US wants to avoid ‘greater war’ along Lebanon-Israel border, envoy says

US special envoy Amos Hochstein is in the region for talks with top Israeli and Lebanese official to press for de-escalation in border clashes involving Hamas ally Hezbollah. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 18 June 2024

US wants to avoid ‘greater war’ along Lebanon-Israel border, envoy says

  • US envoy Amos Hochstein: ‘The conflict... between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough’

BEIRUT: The US is trying to avert a greater war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, American envoy Amos Hochstein said on Tuesday, following an escalation in cross-border fire between the foes along Lebanon’s southern frontier.

Hochstein described the situation on the border between Lebanon and Israel as “very critical and very dangerous.”

Hochstein, who arrived in Beirut from Tel Aviv, said during a series of meetings with Lebanese officials that “further escalation between Israel and Lebanon must be avoided so we won’t reach an open war. We seek to stop the escalation in order to avoid a major war.”

He said a ceasefire in Gaza might end the war in southern Lebanon and allow displaced people to return to their homes, adding that “the conflict along both sides of the Blue Line has been going on for too long and ending it is in everyone’s interest.”

The situation on the southern front has escalated in the past couple of days with Hezbollah’s recent unprecedented attacks.

A Hezbollah reconnaissance Hudhud-1 drone released on Tuesday detailed footage of the port of Haifa Bay area and the Carmel area specifically, as well as a military manufacturing company and other military bases in Nahariya, Safad and Kiryat Shmona.

Hezbollah said the drone was equipped with the latest photography technology “to identify its targets and the enemy’s gatherings and equipment.”

It added that “the drone is characterized by its small size and radar, which makes it difficult to detect, follow and down with air defense missiles.

“It is also known for its small amount of thermal radiation, reducing its likelihood of being hit by infrared missiles. It is also characterized by its low acoustic fingerprint, making it hard to identify in a battle atmosphere.”

Hochstein met Lebanese army chief Joseph Aoun in the presence of the US Ambassador to Lebanon Lisa Johnson.

The discussions revolved around the general situation in Lebanon and the region, as well as developments on the southern border.

The US is highly concerned that hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army could escalate into an open war.

Aoun visited the Pentagon for the first time last week, where the escalating tensions with Israel were discussed.

After an hour-long meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hochstein told reporters that his visit “comes under difficult circumstances, and this is why he was dispatched by President Joe Biden to Lebanon.”

He said he had a positive meeting with Berri, where they discussed the proposed deal in relation to Gaza, “which gives an opportunity to end the conflict on both sides of the Blue Line.”

Hochstein added that “the deal proposed by President Biden on May 31, 2024, which includes the release of the hostages and a full and complete ceasefire leading to the end of the war in Gaza, and which was approved by the Israeli side, Qatar, Egypt, the G7 and the UN Security Council, could end the war in Gaza and plan the withdrawal of the Israeli forces. If this is what Hamas wants, it should accept the deal.”

He noted: “A ceasefire in Gaza and/or an alternative diplomatic solution could also bring the conflict across the Blue Line to an end, creating conditions for displaced Lebanese civilians to go home in the south, and for Israeli civilians to go home in their north. The conflict along the Blue Line between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough. Innocent people are dying. Property is damaged. Families are shattered, and the Lebanese economy continues to decline. The country is suffering for no good reason. It’s in everyone’s interest to resolve it quickly and diplomatically. That is both achievable. And it is urgent.”

Prime Minister Najib Mikati told Hochstein that “Lebanon does not seek escalation, and what is required is to stop the ongoing Israeli aggression against Lebanon and return to calm and stability on the southern border.” 

He said: “We continue to strive to stop the escalation, establish security and stability, and stop the ongoing violations of Lebanese sovereignty and the systematic killing and destruction committed by Israel. However, the continuous Israeli threats to Lebanon will not prevent us from continuing our efforts to establish calm, which is a priority for us and all of Lebanon’s friends.”

Hochstein said: “We are going through dangerous times and critical moments, and we are working together to find ways to prevent further escalation.”

In Tel Aviv, the head of the National Unity Party, Benny Gantz, told Hochstein: “Time is running out for an internationally mediated arrangement on the northern border with Lebanon.”

Gantz wrote on social media that during his meeting with Hochstein, “I emphasized my commitment to removing the threat Hezbollah to the citizens of northern Israel, regardless of developments on the war in Gaza, and will support any responsible and effective political or military decision on the matter from outside the government.”

Israeli Channel 12 reported: “Israel informed Hochstein that operations in Rafah, Gaza Strip, were nearing completion and the end of operations in Rafah would affect the region and the Lebanon front.”

According to the Israeli army, Hezbollah has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank shells, and explosive drones into northern Israel since Oct. 8.

Hezbollah halted its hostile operations for 48 hours, despite Israel not stopping its targeting of party members. The latest of these attacks was on Tuesday afternoon when a combat drone targeted a man driving a car to the town of Borgholiyeh, north of the city of Tyre.

Another drone targeted a Hezbollah member driving a vehicle on Monday on the road linking the towns of Selaa and Chehabiyeh in the Tyre area, leading to his death.

Israeli warplanes also conducted violent raids on the town of Chaqra, which hosts displaced people from frontline villages.

Hezbollah announced on Tuesday that it targeted “a Merkava tank inside the Hadab Yarin site with an assault drone, hitting it directly.”

Jordan’s army shoots down drone carrying drugs from Syria

Updated 9 sec ago

Jordan’s army shoots down drone carrying drugs from Syria

AMMAN: Jordanian military authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle narcotics coming into the kingdom through a drone from Syria, state news agency PETRA reported.
A military official said Saturday that forces shot down the drone inside Jordanian territory.
“Border guard forces in the eastern military region, in coordination with the security services and the Anti-Narcotics Department, detected an attempt by a drone to cross the border illegally from Syrian territory to Jordanian territory,” the statement read.
The seized items were confiscated and transferred to the relevant authorities.

EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

Updated 48 min 8 sec ago

EU backs ICJ ruling on ‘illegal’ Israeli occupation

  • Sweeping opinion by Hague-based International Court of Justice called on Israel to end its occupation immediately
  • ICJ ruling not binding but comes amid mounting concern over death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas

BRUSSELS, Belgium: The top UN court’s ruling that Israel’s 57-year occupation of Palestinian land was “illegal” is “largely consistent with EU positions,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief said Saturday.
The sweeping opinion on Friday by The Hague-based International Court of Justice — which called for the occupation to end as soon as possible — was immediately slammed as a “decision of lies” by Israel.
But the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said that the bloc had taken “good note” of the court’s ruling and urged further backing for the court’s opinion.
“In a world of constant and increasing violations of international law, it is our moral duty to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all ICJ decisions in a consistent manner, irrespective of the subject in question,” Josep Borrell said.
He added in a statement that the opinion “will need to be analyzed more thoroughly, including in view of its implications for EU policy.”
The ICJ’s ruling is not binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over the death toll and destruction in Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks, as well as increased tensions in the West Bank.
Its intervention is likely to increase diplomatic pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza, as will the EU’s backing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the ruling.
“The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land — not in our eternal capital Jerusalem, nor in our ancestral heritage of Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank), he said in a statement.
In June 1967, Israel seized the then-Jordan-annexed West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in a crushing six-day war against its Arab neighbors.
It then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained the Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.

Defiant Netanyahu to face US Congress amid Gaza tensions

Updated 21 July 2024

Defiant Netanyahu to face US Congress amid Gaza tensions

  • Israel’s longest-serving premier will become the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of the two chambers four times
  • Hamas has accused Netanyahu of seeking to block a deal being hammered out by Qatar, Egyptian and US mediators to end the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to deliver a landmark speech to the US Congress on Wednesday as he fights off intense pressure to quickly cut a Gaza war ceasefire deal with Hamas.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, will become the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of the two chambers four times — pulling ahead of Britain’s Winston Churchill on three.
But analysts say the Gaza war since the October 7 Hamas attacks has created worrying tensions between Israel and the United States, its main military and diplomatic backer.
Washington fears a backlash from the mounting civilian toll in the Gaza Strip, while protests in Israel by families of hostages taken by Hamas are also causing headaches for Netanyahu.
Biden and some Israeli ministers say a deal negotiated through Qatar, Egyptian and US mediators is possible. A plan outlined in May proposed a six-week ceasefire when some Israeli hostages would be swapped for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that negotiators were “inside the 10 yard line and driving toward the goal line.”
Hamas has accused Netanyahu of seeking to block a deal however and Blinken said he wants to “bring the agreement over the finish line” when Netanyahu is in Washington.
An expected meeting between Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden is still not confirmed.

Israel has intensified its air strikes on Gaza in recent weeks and Netanyahu has insisted that only piling on military pressure can free the hostages and beat Hamas.
“This double pressure is not delaying the deal — it is advancing it,” Netanyahu told troops in Gaza on Thursday.
The October 7 attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. Hamas militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 38,919 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Publicly, Biden has voiced strong support for Israel. But he expressed concern over an offensive on the southern city of Rafah in May and for a while suspended deliveries of heavy bombs to Israel. Supplies of 2,000-pound bombs remain embargoed.
“Never before has the atmosphere been so fraught,” said Council on Foreign Relations Middle East specialist Steven Cook.
“There is clearly tension in the relationship, especially between the White House and the Israeli prime minister,” Cook said in a commentary.

While US Republicans pressed to invite Netanyahu to address Congress, he has lost support among Democrats.
One Jewish senator, Democrat Brian Schatz of Hawaii, announced he would boycott Wednesday’s speech, saying he would not listen to “political rhetoric that will do nothing to bring peace in the region.”
Netanyahu said after being invited to Congress again that he would “present the truth about our just war against those who seek to destroy us.”
Cook said that Netanyahu has two aims for his Washington trip.
First, to show that he has not “undermined” Israel’s relations with the United States.
Netanyahu also “will endeavour to shift the conversation away from the conflict in Gaza toward the threat that Iran and its proxies pose” to Israel and the United States, Cook added.
Much attention will be focused on whether Netanyahu meets with Donald Trump or a figure close to the Republican presidential candidate.
Despite the tensions, the United States has defended Israeli interests while taking a key role in mediation efforts, and the military relationship remains strong, according to officials.
Washington’s support could prove crucial as Israel faces increasing international criticism over the growing humanitarian toll from nearly 300 days of war.
The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor in May asked judges to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Warrants for three Hamas leaders have also been requested.
The Republican majority in the House of Representatives has called for sanctions against the ICC.
The International Court of Justice found Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories illegal on July 19 and in February called for the country to prevent any acts of genocide in its Gaza offensive.

Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

Updated 19 min 40 sec ago

Saudi Arabia says no involvement with strikes targetting Hodeidah

  • Ministry of Defense spokesman says the Kingdom will not allow any entity to use its airspace for offensive action
  • Israeli warplanes struck targets in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah following a Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it had nothing to do with the Israeli air strikes on Yemen’s city of Hodeidah and that it will not allow anyone to use the Kingdom’s airspace for offensive purposes.

“The Kingdom has no relation or involvement in the targeting of Hodeidah, and the Kingdom will not allow any entity to violate its airspace,” Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi Ministry of Defense, said in a statement on the X social media app.

Israeli warplanes struck the Houthi-held western Yemeni city on Saturday in an apparent reprisal for the Houthi drone strike on a Tel Aviv apartment building before dawn Friday, killing one civilian.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the airstrike was meant to send a message to the Houthis that their attacks would not be left unanswered.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls a large part of Yemen, had been attacking commercial vessels passing through the Red Sea and the Bab-Al-Mandab straight in a sympathy action for the Palestinians in Gaza amid Israeli attacks.

The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported that the Israeli strikes hit a power plant and a gasoline storage facility, killing three and wounding 87 people.

Unfazed by the swift Israeli response, Houthi officials threatened to continue attacking ships doing commerce with Israel and on Israel itself.

“We emphasize that this brutal aggression will only strengthen the determination and steadfastness of the Yemeni people and their valiant armed forces in their support for Gaza,” Mohammed Abdul Sallam, the Houthi chief negotiator based in Muscat, posted on X.

Houthi Shura Council member Abdul Sallam Jahaf said: “We will respond more violently and harshly to this Zionist-American orgy.” 


Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

Updated 21 July 2024

Israeli defense minister says Yemen strike sends a message

  • Gallant: The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them

JERUSALEM: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday that Israel struck the Houthis in Yemen in order to send a message after they harmed an Israeli citizen.
“The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear,” Gallant said in a statement. “The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”
On Friday, a long-range Iranian-made drone hit the center of Tel Aviv in an attack claimed by the Houthi militia and which killed one man and wounded four others.