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Hezbollah to halt attacks on Israel if Hamas agrees to ceasefire in Gaza: Sources

Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israel across Lebanon's southern border after a war broke out between its Palestinian ally and Israel on October 7. The US says that Israel would be willing to halt its war on Hamas in Gaza during Ramadan if a hostage deal is reached.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Beirut Published on: February 27, 2024 23:45 IST
Hezbollah, lebanon, Israel Hamas war, ceasefire
Image Source : AP (FILE) Hezbollah fighters raise slogans to honour a commander killed by an Israeli airstrike.

Beirut: Lebanon's Hezbollah will halt fire on Israel if its Iran-backed Palestinian ally Hamas agrees to a proposal for a truce with Israel in Gaza - unless Israeli forces keep shelling Lebanon, two sources familiar with Hezbollah's thinking told Reuters on Tuesday. Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily fire with Israel across Lebanon's southern border since October 8, a day after the Gaza war broke out.

Hamas is now weighing a new proposal, agreed by Israel at talks with mediators in Paris last week, for a deal that would suspend fighting for 40 days, which would be the first extended pause of the five-month-old war. "The moment Hamas announces its approval of the truce, and the moment the truce is declared, Hezbollah will adhere to the truce and will stop operations in the south immediately, as happened the previous time," one of the two sources close to the group said.

United States President Joe Biden said Israel would be willing to halt its war on Hamas in Gaza during the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some of the hostages held by the militants. Negotiators from the US, Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting.

However, if Israel continued shelling Lebanon, Hezbollah would not hesitate to carry on fighting, both sources said. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said earlier this month the group's attacks on Israel would only end when Israel's "aggression" against Gaza ends.

Hezbollah is one of several Iran-aligned groups around the Middle East that have entered the fray since the Gaza war began, waging campaigns they say aim to support Palestinians under Israeli bombardment in Gaza. The Houthis of Yemen have been firing on shipping in the Red Sea, prompting US strikes on the group, and Iran-backed Iraqi groups have fired on US troops at bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan.

Hezbollah refuses to compromise on ceasefire

In Lebanon, Israeli air and missile strikes have killed nearly 200 Hezbollah fighters and almost 50 civilians. Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers and half as many civilians. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the frontier.

Foreign envoys have sought to secure a diplomatic resolution to the fighting, reflecting worry about further escalation. Earlier this month, France delivered a written proposal to Lebanon aimed at ending hostilities, including negotiations to settle the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier and a withdrawal of Hezbollah's elite unit 10 km (6 miles) from the border.

Hezbollah, which exercises significant sway over the Lebanese state, has insisted it will discuss no arrangements for southern Lebanon until a permanent ceasefire has been agreed for Gaza. The two sources told Reuters this stance has not changed. The first source said Hezbollah had previously specified that there would be no talks with the group until after a Gaza ceasefire, and it stood by this position.

Cross-border attacks continue

While hostilities have largely been limited to the border zone, Israeli fighter jets on Monday hit the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, the most far-reaching strikes in Lebanon during the current conflict. Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday indicated that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a possible ceasefire in the Gaza conflict

Israel also launched multiple airstrikes on southern Lebanon earlier in February that killed ten civilians and fuelled concerns of a wider confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah warned of a retaliation, saying Israel would "pay the price" for killing ten civilians including five children in Lebanon. Israel, on the other hand, said it had killed a commander in Hezbollah's elite Radwan unit, his commander and another operative in a "precise airstrike" in Nabatieh, without mentioning the civilian deaths.

"The enemy will pay the price for these crimes," Hezbollah politician Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters, saying Hezbollah had a "legitimate right to defend its people". The bodies of the children, wrapped in green shrouds, were so small they each fitted on two plastic chairs as people came to pay respects.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | 'Israel is ready to halt its war in Gaza during Ramadan if...': Biden amid soaring pressure for ceasefire

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