US working to avert ‘greater war’ between Israel and Hezbollah: Biden envoy

US says halt of cross-border hostilities is ‘urgent’ as Gaza war threatens to escalate into major regional conflict.

US envoy Amos Hochstein discussed with Lebanese officials a diplomatic solution for the Lebanon-Israel border [Bilal Hussein/AP Photo]Published On 18 Jun 202418 Jun 2024

The United States is working to prevent “a greater war” between Israel and Hezbollah, a White House envoy has said.

Speaking on Tuesday during a trip to Lebanon, from where the Iran-linked armed group is engaged in low-level hostilities with Israel, Amos Hochstein said that the US is urgently seeking to calm a conflict that has been threatening to escalate since it started in October with the war in Gaza.

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Hezbollah and Israel have regularly traded fire across the Israel-Lebanon border over the last eight months. However, last week, the Lebanon-based group fired hundreds of rockets and drones at Israeli military sites after one of its commanders was killed.

Speaking after meeting with Lebanon’s House Speaker Nabih Berri, a close ally of Hezbollah, President Biden’s envoy Hochstein called for “urgent” de-escalation.

“We have seen an escalation over the last few weeks. And what President Biden wants to do is avoid a further escalation to a greater war,” Hochstein told reporters.

The official had travelled to Beirut following meetings in Israel on Monday. Israel’s Haaretz claimed that the US envoy had warned Israeli officials that continuing the Israeli-Hezbollah confrontation could lead to a “wide-scale Iranian attack”.

“The conflict … has gone on for long enough,” Hochstein said in the Lebanese capital. “It’s in everyone’s interest to resolve it quickly and diplomatically. That is both achievable and it is urgent.”

Ambitious

Hochstein’s visit has been timed to coincide with Hezbollah’s suspension of attacks on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the largest Muslim festival, which began on Sunday.

However, his mission to convince the pair to progress towards peace looks ambitious.

Despite the current pause, Hezbollah has said it will not halt its attacks into northern Israel unless there is a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month that “one way or another, we will restore security to the north,” and his hardline nationalist coalition partners have called for an aggressive military response.

The Israeli military said on Monday that it killed a “central operative” in Hezbollah’s rocket division in a drone strike.

The US State Department said late on Monday that it is advancing a proposal to avert a large-scale conflict.

“There is a diplomatic framework that we believe is reachable that would resolve this conflict without a full-on war,” a spokesperson said.

In Beirut, Hochstein called for the adoption of the Gaza ceasefire proposal being pushed by Biden’s administration in the hope that it would quickly bring peace across the “Blue Line,” referring to the disputed Israel/Lebanon border.

“A ceasefire in Gaza and, or, an alternative diplomatic solution could also bring the conflict across the Blue Line to an end” and allow the return of displaced civilians to southern Lebanon and northern Israel, he said.

Hezbollah recently said that it has carried out more than 2,100 military operations against Israel since October 8.

The Israel-Lebanon border violence has killed at least 473 people on the Lebanese side, most of them fighters but also including 92 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies