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US envoy says diplomacy 'urgent' to stop Israel-Lebanon border clashes

By AFP - Jun 19,2024 - Last updated at Jun 19,2024

Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in south Lebanon near the border with Israel on June 8, 2024 amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip (AFP)

Beirut — US envoy Amos Hochstein on Tuesday called for the "urgent" de-escalation of cross-border exchanges of fire between Lebanon's Hizbollah and Israeli forces raging since the start of the Gaza war.

"The conflict... between Israel and Hizbollah has gone on for long enough," the presidential envoy said on a visit to Beirut.

"It's in everyone's interest to resolve it quickly and diplomatically -- that is both achievable and it is urgent."

The powerful Iran-backed Hizbollah movement, an ally of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas, stepped up attacks on northern Israel last week after an Israeli strike killed one of its senior commanders.

Coinciding with the envoy's visit and what Hizbollah called "Israeli threats of war against Lebanon", the Iran-backed group published a more than nine-minute video showing drone footage purportedly taken by the movement over northern Israel, including parts of the city and port of Haifa.

The video, which AFP was unable to immediately verify independently, pinpointed what Hezbollah said were Israeli military, defence and energy facilities, as well as civilian and military infrastructure.

Hochstein met with Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a key Hizbollah ally, a day after holding talks in Jerusalem with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Speaker Berri and I had a very good discussion," Hochstein said.

"We discussed the current security and political situation in Lebanon as well as the deal on the table right now with respect to Gaza, which also provides an opportunity to end the conflict across the Blue Line," he added, referring to the demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon. 

US President Joe Biden last month outlined a truce proposal which Hochstein said would ultimately lead to "the end of the conflict in Gaza".

 

‘Critical moment' 

 

"A ceasefire in Gaza and, or, an alternative diplomatic solution could also bring the conflict across the Blue Line to an end" and allow the return of displaced civilians to southern Lebanon and northern Israel, the envoy added.

"This is a serious time and a critical moment," Hochstein said later after meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, calling their discussion "excellent".

"What we are working together (to do) is to try to identify a way to get to a place where we prevent a further escalation," he added.

Mikati said "what is required is to stop the ongoing Israeli aggression against Lebanon and return to calm and stability on the southern border".

In a statement from his office, Mikati said "continued Israeli threats" will not distract Lebanon from seeking calm.

Hochstein also met with Lebanese army chief Joseph Aoun.

As the US envoy visited, Hizbollah announced its first attack in days, saying it targeted an Israeli tank with an "attack drone".

Israeli strikes have continued in south Lebanon's border area, including one on Monday that killed a fighter from the Shiite Muslim movement.

Lebanon's National News Agency also reported an "enemy drone" targeted a car in southern Lebanon.

Hizbollah last week said it has carried out more than 2,100 military operations against Israel since October 8, the day after Hamas's attack that sparked the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.

The Lebanese group has long said that only an end to the Gaza war would stop its cross-border attacks, which it says it is carrying out in support of Hamas and Gazans.

The violence has killed at least 473 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also including 92 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country's north.

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