EU foreign policy chief Borrell warns it is 'imperative' Lebanon is not dragged into war

Josep Borrell met Lebanese PM amid fears Israel's war in Gaza will escalate after killing of Hamas deputy in Beirut

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has visited Lebanon in a bid to avert an escalation of the war in Gaza. AFP
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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Saturday that it is “imperative” action is taken “to avoid Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict”.

His call came during an urgent visit to Lebanon as part of a diplomatic push to prevent the conflict in Gaza escalating to the broader region following the killing of Hamas deputy leader Saleh Al Arouri in Beirut.

“I’m sending this message to Israel that nobody will win from a regional conflict,” Mr Borrell said.

Border violence at the Lebanon-Israel border has gradually intensified in the past three months since Hezbollah initiated a pressure front against Israel in support of its ally, Hamas.

“It is imperative to avoid regional escalation in the Middle East. It is absolutely necessary to avoid Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict,” he said, during a joint press conference in Beirut with Lebanon's Foreign Minister, Abdallah Bou Habib.

“We are seeing a worrying intensification of exchange of fire across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel. I think that the war can be prevented, [it] has to be avoided and diplomacy can prevail,” Mr Borrell said.

The Blue Line is the frontier mapped by the United Nations that marks the line to which Israeli forces withdrew when they left south Lebanon in 2000.

Mr Borrell called for a pause in the Israel-Gaza war, which could become “permanent”, describing the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave as “beyond catastrophic.”

“Even war has rules, and international humanitarian laws have to be respected; one horror doesn’t justify another,” he said.

“Israel has declared the goal to eradicate Hamas. There must be another way to eradicate Hamas than to kill so many innocents.”

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Borrell met Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, United Nations peacekeeping force (Unifil) commander Aroldo Lazaro and speaker of parliament Nabih Berri.

The meeting came as Hezbollah announced it had retaliated against Israel by launching more than 60 rockets at a military base in an “initial response” to the killing of Mr Al Arouri on January 2.

Mr Borrell had previously warned that the air strike on Beirut – the first strike on the capital since the month-long war in 2006 which pitted Hezbollah and Israel – was “an additional factor that can cause an escalation of the conflict”.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Israel to avoid escalation, “particularly in Lebanon”, following the air strike in Beirut, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Turkey at the start of his fourth trip to the region since the Gaza war began on October 7.

In late October, EU leaders agreed on a call for “humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs”, stopping short of demanding a ceasefire.

EU countries have been deeply divided in their approach to the war, with a majority, including France and Spain, supporting a call for a ceasefire, while others, such as Germany – a steadfast ally of Israel, remained cautious.

The EU has limited diplomatic leverage over Israel compared to the US, which remains the country's staunchest ally.

Mr Borrell called on the international community to work towards a two-state solution. He said that he will visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss steps towards peace in the region.

Updated: January 06, 2024, 4:25 PM