Concerns Gaza conflict could spread as three US soldiers killed in drone attack in Jordan

Top-level meeting takes place in Paris in attempt to find mechanism that might allow for a new deal to release the 136 hostages held in Gaza as part of an extended ceasefire

At least three US soldiers were killed and more than 30 injured, some in serious condition, in a drone attack on a base in northeast Jordan near the Syrian border, the first time US troops have been killed in the region since the start of the Gaza war. US president Joe Biden said that the attack, which took place overnight on Saturday, was carried out by “radical Iran-backed militant groups”.

“Today America’s heart is heavy,” he said in a statement on Sunday. “We will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing.”

The attack followed concern in Washington that the Gaza conflict could escalate into a wider and much more dangerous regional conflagration involving Iranian proxies and possibly Iran itself and US troops. The US has taken several retaliatory actions against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria following numerous attacks on US forces and led strikes on Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen after attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

The latest incident marks the most significant escalation since the Hamas attack on Israel in October, and it remains to be seen if Washington will limit its response to Iranian proxies or will strike targets within Iran proper.


A top-level four-way meeting took place in Paris on Sunday in an attempt to find a mechanism that might allow for a new deal to release the 136 hostages held in Gaza as part of an extended ceasefire. CIA chief William Burns, Mossad chief David Barnea, Israel security agency Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar, Qatari prime minister Mohammed Al-Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel took part in the closed-door talks.

US reports in recent days indicated a framework deal under which hostages will be released in two or three phases during a two-month truce. In the first stage fighting will be stopped for 30 days, with women, elderly men and sick hostages released.

However, Israeli sources said wide gaps remained on key issues. Hamas insists on a complete Israeli military withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, a total ceasefire rather than a temporary truce, and international guarantees that would enforce a permanent ceasefire – all conditions which Israel currently rejects. “Hamas is insisting there be not a single IDF soldier in Gaza. They are insisting they retain power in Gaza. There are neither conditions nor content that might allow for negotiations to begin,” said an Israeli source.

According to reports, talks to get the hostages released are being conducted alongside two broader tracks involving at least 10 governments around the world in an attempt to formulate a series of deals that would bring the fighting to an end and address the question of how Gaza will be governed in future.

Israeli leaders continue to insist that the aggressive military campaign in Gaza, particularly the ongoing operation in the southern city of Khan Younis, where Hamas leaders are believed to be hiding in tunnels, is the only reason Hamas may be willing to consider a new hostage deal.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has warned that it would be “catastrophic” if more countries ceased funding the UN agency that works with Palestinian refugees in Gaza, and said that countries – including the US and UK – which have pulled funding “have acted far too prematurely”.

Several donor countries have halted aid after allegations that a small number of UNWRA staff were involved in the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7th that precipitated the current round of violence. The UN has appealed for aid to continue.

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Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem