Amos Hochstein meets anti-Hezbollah parties in Lebanon for first time

US envoy travelled on to Israel, where Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said tension with Hezbollah was leading to a military escalation

US envoy Amos Hochstein, second from right, meets Lebanese opposition representatives George Adwan, right, Michel Moawad, left, and Sami Jamil at Lebanon's parliament building in Beirut on Monday. EPA
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US envoy Amos Hochstein met with Lebanese groups opposed to Hezbollah for the first time during his third visit to Lebanon to find a solution to the border conflict between the Iran-backed militia and Israel.

Mr Hochstein arrived in Beirut on Monday in a parallel peacemaking effort to negotiations for a truce in Gaza taking place in Cairo. He then travelled to Israel, where he met Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday and was expected to also meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mossad chief David Barnea and other senior officials.

“Until now, the US envoy has consulted only the viewpoint in Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah,” said Michel Moawad, an anti-Hezbollah member of Lebanon's parliament who met Mr Hochstein on Monday.

“This does not represent a majority of the Lebanese, and the parliamentary opposition bloc, which has contested Hezbollah's military action in the south and the unity of the fronts with Hamas.”

He welcomed Mr Hochstein's talks with politicians opposed to Hezbollah as an “important” step.

US makes diplomatic push in Lebanon over Israel-Hezbollah hostilities

US makes diplomatic push in Lebanon over Israel-Hezbollah hostilities

The anti-Hezbollah camp includes the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb party and a coalition of independent MPs characterised by their opposition to the country's main armed political force.

On October 8, Hezbollah opened a front on the Israel-Lebanon border to divert Israel's military capabilities away from its operations in Gaza, the blockaded Palestinian territory controlled by its ally Hamas.

Since then, the conflict has steadily extended deeper into Lebanon, despite western diplomatic efforts, raising fears of a broader escalation.

“Averting a full-blown war was at the heart of our discussions,” Mr Moawad said.

“This would be catastrophic for Lebanon: the destruction in Lebanon is already amounting to over $2 billion, not to mention the economic losses the entire country is experiencing.”

Mr Moawad called for the comprehensive application of UN Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, on both sides of the border. The resolution called for the withdrawal of Hezbollah north of the Litani River, which is 30km from the border, while barring Israel from conducting military operations in Lebanon.

“There should be no compromises in between,” he said.

Recent negotiations have focused on adjusting the resolution, as a strict enforcement is deemed unacceptable to Hezbollah.

In February, France submitted a proposal to Lebanese authorities suggesting the dismantling all Hezbollah's positions and facilities close to the border and withdrawing its combat capabilities – including elite Radwan fighters and anti-tank systems – at least 10km from the frontier.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah condemned the western proposals in a speech, claiming they served only Israeli interests.

Long awaited road map

Mr Hochstein also met Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is close to Hezbollah, on his visit trip.

“We are working with international partners to promote a peaceful solution in Lebanon,” he said afterwards.

“The diplomatic solution is the only way out.”

Mr Hochstein did not disclose any details of his long-awaited road map for de-escalation.

According to sources, the US is proposing a two-pronged solution: first, a short-term solution to cease hostilities, followed by a resolution of disputes over the contested border and the creation of a buffer zone.

A source in the Lebanese opposition said the plan was “still in the making”.

“There are more details regarding the road map, but significant changes can still happen depending on both sides. All scenarios are still possible,” the source said.

“We are still in a controlled escalation, but this is an explosive formula.”

Hezbollah has repeatedly said any halt in hostilities on the Lebanon-Israel front would be contingent on a ceasefire in Gaza, but it has shown little interest in a full-blown war. Instead, the militant group has been trying to limit its escalation in the south.

“Envoys come to Lebanon to discuss Israeli threats, [but] no one talks about stopping the aggression on Gaza; they say the aggression on Gaza will continue; we have said those who want to mediate must mediate an end to the aggression,” deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said.

“They should not mediate to prevent support [to Gaza] against the aggression.”

Israel has increased pressure to secure the safe return of tens of thousands displaced from the northern border, multiplying its warnings of a potential large-scale military intervention in Lebanon.

“We are committed to the diplomatic process, however Hezbollah's aggression is bringing us closer to a critical point in the decision-making regarding our military activities in Lebanon,” Mr Gallant said after meeting Mr Hochstein on Tuesday.

Israel says its military operation in Gaza has destroyed Hamas military infrastructure and eliminated many of its fighters. More than 30,600 people have been killed, most of them civilians, according to Gaza health authorities. The offensive has flattened large area of Gaza and displaced most of its population, who are now struggling with severe shortages of food and basic supplies.

Israel's launched its offensive after a Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 in which about 1,200 people were killed and about 240 people taken into Gaza as hostages.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 5:02 PM