Macron meets with Lebanese leaders to discuss effort to quell Hezbollah, Israel clashes

French president, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Lebanon army chief meet on Paris’s proposal for increased support for Lebanon army, withdrawal of terror group from Israel border

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (L) before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on April 19, 2024. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (L) before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on April 19, 2024. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and the country’s army chief Joseph Aoun at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris on Friday for talks on how to end cross-border fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, and ease a political stalemate in Lebanon.

Macron on Friday told Lebanese premier Najib Mikati that France would “continue to act for Lebanon’s stability” and do “everything in its power” to stop violence from spiraling between Lebanon and Israel, the president’s office said.

Macron also brought up France’s participation in a United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon — on Israel’s northern border — and “underlined everyone’s responsibility towards it,” his office added.

A statement from Mikati’s office said he discussed with Macron a French proposal to end cross-border fighting that envisions increased support for the Lebanese army and the withdrawal of the Hezbollah terror group from within 10 km (six miles) of the border.

Mikati thanked Macron for his efforts “to stop the Israeli aggression against Lebanon and support the army with equipment and expertise to enable it to fully carry out its tasks,” the statement said.

Fearing a repeat on its northern border of Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, Israel has demanded that Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah retreat from the border to north of the Litani River, in keeping with the ceasefire agreement — codified as UN Security Council Resolution 1701 — that ended the 2006 war between Israel and the terror group.

French Armies Minister Sebastien Lecornu (C) accompanied by the Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Aroldo Lazaro Saenz (L), visits the headquarters of the peacekeeping forces, in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, on December 31, 2022. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Palestinians in Gaza.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in eight civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 10 IDF soldiers and reservists.

On Wednesday, an explosive drone fired from Lebanon hit a community center in the Bedouin town of Arab Al-Aramshe in northern Israel, wounding four civilians as well as 14 soldiers, five of them in serious and critical conditions.

There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah, which is armed by Iran, has named 281 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 54 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 60 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

Besides Hezbollah, Tehran’s proxies in Iraq and Yemen have also targeted Israel and its key ally, the United States.

The specter of a regional war has only intensified in the past week after Iran’s first-ever direct attack on Israel with hundreds of drones and missiles, and reports of an alleged Israeli retaliation on an Iranian airbase near Isfahan.

Iran’s strike was itself in retaliation to an alleged Israeli April 1 airstrike near what Tehran said was its consulate in Damascus, Syria, which killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, including two generals.

Emergency and security personnel gather at the site of alleged Israeli strikes which hit a building adjacent to the Iranian embassy in Syria’s capital Damascus, on April 1, 2024. (Maher Al Mounes/AFP)

In addition to the security concerns, Macron on Friday also discussed Lebanon’s long-running political crisis with the country’s premier. Mikati’s government holds only limited powers.

Lebanese lawmakers have failed to designate a successor to former president Michel Aoun since October 2022 as parliament remains deadlocked between Hezbollah and its opponents.

France, Lebanon’s colonial ruler from the end of the First World War until the middle of the Second, remains deeply ensconced in the Arab country’s inner workings, and a major contributor to its economy.

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