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Hezbollah to stop fighting with Israel if Gaza cease-fire reached

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Hezbollah would stop fighting with Israel if it reaches a full cease-fire in Gaza, the Lebanese group’s deputy leader said Tuesday.

A woman holds the hand of a girl as they walk past buildings destroyed during previous Israeli military fire on the southern Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab, near the border with northern Israel on June 29, 2024. (AFP Photo)
A woman holds the hand of a girl as they walk past buildings destroyed during previous Israeli military fire on the southern Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab, near the border with northern Israel on June 29, 2024. (AFP Photo)

“If there is a cease-fire in Gaza, we will stop without any discussion,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, said in an interview with The Associated Press at the group’s political office in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Hezbollah’s participation in the Israel-Hamas war has been as a “support front” for its ally, Hamas, Kassem said, and “if the war stops, this military support will no longer exist.”

But, he said, if Israel scales back its military operations without a formal cease-fire agreement and full withdrawal from Gaza, the implications for the Lebanon-Israel border conflict are less clear.

“If what happens in Gaza is a mix between cease-fire and no cease-fire, war and no war, we can’t answer (how we would react) now, because we don’t know its shape, its results, its impacts,” Kassem said during a 40-minute interview.

In recent weeks, with Gaza cease-fire talks faltering, fears have increased of an escalation on the Lebanon-Israel front. Hezbollah has traded near-daily strikes with Israeli forces along their border over the past nine months. The low-level conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has displaced tens of thousands on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.

Months of internationally brokered Gaza cease-fire talks have repeatedly failed. Hamas has demanded an end to the war, and not just a pause in fighting, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to make such a commitment.

Last month, the Israeli army said it has “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon if no diplomatic solution is reached to the ongoing clashes. Any decision to launch such an operation would have to come from the country’s political leadership.

Some Israeli officials have said they are seeking a diplomatic solution to the standoff and hope to avoid war. At the same time, they have warned that the scenes of destruction seen in Gaza will be repeated in Lebanon if war breaks out.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, is far more powerful than Hamas and is believed to have a vast arsenal of rockets and missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel.

Kassem said he doesn’t believe that Israel has the ability or has made a decision to launch a war at present. He warned that even if Israel intends to launch a limited operation in Lebanon that stops short of a full-scale war, it should not expect the fighting to remain limited.

“Israel can decide what it wants: limited war, total war, partial war,” he said. “But it should expect that our response and our resistance will not be within a ceiling and rules of engagement set by Israel… If Israel wages the war, it means it doesn’t control its extent or who enters into it.”

The latter was an apparent reference to Hezbollah’s allies in the Iran-backed so-called “axis of resistance” in the region. Armed groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere – and, potentially, Iran itself – could enter the fray in the event of a full-scale war in Lebanon, which might also pull in Israel’s strongest ally, the United States.

German intelligence official, Hezbollah deputy meet in Beirut

Kassem and the vice president of Germany’s intelligence service, Ole Diehl, met in Beirut amid growing tensions on the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Hezbollah sources confirmed the meeting to dpa following reports in local media.

Further details were initially not known.

Germany’s intelligence service did not provide any more details, explaining it generally does not comment publicly on matters relating to any intelligence findings or activities.

According to local media, the deputy German intelligence chief was accompanied by the director of the German intelligence station in Beirut.

In this context, sources indicated to al-Akhbar, a newspaper very close to Hezbollah, that the discussions in the meeting did not lead to any serious results. It also said the Germans were unable to persuade Hezbollah to cease its operations or to promote the idea of “front separation.”

According to an AFP tally, at least 481 people have died in Lebanon as a result of the Israel-Hezbollah clashes since Oct. 7, including 94 civilians.

On the Israeli side, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to Israel.