In Lebanon, EU’s Borrell says ‘absolutely necessary’ country not dragged into war

Europe’s top diplomat speaks as terrorists fire salvos at Israel, IDF strikes south Lebanon following death of Hamas deputy leader in Beirut bombing

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abu Habib (L), receives Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in Beirut on January 6, 2024. (Anwar Amro/AFP)
Lebanon's Foreign Minister Abdullah Abu Habib (L), receives Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in Beirut on January 6, 2024. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

The European Union foreign policy chief on Saturday warned against a regional conflict that would involve Lebanon, as border clashes intensified nearly three months into Israel’s war with Hezbollah ally Hamas.

“It is imperative to avoid regional escalation in the Middle East. It is absolutely necessary to avoid Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict,” Josep Borrell said during a press conference in Beirut with Lebanon’s foreign minister.

“I am sending this message to Israel too: Nobody will win from a regional conflict,” he added.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah has attacked Israel on a near-daily basis, sparking Israeli retaliations since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which triggered the war.

But a strike attributed to Israel that killed Hamas’s deputy leader in Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold on Tuesday intensified fears of a wider conflagration. The Lebanese terror group on Saturday said it retaliated by launching dozens of rockets at a northern Israeli base, and several further barrages of rockets ensued.

“I think that the war can be prevented, has to be avoided and diplomacy can prevail,” Borrell told reporters.

Earlier Saturday, Borrell met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) commander Aroldo Lazaro and the influential speaker of parliament Nabih Berri.

His visit is part of a diplomatic push to avoid further regional escalation, especially on the Lebanon-Israel border, and to call for a solution to the Gaza war.

“Diplomatic channels have to be open to signal that the war is not the only option but it is the worst option,” he said.

Hezbollah called the barrage of dozens of rockets at the Mount Meron area “an initial response” to the alleged Israeli killing of Hamas terror chief Saleh al-Arouri in Lebanon last week. There were no reports of injuries.

The Israel Defense Forces said that some 40 rockets were fired from Lebanon. Hezbollah said it targeted an Israeli military installation in the area with 62 “various types of missiles.”

The rocket salvo triggered incoming rocket and drone alerts in 90 communities across northern Israel, but the IDF said only the Mount Meron area was targeted.

Video circulating on social media appears to show smoke in a number of areas in the national park. It was unclear if the smoke was caused by impacts or interceptions.

Sirens were later triggered multiple times in dozens of communities in northern Israel, amid further barrages and suspected drone infiltrations.

The army said it struck a terror cell in southern Lebanon responsible for some of the rocket launches.

In a later statement, the IDF said it carried out airstrikes on a series of Hezbollah sites in Lebanon in response to the attacks on northern Israel.

The targets in Ayta ash-Shab, Yaroun and Ramyah included rocket launch positions, military sites and other infrastructure used by the terror group, according to the IDF.

The IDF said a drone struck the cell behind the attack on Metula.

The barrage, one of the largest since the start of skirmishes on the northern border linked to the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, came a day after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened that Israel’s northern residents would be “the first to pay the price if a full-scale war were to erupt” along the front.

Nasrallah also used the address to repeat many of the same threats against Israel that he made earlier this week, again vowing to avenge deputy Hamas chief Arouri’s killing in Beirut while remaining vague on the specifics.

Nasrallah said that all of Lebanon would be exposed to further Israeli strikes if the group did not react to the assassination of Arouri in Beirut.

“The response is coming. The decision has already been made. The matter now depends on what will unfold on the ground, and on Allah,” Nasrallah said.

The attack on Arouri has sparked fears of a broader conflagration because he was the most high-profile figure to be killed since October 7 and because his death came in the first strike on the Lebanese capital since hostilities started.

Lebanon filed a complaint to the UN Security Council over the killing of Arouri, calling it the “most dangerous phase” of Israeli attacks on the country.

Since the deadly Hamas onslaught of October 7, in which some 1,200 people were slaughtered, mostly civilians, and around 240 were taken hostage, Hezbollah and allied Palestinian terror factions have engaged in daily cross-border clashes with Israeli troops along the Lebanon border. Lebanese terrorists have also targeted Israeli civilians and their homes, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate the area.

The fighting along the border has resulted in four civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of nine IDF soldiers.

Hezbollah has named 148 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon, but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 19 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

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