‘Urgent’ need to de-escalate Israel-Hezbollah war, US senators say

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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 US 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’ October 7 attack on Israel, which responded with a heavy air, land, and sea assault on Gaza.

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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.

“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 for 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.

France submitted a written proposal to Lebanon earlier this month on a possible diplomatic resolution. US envoy Amos Hochstein has also been working on a plan, which Coons said he hoped was “making steady progress” without sharing further details. He said there was an “urgency” for both sides to de-escalate.

The senators said they told Lebanese Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement, that Israel “is not bluffing” about an offensive.

“It’s not just rhetoric. It will act. And we hope that that message was conveyed to Hezbollah,” Blumenthal said.

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