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US surveillance drones flying over Gaza Strip to help in hostage rescue efforts: Report

Washington DC: The US military is flying surveillance drones over the Gaza Strip to help in hostage rescue efforts, The New York Times reported citing its analysis and two Defence Department officials.
The aircraft MQ-9 Reapers, operated by US Special Operations forces, were first spotted on Saturday on Flightradar24, a publicly accessible flight-tracking website. However, Pentagon officials said that the aircraft has been active in the region since the days after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Hamas.
While Israel continues to frequently fly reconnaissance flights over Gaza, US Defence officials said it was believed to be the first time that US drones have flown missions over Gaza, according to The New York Times report.
Notably, Israel is in the early stages of a ground invasion in Gaza. Israel has said that Hamas has held more than 240 hostages, 10 of whom are believed to be Americans. According to US Defence Department officials, the unarmed surveillance flights are not supporting Israeli force's operations on the ground.
Two officials said the aim of the surveillance flights was to help in locating hostages, monitor for signs of life and pass potential leads to the Israel Defence Forces. The US military has been providing military assistance, including bombs and artillery rounds, to Israel, according to The New York Times report.
The US has deployed two aircraft carriers and hundreds of troops to the Middle East after Hamas launched its attack on Israel on October 7. Several dozen American commandos have been sent to Israel to help advise on hostage recovery efforts. However, the surveillance flights flying over Gaza suggest that the Pentagon is taking a more active role in the IDF mission for rescuing hostages.
There appear to be at least six separate MQ-9 aircraft involved in the effort, The New York Times reported citing Amelia Smith, an aviation researcher who has been tracking the flights. The MQ-9 was designed as the US Air Force's first "hunter-killer" drone. However, it is primarily being utilised for surveillance missions due to its sophisticated sensors and ability to loiter above an area for more than 20 hours at a time.
The MQ-9 aircraft is being used to carry out airstrikes and gather intelligence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. As per the news report, many militaries around the world make use of MQ-9 and not Israel.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden held a meeting with Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader. He also met Chile President Gabriel Boric of Chile in the Oval Office of the White House.
During his separate meetings with leaders of Chile and the Dominican Republic, Biden said the US will continue to back Israel's right to defend itself "in line with international humanitarian law," according to the readout of the two meetings released by the White House. He said that the US will continue working to increase humanitarian assistance for people in Gaza.
Meanwhile, US Vice President Kamala Harris reiterated support for Israel during her visit to London, The Times of Israel reported. She said that the US would not add any conditions on the support given to Israel to defend itself.
In response to a question on whether the US administration should condition military aid for Israel on reduced civilian casualties in Gaza amid the war against Hamas, Harris said, "We are going to continue to stand with Israel's right to defend itself."
She further said, "And let's be clear and never forget what happened on October 7th, where hundreds, thousands of -- 1,400 innocent people were killed, slaughtered, young people who were simply attending a concert," according to The Times of Israel report.
Harris said, "And so, we are not going to create any conditions on the support that we are giving Israel to defend itself," according to The Times of Israel report.
Notably, the US has condemned Hamas's attack on Israel and affirmed support for Tel Aviv. Earlier in October, US President Joe Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin travelled to Israel to show support for Tel Aviv amid its counter-offensive against Hamas.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Washington's support for Israel in the ongoing conflict with Hamas and said that while Israel has the right to defend itself, but as democracies, there is the responsibility to protect civilians. He made the remarks while departing for his visit to six countries in the Middle East and Asia.
Speaking to reporters, Blinken said, "Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself and to try to make sure what happened never happens again. No country would tolerate the slaughter of their civilians. We stand behind that but as democracies, US, and Israel have responsibilities to protect civilians who are caught in harm's way".
Blinken stated that Hamas deliberately uses civilians as human shields and puts weaponry underneath schools and hospitals making the task "incredibly challenging" but one has to rise to that responsibility.
"Hamas cynically, monstrously and deliberately using men, women and children as human shields. Hamas puts their fighters, weapons, and ammunition underneath hospitals, schools and mosques," Blinken said.
He added, "This makes it incredibly challenging but we have to rise to that responsibility and we will talk about concrete steps that should be taken to minimise harm to men, women and children in Gaza and this is something US is committed to".

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