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Efforts intensify to bring calm to the Lebanon-Israel border in parallel with Gaza cease-fire talks

BEIRUT (AP) — Foreign diplomats have put forward proposals to bring calm to the volatile Lebanon-Israel border, in parallel with the ongoing Gaza cease-fire negotiations, according to officials Wednesday. This includes a pullback by the militant Hezbollah group from the frontier and the deployment of thousands of additional Lebanese army troops.

The proposal put forward by European diplomats would be based on the “partial implementation” of the U.N. Security Council resolution that ended a 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, two Lebanese political officials and a Lebanese diplomat based in Europe told The Associated Press.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose details of the talks.

Israel has publicly insisted on a full implementation of the resolution meaning that Hezbollah has to move its fighters north of the Litani River, which is more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the border.

Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has refused to be part of the discussions while the Israel-Hamas war is ongoing, but once a cease-fire is in place, the group said it was open to moving its forces away from the border by a few miles in exchange for concessions by Israel over 13 disputed border areas, one of the officials familiar with the talks said Wednesday.

Iran's regional militant group allies have said that once a cease-fire in Gaza comes into effect, all attacks by Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen would stop.

Britain and France’s top diplomats, among others, have recently visited Beirut amid concerns the Israel-Hamas war could expand to Lebanon where exchanges of fire have taken place on an almost daily basis between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters for nearly four months.

The violence along the Lebanon-Israel border has displaced tens of thousands of people on both sides. Israel has issued increasingly stern warnings that Hezbollah should pull back from the border or it will launch a war on Lebanon.

Last Thursday, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron arrived in Lebanon with a plan he said would include Britain training Lebanese army forces to carry out more security work in the border region.

France’s Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne was also in Beirut on Tuesday, with a proposal to ease the tension. He warned that the border situation is “very concerning” and that Israel is serious in its threats against Lebanon, one of the Lebanese officials said.

Sejourne 's suggestion called for a bigger role for the Lebanese army in the border area and for negotiations regarding 13 disputed points along the border since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, according to the Lebanese diplomat based in Europe.

The diplomat said there is “initial understanding” regarding seven of the 13 areas.

Apart from those, one of the officials familiar with the regional talks said Hezbollah would demand that Israel withdraw from the Lebanese part of the town of Ghajar, which is split in half by the border.

He said the proposal on the table calls for Hezbollah to pull back 7 km (about 4 miles) from the border — the range of the anti-tank missiles the group has been using most frequently during the clashes — and for the deployment of 12,000 Lebanese army troops in the area.

He added that many members of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Force live in the border area but the group had no “fixed bases” there.

Amos Hochstein, a senior advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden, was in Israel over the weekend. He reported progress in talks concerning Hezbollah's pullback from the border area, according to Israeli media. Hochstein had successfully mediated a maritime border deal between Lebanon and Israel in 2022.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli leaders on Wednesday after Hamas put forward a detailed plan for a new cease-fire and hostage release deal, but both sides remain dug in on thus far elusive goals as the war enters its fifth month.

The Lebanese politician familiar with the talks said that Hamas would be willing to give up political power in Gaza in return for a reconstruction plan. He added that any Palestinian ruling body that might take over would include people trusted by Hamas leadership.

However, Hamas leaders in Gaza including Yahya Sinwar, have rejected an Israeli proposal for them to leave the enclave, similar to a deal under which Palestinian Liberation Organization leaders evacuated Lebanon in 1982.

The politician, who is in contact with Hamas officials, said Sinwar has been leading the negotiations with Israel from his hideout in Gaza.