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

By AFP - Mar 04,2024 - Last updated at Mar 04,2024

Beirut, March 4, 2024 — A US envoy was meeting on Monday with Lebanese officials in a push to halt violence along the border with Israel, as Hamas ally Hezbollah said ending the Gaza war would stem hostilities.

Israel and Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hizbollah movement have exchanged near-daily fire since October in the wake of the Hamas-Israel war, raising fears 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 Hizbollah-allied parliament speaker Nabih Berri, and was set to hold talks with other officials including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun.

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

Violence on the Israel-Lebanon border began a day after Hamas’s October 7 sudden attack that triggered the ongoing war in Gaza.

“Stop the assault on Gaza and war will end in the region,” Qassem said of Israel’s military campaign against Hamas.

International mediators should seek to “stop the assault” on the Hamas-ruled 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 between Israel and Hamas, 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 Hizbollah 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 Hizbollah 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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