Hezbollah will halt fire if Hamas okays Gaza truce, sources say

Source asserts that Iran-backed terror group will adhere to a lull ‘the moment it is announced,’ but on condition that IDF also stops shelling positions in Lebanon

View of an Israeli military base in Meron, northern Israel, February 27, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)
View of an Israeli military base in Meron, northern Israel, February 27, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group will halt fire on Israel if its Palestinian ally Hamas agrees to a proposal for a truce with Israel in Gaza – unless Israeli forces keep shelling Lebanon, two sources familiar with Hezbollah’s thinking told Reuters on Tuesday.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israel across Lebanon’s southern border since October 8, a day after a massive, bloody Hamas assault in southern Israel that opened a war with Israel.

A temporary truce between Hamas and Israel to allow for hostage and prisoner releases led to a week of calm across the Lebanese-Israeli border in late November.

Hamas is now weighing a new proposal, agreed by Israel at talks with mediators in Paris last week, for a deal that would suspend fighting for 40 days, which would be the first extended pause of the five-month-old war.

“The moment Hamas announces its approval of the truce, and the moment the truce is declared, Hezbollah will adhere to the truce and will stop operations in the south immediately, as happened the previous time,” one of the two sources close to the heavily armed, Shiite Muslim group said.

But if Israel continued shelling Lebanon, Hezbollah would not hesitate to carry on fighting, both sources said.

The Hezbollah media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lebanese soldiers and emergency service personnel inspect the rubble at the site of an Israeli airstrike in the vicinity of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, on February 26, 2024. (AFP)

War erupted on October 7 when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid horrific atrocities including widespread gang rape, torture and mutilation of victims. Some 3,000 attackers burst through the border from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and terrorists also abducted 253 people of all ages who were taken as hostages in Gaza.

Israel responded with an air, sea and ground military campaign to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group and free the hostages, over half of whom remain in captivity.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said earlier this month the group’s attacks on Israel would only end when Israel’s “aggression” against Gaza ends.

Hezbollah is one of several Iran-aligned groups around the Middle East that have entered the fray since the Gaza war began, waging campaigns they say aim to support Palestinians under Israeli bombardment in Gaza.

The Houthis of Yemen have been firing on shipping in the Red Sea, prompting US strikes on the group, and Iran-backed Iraqi groups have fired on US troops at bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. A drone attack late last month in northeast Jordan killed three US soldiers, prompting US retaliatory strikes.

No talks until Gaza ceasefire

So far, the skirmishes on the Lebanese border have resulted in six civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 10 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Firefighters working to extinguish a fire at a destroyed warehouse that Israel says is a Hezbollah arms depot, still burning after it was hit a day earlier in Israeli airstrikes, at an industrial district in the southern coastal town of Ghazieh, Lebanon, Feb. 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Hezbollah has named 219 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon, but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 34 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and more than 30 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

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

Foreign envoys have sought to secure a diplomatic resolution to the fighting, reflecting worry about further escalation.

Earlier this month, France delivered a written proposal to Beirut aimed at ending hostilities. It included negotiations to settle the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier and a withdrawal of Hezbollah’s Radwan elite unit 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.

Hezbollah, which exercises significant sway over the Lebanese state, has insisted it will discuss no arrangements for southern Lebanon until a permanent ceasefire has been agreed for Gaza. The two sources told Reuters this stance has not changed.

The first source said Hezbollah had previously specified that there would be no talks with the group until after a Gaza ceasefire, and it stood by this position.

An Israeli airstrike is seen near Baalbek in northeast Lebanon (left) after an IDF Hermes 450 drone was shot down by a Hezbollah missile (right) over southern Lebanon, February 26, 2024. (Screenshot: X)

While hostilities have largely been limited to the border zone, this week saw a significant escalation, uncorking fresh war fears after months of steadily rising tensions that have largely been kept in check. Israeli fighter jets on Monday hit the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, the most far-reaching strikes in Lebanon during the current conflict, after Hezbollah shot down an Israeli drone. On Tuesday morning, Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets in the Galilee region of Israel, and then in the afternoon launched a second barrage. There were no reports of injuries in the rocket attacks.

Meanwhile, Hamas officials played down remarks from US President Joe Biden who said a day earlier that the sides were “close” and could ink an agreement by March 4.

A Hamas official described Biden’s statement as “premature” and not reflecting the situation on the ground.

The comments came as reports suggested that Israel and Hamas were moving toward a deal that could see Israeli troops halt operations for 40 days and the terror group release 40 hostages in exchange for some 400 Palestinian prisoners. According to one report, Israel was also considering releasing high-value detainees convicted of serious security offenses in exchange for female troops abducted on October 7.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks with commanders at the Central Command HQ near Jerusalem, February 27, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

On Sunday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant indicated that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a possible ceasefire in the Gaza conflict. He said the goal was to secure a Hezbollah withdrawal from the border region, either through a diplomatic agreement or by force.

Israel has warned that it will no longer tolerate the presence of Hezbollah along the Lebanon frontier, where it could attempt to carry out an attack similar to the massacre committed by Hamas in the south on October 7.

A failure of international diplomacy to force Hezbollah away from the border would necessitate an Israeli offensive, the country has said.

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