US envoy in Beirut for talks on Israel-Lebanon border hostilities

AFP , Monday 4 Mar 2024

A US envoy was meeting Monday with Lebanese officials in a push to halt violence along the border with Israel, as Hezbollah said ending the Israeli war on Gaza would stem hostilities.

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US special envoy Amos Hochstein (L) meets with Lebanon s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut on March 4, 2024. AFP

 

Israel and Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement have exchanged near-daily fire since October in the wake of the war on Gaza, raising fears the all-out conflict could spread across the region.

As Washington's envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut, Israeli medics said a missile from Lebanon killed a foreign worker near the border and wounded at least seven others, the latest casualties in months of escalating clashes.

Hochstein met with Lebanon's Hezbollah-allied parliament speaker Nabih Berri and was set to hold talks with other officials including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun.

Hezbollah's deputy chief Naim Qassem meanwhile reiterated that the group, which says it is acting in support of Gazans and Hamas, would stop its attacks on Israel once the Gaza offensive ends.

"Stop the assault on Gaza and war will end in the region," Qassem said of Israel's military campaign on Gaza.

International mediators should seek to "stop the assault" on the Gaza Strip rather than attempting "to prevent support" for Palestinian militants from Hezbollah, he added.

Hochstein's visit coincides with mediation efforts in Cairo towards a truce deal in Gaza after the United States stepped up pressure for a halt in fighting and more aid to enter the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has said there will be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if a Gaza ceasefire is secured.

During a January visit, Hochstein had said both Lebanon and Israel "prefer" a diplomatic path to end hostilities.

In recent months, Western envoys including top diplomats from France, Britain, and Germany have converged on Beirut to urge restraint and discuss potential solutions.

In October 2022, Hochstein brokered a maritime accord between Israel and Lebanon -- which have no diplomatic ties -- paving the way for both countries to exploit potential offshore gas reserves.

The cross-border fighting has displaced tens of thousands on both sides and has killed at least 296 people in Lebanon, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 46 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

In Israel, at least 10 soldiers and seven civilians have been killed.

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