday said the US had been exerting its utmost efforts to prevent the regional escalation of the Gaza war but blamed Iran and vowed reprisal for the recent deaths of US soldiers.

Barbara Leaf
Asst. Secretary of State Barbara Leaf


The State Department official made her remarks during a Zoom press conference with Arab journalists in response to a question from Ahram Online about what the US can do to prevent the escalation of the conflict in Gaza and ensure that Palestinians are not displaced. 

“It has been an unstinting piece of work for us from the very first days of the conflict to ensure that the conflict did not spread – that it was not escalated, that it was not weaponized by others in the region to spread the conflict.”

She identified Lebanon, the West Bank, Iraq, and Yemen as particular areas of concern.

“We absolutely reject and will ensure that there is no displacement of Gazans from Gaza,” she added.  

The assistant secretary of state touted US efforts to secure the release of Israeli captives, pointing to the CIA director’s trip to Europe earlier this week to meet with Egyptian, Qatari, and Israeli officials to formulate a deal that includes a “humanitarian pause or pauses.”

She blamed for ongoing war on Hamas.

“The conflict could end pretty quickly with Hamas ceasing its attacks – it was directing rockets this week, this past week, at civilian communities – and if the perpetrators of the massacre of 7 October lay down their arms.”

However, she acknowledged that it was unlikely Hamas would lay down their arms. 

Leaf argued that there is still an opportunity to work towards Palestinian statehood, but that Hamas’s "use of violence" is setting back this process. 

Iran to blame

The assistant secretary of state also talked about the recent drone attack on a US military base in Jordan that killed three US troops and wounded 25. 

Leaf blamed Iran-backed Iraqi militias for the attack, calling it an assault on the sovereignty of Iraq and Jordan. 

“For a proxy like Kataib Hezbollah to launch attacks on a foreign country and countries that are partners to Iraq is just an assault on sovereignty in the most primal form.”

“It’s been a situation that Iran nurtured over the years, so it is, first and foremost, a responsibility of the state of Iraq to bring these creatures under control,” she said.

However, this is a difficult task given the years of Iranian support, she added.  

The assistant secretary of state said that this attack was “part and parcel” of a region-wide Iranian proxy network that has had “terrible repercussions on the stability and security of this region.”

Despite blaming Iran for regional escalation, she reiterated US President Joe Biden’s threat to retaliate “at a time and place of our choosing.

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