US, France call to 'avoid escalation in Lebanon and Iran'

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna agreed to seek steps to avoid a wider Middle East war following strikes in Lebanon and Iran, the State Department said.

In a telephone call the day before, the two top diplomats "discussed the importance of measures to prevent the conflict in Gaza from expanding, including affirmative steps to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank and to avoid escalation in Lebanon and Iran," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The phone call comes ahead of another Middle East trip by Blinken, his fourth since Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel and carried out a major attack on October 7, triggering massive Israeli retaliation in the Gaza Strip.

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier called on Israel to avoid escalation, "particularly in Lebanon," where Israel was suspected of carrying out a strike on Tuesday that killed a senior Hamas leader.

The United States said it did not have advance knowledge of the strike in Lebanon but described slain Hamas number two Saleh al-Arouri as a "brutal terrorist."

In Iran, whose clerical state backs Hamas, twin blasts on Wednesday killed at least 84 people as they mourned Revolutionary Guard General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed four years earlier in a targeted US strike.

A U.S. official said that the attack bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State extremist group, which is strongly opposed by Shiite-majority Iran, and denied any role by the United States or Israel.

Source: Agence France Presse

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