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Top French diplomat arrives in Lebanon in attempt to broker a halt to Hezbollah-Israel clashes

Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné arrived in Lebanon on Sunday as part of diplomatic attempts to broker a de-escalation in the conflict on the Lebanon-Israel border.

Séjourné met with United Nations peacekeeping forces in south Lebanon and with Lebanon’s parliament speaker, army chief, foreign minister and caretaker prime minister.

France “is refusing to accept the worst-case scenario” of a full-scale war in Lebanon, he told journalists after the meetings.

“In southern Lebanon, the war is already here, even if it’s not called by that name, and it’s the civilian population who’s paying the price,” he said.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily strikes with Israeli forces in the border region — and sometimes beyond — for almost seven months against the backdrop of Israel’s war against Hezbollah ally Hamas in Gaza.

Israeli strikes have killed more than 350 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters with Hezbollah and allied groups but also including more than 50 civilians. Strikes by Hezbollah have killed at least 10 civilians and 12 soldiers in Israel. Tens of thousands are displaced on each side of the border.

A French diplomatic official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists said the purpose of Séjourné’s visit was to convey France’s “fears of a war on Lebanon” and to submit an amendment to a proposal Paris had previously presented to Lebanon for a diplomatic resolution to the border conflict.

Western diplomats have brought forward a series of proposals for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. Most of those would hinge on Hezbollah moving its forces several kilometers (miles) from the border, a beefed-up Lebanese army presence and negotiations for Israeli forces to withdraw from disputed points along the border where Lebanon says Israel has been occupying small patches of Lebanese territory since it withdrew from the rest of south Lebanon in 2000.

The eventual goal is full implementation of a U.N. resolution that brought to an end a brutal monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

The previous French proposal would have involved Hezbollah withdrawing its forces 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border.

Hezbollah has signaled willingness to entertain the proposals but has said there will be no deal in Lebanon before there is a cease-fire in Gaza. Israeli officials, meanwhile, have said that a Gaza cease-fire does not automatically mean it will halt its strikes in Lebanon, even if Hezbollah does so.

Séjourné declined to provide more details about the latest version of France’s proposal ahead of his planned trip to Israel on Tuesday. He said he will have “consultations” with Israeli authorities to move toward an agreement.

The French foreign minister also pushed for the Lebanese political factions to come to an agreement on a candidate to fill a year-and-a-half-long presidential vacuum. Séjourné said that Lebanon needs a president in place in order to be “invited to the negotiating table” and to be able to implement any agreement that might be reached on the border issue.

During the talks, Lebanese officials also raised the issue of the ongoing presence of more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has become an increasingly contentious issue. Lebanese officials have increasingly called for Western countries to facilitate their return to Syria.

Séjourné acknowledged the burden placed on Lebanon by hosting such a large number of refugees, and said that “all concerned parties must work to make this return possible in a voluntary, dignified and safe manner in accordance with international law.”


Associated Press writers Ali Sharaffedine in Beirut and Sylvie Corbett in Paris contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: AP National News

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