Israel and Lebanon escalate rhetoric as US tries to prevent war

June 19, 2024 7:40 am

[Source: Reuters]

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned on Tuesday that a decision on an all-out war with Hezbollah was coming soon, even as the United States tries to avert any escalation.

U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein was sent to Lebanon to try and cool tensions following an increase in cross-border fire along Lebanon’s southern frontier that has escalated to Hezbollah hinting it could attack Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel for the last eight months in parallel with the Gaza war. Last week, the group fired the largest volleys of rockets and drones of the hostilities so far at Israeli military sites, after an Israeli strike killed the most senior commander yet.

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Katz said in an X post that in the wake of threats by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s head, to damage Haifa’s ports that are operated by Chinese and Indian companies, “we are getting very close to the moment of deciding on changing the rules of the game against Hezbollah and Lebanon”.

Israel’s military later said “operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated, and decisions were taken on the continuation of increasing the readiness of troops in the field”.

Israel, Katz said, would pay a heavy price but the country was united and it must restore security to the residents of the north.

Hezbollah says it will not halt its attacks unless there is a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the United States did not want to see a wider regional war in the Middle East.

Hochstein, special envoy to U.S. President Joe Biden, said he had been dispatched to Lebanon immediately following a brief trip to Israel because the situation was “serious”.

He had met the head of Lebanon’s army earlier on Tuesday and spoke to reporters following a meeting with parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the armed Amal movement, which is allied to Hezbollah and has also fired rockets on Israel.

The U.S. and France are engaged in diplomatic efforts to secure a negotiated end to the hostilities along Lebanon’s border.