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France proposes the withdrawal of Hezbollah and negotiates a truce between Israel and Lebanon

France has delivered a written proposal to Beirut aimed at ending hostilities with Israel and settling the disputed border between Lebanon and Israel, according to a document seen by Reuters that calls on fighters, including Hezbollah’s elite unit, to withdraw 10 km from the border.

The plan aims to end border fighting between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel. The hostilities are taking place alongside the war in Gaza and are fueling fears of an all-out and ruinous confrontation.

The document, the first written proposal presented in Beirut during weeks of Western mediation, was handed over last week to senior Lebanese state officials, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, by French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourne, said four senior Lebanese officials and three French officials.

It declares its objective to prevent a conflict “which risks becoming uncontrollable” and to enforce “a potential ceasefire, when the conditions are met” and ultimately envisages negotiations on the delimitation of the controversial land border between Lebanon and Israel.

Hezbollah formally rejects negotiating a de-escalation until the end of the war in Gaza, a position reiterated by a Hezbollah politician in response to questions for this article.

Israeli soldiers guard Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, while Lebanese soldiers work on their side of the border, May 16, 2023. (credit: AYAL MARGOLIN/FLASH90)

While some details of similar mediation efforts led by US Middle East envoy Amos Hochstein have circulated in recent weeks, the full details of the French written proposal delivered to Lebanon have not yet been reported.

The three-step plan envisions a 10-day de-escalation process ending with border negotiations.

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A French diplomatic source said the proposal had been submitted to the governments of Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah.

France maintains historical ties with Lebanon. The country has 20,000 citizens and some 800 soldiers who are part of a UN peacekeeping force.

“We have made proposals. We are in contact with the Americans and it is important that we bring together all the initiatives and build peace,” Sejourne said at a press conference on Monday.

The plan proposes that Lebanese armed groups and Israel cease military operations against each other, including Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon.

Several non-state groups, including Palestinian factions, have launched attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon during the latest hostilities, although Hezbollah is the dominant power in the region with a fighting force widely seen as more powerful than Israel. Lebanese army.

Lebanese armed groups would dismantle all premises and installations near the border and withdraw their combat forces – including Hezbollah’s elite Radwan fighters and military capabilities such as anti-tank systems – at least 10 km north of the border. border, the document proposes.

Such a withdrawal could still leave Hezbollah fighters much closer to the border than the 30 km (19 miles) withdrawal to Lebanon’s Litani River stipulated in a U.N. resolution that ended the war with Israel in 2006.

A shorter withdrawal would ensure rockets do not reach villages in northern Israel that have been targeted by anti-tank missiles and is a compromise seen as more acceptable to Hezbollah than a retreat to Litani, said a Western diplomat familiar with these two pages. says the proposition.

Up to 15,000 Lebanese army troops would be deployed to Lebanon’s southern border region, a Hezbollah political stronghold where the group’s fighters have long blended into society during periods of calm.

Asked about the proposal, senior Hezbollah official Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters the group would not discuss “any issue related to the situation in the south until the end of the aggression against Gaza.”

“The enemy is not in a position to impose conditions,” Fadlallah added, declining to comment on the details of the proposal or whether Hezbollah had received it.

One of the Lebanese officials said the document brings together ideas discussed in contacts with Western envoys and was passed to Hezbollah. French officials told the Lebanese it was not a final document, after Beirut raised objections to parts of the document, the Lebanese official said.

An Israeli official said such a proposal had been received and was being discussed by the government.

Reuters reported last month that Hezbollah rejected ideas suggested by Hochstein, who was at the heart of the efforts, but also kept the door ajar to diplomacy.

Asked to comment on this story, a State Department spokesperson said the United States “continues to explore all diplomatic options with our Israeli and Lebanese counterparts to restore calm and avoid escalation.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Lebanese official said several elements were causing concern in Beirut, including the demand for armed groups to dismantle premises and installations near the border, which the official said was vaguely worded and could be used to demand measures against civilian institutions affiliated with Hezbollah.

“Fuzzy” elements in the negotiation process

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes on both sides of the border since fighting began on October 8.

Israeli strikes have killed nearly 200 people in Lebanon, including 170 Hezbollah terrorists. Attacks from Lebanon killed 10 soldiers and five civilians in Israel.

But the strikes have mostly been limited to areas near the border and both sides have said they want to avoid all-out war.

Numerous Western envoys have traveled to Beirut to discuss ways to de-escalate the fighting, meeting mainly with Lebanese state officials rather than with Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

One of the Lebanese officials said a French technical delegation returned to Beirut two days after Sejourne’s visit to discuss details, following Lebanese objections.

Another Lebanese official said Beirut had not responded to the proposal, adding that it was neither signed nor dated and therefore not considered official enough to warrant a response.

The proposal takes a three-step approach

The proposal recalls the ceasefire that ended the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 1996, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war.

He traces three stages over 10 days.

Both sides would cease military operations at the first stage. Within three days, the second stage would see Lebanese armed groups withdraw their combat forces at least 10 km north of the border and Lebanon begin deploying soldiers in the south. Israel would stop its overflights towards Lebanese territory.

In a third stage, within 10 days, Lebanon and Israel would resume negotiations on the demarcation of the land border “in a gradual manner” and with the support of the UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL.

They would also engage in negotiations on a road map to ensure the creation of a zone free of any non-state armed groups between the border and the Litani River.

Hezbollah has previously indicated it could support the state negotiating a deal with Israel to settle the status of disputed areas on the border to benefit Lebanon.

One of the questions to be resolved is that of the financing of the Lebanese army, greatly weakened by a serious financial crisis in Lebanon.

The proposal calls for an international effort to support the deployment of the Lebanese army with “financing, equipment and training.” He also calls for “socio-economic development of southern Lebanon”.

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