US ships and soldiers in Middle East are now fair targets, warns Hezbollah

Near East

05 January 2020, 18:16

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United States bases and warships across the Middle East are fair targets in response to the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the chief of Hezbollah warned on Sunday, Euronews reports.

“What happened is not just an Iranian matter,” Hassan Nasrallah said, adding that American civilians and businesses were not targets.

The body of Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike, was greeted by huge crowds of mourners on the streets.

Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the targeted assassination. A series of rockets fell in the area housing the US embassy in Baghdad overnight.

Trump tweeted from his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida that the US had already “targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

Trump did not identify the targets but added that they would be “HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

Where and when is the Soleimani funeral taking place?

Thousands mourned Soleimani in Baghdad on Saturday, before authorities flew his body to the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz.

(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Crowds in Tehran denounce the killing of Soleimani ahead of his burial(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Ahvaz was a focus of fighting during the bloody, 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran in which the general slowly grew to prominence. Soleimani later ran the elite Quds Force that works with proxy fighting groups to secure Iranian interests in countries including Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Soleimani’s body is expected to move to Mashhad later Sunday, then onward to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions, then finally onto his hometown of Kerman for burial Tuesday.

What is the significance of Trump’s 52 sites in Iran?

Trump’s tweet refers to the 1979 Iran hostage crisis that overshadowed the end of Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

The US embassy in Tehran was invaded on November 4, 1979, after the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Washington-backed shah.

The crisis lasted a year before the hostages were released to coincide with the January 1980 inauguration of president Ronald Reagan.

How could Iran retaliate?

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional policy of mobilizing militias across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, including in the war against the Islamic State group. He was also blamed for attacks on U.S. troops and American allies going back decades.

AP

It is unclear how or when Iran may respond, but any retaliation is unlikely until after the end of three days of mourning.

All eyes are on Iraq, where America and Iran have competed for influence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Iraq’s government, which is closely allied with Iran, condemned the airstrike as an attack on its national sovereignty. Parliament is meeting for an emergency session Sunday, and the government has come under mounting pressure to expel the 5,200 American troops who are based there as part of efforts to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) group.

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