US senators say it is ‘urgent’ for Hezbollah-Israel war to de-escalate soon

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 1:09 PM

By Maya Gebeily

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Israeli military and Hezbollah have a window to de-escalate tensions along Lebanon’s southern border before a possible Israeli military offensive against the Lebanese armed group, two Democratic U.S. senators told Reuters on Wednesday.

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

In Lebanon, Israeli shelling has killed nearly 190 Hezbollah fighters and 50 civilians. A dozen Israeli troops and five Israeli civilians have been killed in northern Israel, and tens of thousands have been displaced on each side of the border.

“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 ceasefire deal on 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.

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. U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein has also been working on a plan, which Coons said he hoped was “making steady progress” without sharing further details.

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)