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France's top diplomat in Lebanon in push for calm with Israel

By AFP - Apr 29,2024 - Last updated at Apr 29,2024

BEIRUT — France's top diplomat on Sunday urged calm in Lebanon during his second visit to the country since cross-border tensions with Israel flared on the back of the war in Gaza.

Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbollah group have exchanged near-daily fire since Hamas's unprecedented surprise attack on southern Israel on October 7 sparked the war in Gaza.

Fighting has intensified in recent weeks, with Israel striking deeper into Lebanese territory, while Hezbollah has stepped up its missile and drone attacks on military positions in northern Israel.

France has for months sought to de-escalate the cross-border tensions, presenting to both Lebanon and Israel an initiative in January seeking to end hostilities.

During a visit to the headquarters of the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne reiterated that Paris has been making proposals to "avoid war in Lebanon".

"I will head to Beirut to meet political authorities to... make proposals," he added. "Our responsibility is to mitigate escalation, and that is also our role in UNIFIL. We have 700 soldiers here."

A French diplomatic source told AFP that the volume of cross-border attacks had doubled since April 13.

Sejourne is set to meet Lebanese officials on Sunday afternoon ahead of holding a press conference.

In March, Beirut submitted its response to the French initiative, which was based on a UN resolution barring the presence of any forces other than the Lebanese military and UNIFIL in south Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who heads a caretaker government with reduced powers, on Friday suggested that Paris was reviewing its proposal and would submit a new one to Beirut.

Sejourne’s trip — which will also see him stop in Riyadh for a summit on Gaza — coincides with a visit to Jerusalem by US envoy Amos Hochstein as Washington also pushes for de-escalation along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Hizbollah has repeatedly declared that only a ceasefire in Gaza will put an end to its attacks on Israel.

Since October 8 at least 385 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 254 Hizbollah fighters and dozens of civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israel says 11 soldiers and nine civilians have been killed on its side of the border.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides.


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