US senators: Truce in Gaza could pave way for Israel and Hezbollah ‘to de-escalate’

Democratic lawmakers Chris Coons and Richard Blumenthal say coming weeks crucial for region, stress ‘urgency’ of diplomatic solution

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border with Israel on February 21, 2024. (Rabih DAHER / AFP)
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border with Israel on February 21, 2024. (Rabih DAHER / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah have a window to de-escalate tensions along Lebanon’s southern border before a possible Israeli military offensive against the Iran-backed terror group, two Democratic US senators told Reuters on Wednesday.

Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut met Lebanese officials on a tour of the region, which has been gripped by conflict following Hamas’s October 7 massacre in Israel, which responded with a heavy air, land, and sea assault in Gaza.

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 Gaza amid the war there.

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

Hezbollah has named 206 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 32 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 30 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

“The next few weeks are a real hinge point — for Gaza, for Israel, for Lebanon, for the Red Sea, for Iraq,” said Coons, adding that a hostage deal and accompanying truce in Gaza could have “positive consequences” for Lebanon.

“It could create that window of 45 days, quite likely during Ramadan as well, when the next steps can be taken to begin to build the confidence that could lead to a full implementation of (United Nations Security Council resolution) 1701,” he said.

File: Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, welcomes French Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Sejourne at his residence in Beirut on February 6, 2024. (AFP)

That 2006 resolution ended the last major conflict between Hezbollah and Israel and says no armed factions should be present in a swathe of south Lebanon except the Lebanese army.

“I think there’s an urgency for both sides in taking this opportunity to de-escalate and to withdraw,” Coons said.

Foreign ministers and top envoys from various Western countries have visited Lebanon in recent weeks to urge a diplomatic resolution to the fighting in the south.

France submitted a written proposal to Lebanon earlier this month. US envoy Amos Hochstein has also been working on a plan, which Coons said he hoped was “making steady progress” without sharing further details.

The US senators said they told Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement, that Israel “is not bluffing” about an offensive.

“It’s not just rhetoric. It will act. And we hope that that message was conveyed to Hezbollah,” Blumenthal said.

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