US senior envoy in Beirut to press calm along Lebanon-Israel border as a truce in Gaza is pursued

Senior Advisor to U.S. President Biden, Amos Hochstein, left, meets with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March 4, 2024. Hochstein, a senior adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, discussed with Lebanese officials Monday a diplomatic solution for the Lebanon-Israel border saying that if a truce is reached in the Gaza Strip it will not automatically mean that there will be calm along Lebanon's southern border. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Senior Advisor to U.S. President Biden, Amos Hochstein, left, meets with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March 4, 2024. Hochstein, a senior adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, discussed with Lebanese officials Monday a diplomatic solution for the Lebanon-Israel border saying that if a truce is reached in the Gaza Strip it will not automatically mean that there will be calm along Lebanon’s southern border. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT (AP) — A senior U.S. envoy visiting Beirut Monday said if a truce is reached in the Gaza Strip it would not automatically translate to calm along the volatile Lebanon-Israel border which has witnessed a rise in tensions.

Since the Israel-Hamas war started, Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah has been exchanging fire with Israel almost daily, displacing thousands of people and spiking fear the conflict may spread in the region.

Amos Hochstein ’s comments came hours after Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, reiterated that the only way to stop the war along the Lebanon-Israel border is to end the war in Gaza.

Hochstein, a senior adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, began his talks by meeting Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally. He is scheduled to meet other officials and politicians during his visit.

“The United States remains committed to advancing lasting security solutions achieved through diplomatic process,” Hochstein told reporters after he met Berri. He said such a move would allow tens of thousands of Lebanese and Israelis who were displaced by the conflict “to safely return” to their homes.

Hochstein’s visit came as the U.S., Qatar and Egypt have been trying for weeks to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and to convince the Palestinian militant group to release some of the scores of hostages it is still holding since the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.

It also comes as Israeli rescuers said Monday a foreign worker was killed and several others wounded by an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon. The Magen David Adom rescue service said it treated seven people, including two in serious condition.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah said its fighters aborted two infiltration attempts the night before by Israeli troops into a border area in southern Lebanon.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, more than 215 Hezbollah fighters and nearly 40 civilians were killed on the Lebanese side while in Israel, nine soldiers and 10 civilians were left dead in the attacks.

“I’m mindful that my arrival comes on the heels of a tense few weeks on both sides of the border,” Hochstein said. “An escalation will certainly not help Lebanon rebuild and advance forward at this critical time in Lebanon’s history,” he added in an apparent reference to Lebanon’s historic economic crisis that has been ongoing since 2019.

“A temporary cease-fire is not enough. A limited war is not containable and the security paradigm along the Blue Line has to change in order to guarantee everyone’s security,” Hochstein said referring to the Lebanon-Israel border.

Asked if a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip will include Lebanon, he said it is not necessary “that when you have a cease-fire in Gaza, it automatically extends. That is why we are here today to be able to have a conversation and discussions” on the situation in Lebanon.

Israeli officials have threatened a wider war in Lebanon if Hezbollah does not withdraw its elite fighters north of the Litani River as stipulated in a 2006 truce that ended a 34-day Israel-Hezbollah war.

Western diplomats have brought forward a series of proposals for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, most of which would hinge on Hezbollah moving its forces 7-10 kilometers (about 4-6 miles) away from the border.

Kassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, blasted the United States in a speech Monday during a conference held in the group’s stronghold south of Beirut attended by Muslim clerics from several regional states. He blamed Washington for using its veto power three times to prevent resolutions at the U.N. Security Council to end the war in Gaza.

“We have said it clearly that whoever wants to be a mediator should mediate to stop the aggression,” Kassem said in his speech. He added that those who don’t want the war to expand in the region should deal with the cause “which is the brutal and criminal aggression by America and Israel against Gaza.”

“Stop the aggression on Gaza and the war will stop in the region,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Melanie Lidman contributed to this report from Tel Aviv, Israel.

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