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UK’s Cameron seeks calm on Lebanon-Israel border in Beirut talks

By AFP - Feb 01,2024 - Last updated at Feb 01,2024

BEIRUT — British Foreign Minister David Cameron discussed defusing deadly tensions on the Lebanon-Israel border on Thursday in Beirut talks with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the premier's office said.

Cameron and Mikati discussed "ways to restore calm in southern Lebanon, as well as the political and diplomatic solution that is needed", the prime minister's office said.

Cameron is the latest in a succession of Western ministers to visit Beirut amid concern that the Gaza war could spark a wider conflict involving Iranian allies around the Middle East.

A major focus of their efforts has been to reinforce the United Nations Security Council resolution that ended a 2006 war between Hizbollah and Israel.

Resolution 1701 called for all armed personnel to pull back north of the Litani River, some 30 kilometres from the border, except for Lebanese state security forces and UN peacekeepers.

While Hizbollah has not had a visible military presence in the border area since 2006, the group still holds sway over large parts of the south, where it has built tunnels and hideouts and launched missile and drone attacks into Israel.

Mikati discussed with Cameron "ways to implement UN Resolution 1701", his office said.

"Lebanon supports a peaceful solution in the region," Mikati said, adding: "Lebanon supports the implementation of international resolutions to the letter, especially Resolution 1701."

Cameron also met the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, a Hizbollah ally, as well as the country's army chief Joseph Aoun.

A Western diplomat told AFP there was an increasing possibility that Israel will escalate border tensions due to internal political pressure, "but meanwhile, Hezbollah does not want to start a war".

Hizbollah had previously signalled willingness to endorse a diplomatic solution, but only after Israel ends its war on Gaza.

Western diplomats, including British officials, are pushing for a solution that would include "fully implementing resolution 1701 and giving new impetus" to UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said the Western official.

Senior Hizbollah official Nabil Kaouk said on Wednesday that the group had “intensified” its operations “in response to Israel’s escalation”, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported.

His comments came after Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday that troops would “very soon go into action” near the Lebanese border.

Nearly four months of cross-border fire have killed over 210 people in Lebanon, most of them Hizbollah fighters but also including more than 25 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

On the Israeli side of the border, nine soldiers and six civilians have been killed, Israeli officials have said.

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