ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Lebanese officials say efforts intensify to bring calm to Lebanon-Israel border

Alongside Gaza truce talks, foreign diplomats said putting forward proposals that would see Hezbollah pull back from border and Lebanese army deploy along boundary

Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 8, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 8, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

BEIRUT — Foreign diplomats have put forward proposals to bring calm to the volatile Lebanon-Israel border in parallel with the ongoing Gaza truce negotiations, according to officials Wednesday. This includes a pullback by the Hezbollah terror group from the frontier and the deployment of thousands of additional Lebanese army troops.

The proposal put forward by European diplomats would be based on the “partial implementation” of the UN Security Council resolution that ended a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, two Lebanese political officials and a Lebanese diplomat based in Europe told The Associated Press.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details of the talks.

Israel has publicly insisted on a full implementation of the resolution, meaning that Hezbollah has to move its fighters north of the Litani River, which in some spots is more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the border.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has refused to be part of the discussions while the Israel-Hamas war is ongoing, but once a ceasefire is in place, the group said it was open to moving its forces away from the border by a few miles in exchange for concessions by Israel over 13 disputed border areas, one of the officials familiar with the talks said Wednesday.

Iran’s regional militia allies have said that once a ceasefire in Gaza comes into effect, all attacks by Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen would stop.

View of the northern town of Shlomi, largely evacuated of civilians amid Hezbollah attacks, January 17, 2024 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Britain and France’s top diplomats, among others, have recently visited Beirut amid concerns the Israel-Hamas war could expand to Lebanon where exchanges of fire have taken place on an almost daily basis between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters for nearly four months.

Hezbollah-led forces have been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis since October 8, a day after its ally Hamas launched its October 7 massacre, killing 1,200 people across northern Israel and abducting 253 people of all ages. Hezbollah says its attacks are to support Gaza amid the war Hamas triggered through its attack.

On Thursday, three Israeli soldiers were hurt in a Hezbollah rocket attack on northern Israel. The Israel Defense Forces responded by hitting Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon.

The violence along the Lebanon-Israel border has displaced tens of thousands of people on both sides. Israel has said it cannot tolerate Hezbollah forces along its border, where they could launch a murderous attack on civilians in similar vein to Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

It has issued increasingly stern warnings that Hezbollah must pull back from the border or face far-reaching military consequences.

Last Thursday, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron arrived in Lebanon with a plan he said would include Britain training Lebanese army forces to carry out more security work in the border region.

France’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne was in Beirut on Tuesday with a proposal to ease the tensions. He warned that the border situation was “very concerning” and that Israel was serious in its threats against Lebanon, one of the Lebanese officials said.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne, left, meets with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon, February 6, 2024. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Sejourne ‘s suggestion called for a bigger role for the Lebanese army in the border area and for negotiations regarding 13 points along the border that have been under dispute since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, according to the Lebanese diplomat based in Europe.

The diplomat said there was “initial understanding” regarding seven of the 13 areas.

Apart from those, one of the officials familiar with the regional talks said Hezbollah would demand that Israel withdraw from the Lebanese part of the town of Ghajar, which is split in half by the border.

He said the proposal on the table calls for Hezbollah to pull back 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) from the border — the range of the anti-tank missiles the group has been using most frequently during the clashes — and for the deployment of 12,000 Lebanese army troops in the area.

He added that many members of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Force live in the border area but the group had no “fixed bases” there.

Top Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to go to war in Lebanon after the campaign to root out Hamas in Gaza is over, with the aim of driving Hezbollah away from the border in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. They have increasingly warned that if the international community does not push Hezbollah — which, like Hamas, is sworn to Israel’s destruction — away from the border through diplomatic means, Israel will take action.

Senior Advisor to US President Joe Biden Amos Hochstein, left, meets with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, January 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to US President Joe Biden, was in Israel over the weekend. He reported progress in talks concerning Hezbollah’s pullback from the border area, according to Israeli media. Hochstein successfully mediated a maritime border deal between Lebanon and Israel in 2022.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli leaders on Wednesday after Hamas put forward a detailed plan for a ceasefire and hostage release deal, which Israeli leaders indicated was unacceptable.

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