UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 (Reuters) - The United States told the United Nations on Tuesday it does not seek conflict with Iran, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Washington would act swiftly and decisively if Iran or its proxies attacks U.S. personnel anywhere.
Blinken spoke to the 15-member U.N. Security Council amid international fears the conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip could spill over into a wider war, drawing in Lebanon's heavily armed Hezbollah that is also supported by Tehran.
"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen. But if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security - swiftly and decisively."
The U.S. military is taking new steps to protect its troops in the Middle East as concerns mount about attacks by Iran-backed groups, officials told Reuters. The U.S. has also sent warships and fighter aircraft to the region to try to deter Iran and Iran-backed groups, including two aircraft carriers.
Blinken called on all states to send a united message to any state or non-state actor that might be considering opening another front in the conflict against Israel or who may target Israel's partners, including the United States:
"Don't throw fuel on the fire," he said.
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani told the Security Council later on Tuesday that Blinken had attempted to wrongly blame Iran for the Israel-Hamas conflict and that Tehran categorically rejected his "groundless allegations."
"Our commitment to regional peace and stability remains unwavering," he said. "The U.S. has further exacerbated the conflict by overtly aligning itself with the aggressor at the expense of the innocent Palestinian population."
Standing with his Arab counterparts, Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters at the United Nations that the threat of the spreading was a "real danger."
[1/2]U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., October 24, 2023. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton Acquire Licensing Rights
"We're all doing everything we can to stop it. There's the threat of this expanding into the West Bank, into Lebanon, into other fronts. None of us want that, we're all working against that," he said.
VIOLATIONS IN GAZA
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded on Tuesday for civilians to be protected in the war between Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants, voicing concern about "clear violations of international humanitarian law" in the Gaza Strip.
More than 700 Palestinians were killed in overnight Israeli air strikes, Gaza's health ministry said, the highest 24-hour death toll since Israel began a bombing campaign to crush Hamas militants who stunned the country with a deadly Oct. 7 attack.
Guterres told the Security Council that it was vital to be clear that war has rules, starting with the fundamental principle of respecting and protecting civilians.
"It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation," Guterres said.
"But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people," he said.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan described Guterres' speech as "shocking." In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, he called on Guterres to immediately resign, while Israel's visiting Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that he would no longer meet with Guterres later on Tuesday as planned.
"I will not meet with the U.N. secretary-general. After Oct. 7 there is no room for a balanced approach. Hamas must be erased from the world!" Cohen wrote.