Both Lebanon and Israel “prefer” a diplomatic deal to end tensions along their shared border, where Hezbollah and the Israeli army have been exchanging fire for the past three months, a United States envoy has said.
Senior White House adviser Amos Hochstein spoke to reporters after meeting Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, foreign minister, army commander and speaker of parliament during a visit to Beirut on Thursday.
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“We’re living in a crisis moment where we would like to see a diplomatic solution and I believe that both sides prefer a diplomatic solution,” he said, adding, “It’s our job to get one.”
Hochstein said what’s needed is a diplomatic solution “that will allow for the Lebanese people to return to their homes in south Lebanon … as the people of Israel need to be able to return to their homes in their north”.
Prior to his visit to Beirut, the envoy travelled to Israel last week to discuss the tensions on the border that have escalated as Israel’s months-long war on Gaza continues.
“I’m hopeful that we can continue to work on this effort to arrive together, all of us on both sides of the border, with a solution that will allow for all people in Lebanon and Israel to live with guaranteed security and return to a better future,” he said.
In a televised interview earlier this week, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said a potential deal to curb tensions along the border may be “linked” to the fighting in the Gaza Strip.
“We are working on a diplomatic solution to the situation in the south, and its implementation will perhaps be linked to ending the assault on Gaza,” he said.
Since the war began, Hezbollah, a close ally of the Palestinian group Hamas, and Israel have been engaged in intense fighting.
So far, Israeli shelling has killed at least 25 Lebanese civilians and 140 Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon.
According to the Israeli army, at least nine Israeli troops have been killed during the cross-border fighting.
Washington fears that the tensions on the border could see Israel’s war on Gaza spread to the wider region, particularly after Israeli attacks this month killed senior Hamas official, Saleh al-Arouri, and Hezbollah commander Wissam al-Tawil.
Israel has said it is giving diplomacy a chance to prevent Hezbollah from firing on people living in the north of the country and to push the group away from the border, warning that the army will otherwise take action to achieve its aims.
Hezbollah has said that it does not seek a wider war but that if Israel launches a broader assault, it would not hesitate.