France Freezes Aid to Lebanon, Pressuring Resolution for Army’s 'Vacuum Crisis’

Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)
Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)
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France Freezes Aid to Lebanon, Pressuring Resolution for Army’s 'Vacuum Crisis’

Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)
Lebanese Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati holding meeting with the French delegation (Dalati and Nohra)

While France may acknowledge the growing challenge in foreseeing the election of a president in Lebanon, it has not yielded in its efforts to avert a leadership void in the country's paramount Maronite institution, the Lebanese army.

This comes after a year-long vacuum in the presidency and another void in the governance of the Central Bank of Lebanon.

The recent visit of the French presidential envoy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Lebanon focused on this issue.

France’s strategy pivots towards the notion of “overcoming grievances.”

It implores the Lebanese to fulfill their “duty” by electing a president, aiming to reinstate constitutional order in a nation suffering from a profound economic and financial crisis.

Moreover, Lebanon confronts the mounting likelihood and considerable peril of being entangled in the persisting conflict in Gaza—a scenario separate from the minor attrition war orchestrated by Hezbollah along the southern borders, ostensibly in the name of “supporting the Palestinians.”

France senses a significant danger looming over Lebanon, with confrontations occurring at its southern borders and the threat of military and security vacuum haunting the country.

All these factors put its diplomacy on high alert.

This might explain the successive visits, both announced and undisclosed, by French officials to Lebanon in recent days, including a joint delegation from the defense and foreign ministries.

The deployment of 700 French soldiers in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) makes their readiness even more pronounced.

According to French diplomatic sources, the vacuum in the army’s leadership is “a security threat to France at the same level as the threat to Lebanon's security.”

Moreover, there is an Israeli threat hovering over Lebanon, and while the issue of the presidential election may wait for some time despite its importance, the vacuum in the leadership of the Lebanese army poses an immediate and unavoidable security nightmare.

France, as per a source who requested anonymity, will not intervene in “how to prevent the vacuum.”

Preventing a power vacuum may be achieved by either extending the term of Army Commander General Joseph Aoun or by filling the gap in the General Staff that could replace the army commander when his term ends in January.

“France does not insist on extending the army commander’s term,” the source told Asharq Al-Awsat, explaining that French officials have informed their Lebanese counterparts to do “what they deem appropriate to prevent the vacuum at the top of the military institution.”

The source also notes that Le Drian received assurances from Lebanese officials that the matter is being addressed.

France has taken steps to pressure Lebanese officials in this regard, and a decision has been made to link aid allocated to the army and cooperation projects with resolving this issue.

 

 



Protesters in Syria’s Sweida Say Will Continue to Hold Peaceful Rallies

A handout picture released by the Suwayda 24 news site shows people protesting in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on February 28, 2024. (Suwayda 24/AFP)
A handout picture released by the Suwayda 24 news site shows people protesting in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on February 28, 2024. (Suwayda 24/AFP)
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Protesters in Syria’s Sweida Say Will Continue to Hold Peaceful Rallies

A handout picture released by the Suwayda 24 news site shows people protesting in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on February 28, 2024. (Suwayda 24/AFP)
A handout picture released by the Suwayda 24 news site shows people protesting in the southern Syrian city of Sweida on February 28, 2024. (Suwayda 24/AFP)

Protesters in Syria’s southern Sweida province said on Saturday they will continue to hold peaceful rallies until their demand for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 2254 is met.

They also dismissed Washington’s statement that it was “greatly concerned” after the killing of a protester by security forces and over the “excessive use of force”.

Local sources in Sweida told Asharq Al-Awsat that “no one in the province is counting on a reaction from” the United States.

“It and other influential countries have only expressed their concern from the moment the first protest took place in Syria. Even after all the destruction and dozens of massacres that have taken place across the country, all they had was concern and sanctions that they claim target the regime, but all they have done was stifle and kill the Syrians,” they added.

Washington and the international community have left Syria completely exposed to Iran and Russia, while all they do is worry, they stated.

Moreover, they stressed that the protests that have been ongoing in Sweida for seven months are peaceful. Not a single violent incident has been reported.

All the people want are their legitimate rights under the constitution and law, they declared.

After 13 years of war, destruction, blood, division and looting of resources, they are not counting on international statements of sympathy, they added.

Furthermore, the Sweida protesters are upset with Washington’s position from the killing of Palestinians in Gaza.

“Israel is committing violations and massacres against hundreds of Palestinians and for all the world to see. We have not heard a condemnation from Washington. So how can we believe its condemnation of the killing of a civilian in Sweida?” wondered the sources.

The US embassy in Syria had on Friday said: “We are greatly concerned with the regime's use of excessive force against peaceful protestors in Sweida.”

“We regret the loss of civilian life and offer condolences to all those harmed, and to their families. Syrians in Sweida and everywhere deserve peace, dignity, security and justice,” it added.

On Saturday, dozens of people took to the streets of Sweida to declare that their protests will remain peaceful, days after demonstrators broke into government and Baath party offices.

On Wednesday, security forces opened fire at demonstrators to disperse them, leaving one person, Jawad al-Barouki, dead from a chest wound, according to videos circulated by activists on opposition media.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said people gathered in Sweida’s al-Karama square on Saturday to declare that they will continue to hold peaceful protests. They also called for “freedom, the ouster of the regime, implementation of resolution 2254 and release of detainees.”


RSF: We Don’t Have Heavy Weapons, Sudanese Army Is Shelling Cities

People are seen getting on a bus to leave Khartoum, Sudan. (AP)
People are seen getting on a bus to leave Khartoum, Sudan. (AP)
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RSF: We Don’t Have Heavy Weapons, Sudanese Army Is Shelling Cities

People are seen getting on a bus to leave Khartoum, Sudan. (AP)
People are seen getting on a bus to leave Khartoum, Sudan. (AP)

Ammar al-Siddiq, member of the foreign consultative council of Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, denied claims that the RSF was shelling residential areas in cities, saying the forces don't have those kinds of weapons.

Speaking to the Arab World Press, he blamed the army for the attacks on these areas. He also accused it of recruiting child soldiers.

In a statement on Friday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk accused the RSF of recruiting hundreds of children in the Darfur region. He also said the military was recruiting children in eastern parts of Sudan.

Turk warned that such practices are flagrant violations of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC).

“Also troubling are the reports of civilians themselves mobilizing under the new Popular Armed Resistance movement. There are real fears this may result in the formation of an armed civil militia with no defined control, increasing the chances of Sudan sliding into a spiral of protracted civil war,” he warned.

Siddiq dismissed Turk's claims, saying the RSF has denied such accusations on several occasions.

Moreover, he revealed that the RSF found several reports, has acquired testimonies and videos that showed children and minors recruited at military camps in response to recruitment calls made by army commander Abdul Fattah al-Burhan.

He further denied that the RSF possesses heavy weapons, accusing the army of air raids that have killed scores of women, children and soldiers.

He stressed that the RSF only possesses anti-aircraft weapons that are aimed at drones, jets and army locations.

The RSF, he stressed, has the army surrounded in specific areas, so its attacks are focused on military camps, such as in Babanusa town and the Al Mohandiseen and Seidna areas in Omdurman.

In his statement, Turk added: “In the space of eleven months, at least 14,600 people have been killed, and 26,000 others injured. Actual figures are undoubtedly much higher. The toll encompasses thousands of civilians, including many children and women.”


Hochstein to Visit Beirut Seeking to Ease Israel-Lebanon Tensions

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon June 14, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon June 14, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
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Hochstein to Visit Beirut Seeking to Ease Israel-Lebanon Tensions

US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon June 14, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
US Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon June 14, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

Senior White House adviser Amos Hochstein is expected to arrive early next week in Beirut for talks with Lebanese officials as part of efforts to appease the situation along the Israel-Lebanon border.
Unnamed informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that Hochstein’s talks with Lebanese officials will “carry new developments” regarding his shuttle talks between Tel Aviv and Beirut in parallel with the talks aiming for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Hochstein had visited Beirut in January in a bid to explore the possibility of talks on drawing the land border between Lebanon and Israel, after having mediated a 2022 deal setting the maritime borders between the two countries.
After meeting several officials then, he said that “we are living a moment of crisis”, and that there is a great need to find a diplomatic solution.
He stressed the need for reaching a diplomatic solution that allows Lebanese people to return to their homes in the south, and the Israelis to return to their homes in the north.
Hochstein’s talks with officials in Lebanon focused on the need for a ceasefire and the implementation of UN resolution 1701, in addition to Hezbollah’s withdrawal from the area between the border and the Litani River.


Ship Sunk by Houthis Threatens Red Sea Environment

A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV
A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV
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Ship Sunk by Houthis Threatens Red Sea Environment

A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV
A handout photo made available by Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA/Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV

 A UK-owned ship attacked by Houthi militants last month sank in the Red Sea, the US military confirmed on Saturday, as it echoed a warning from Yemen's internationally recognized government that the vessel's cargo of hazardous fertilizer posed a risk to marine life.
The Belize-registered Rubymar is the first vessel lost since the Houthis began targeting commercial ships in November. Those drone and missile assaults have forced shipping firms to divert ships to the longer route around southern Africa, disrupting global trade by delaying deliveries and sending costs higher, Reuters said.
The sinking bulk carrier also "presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes of the waterway," US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in its statement on social media platform X.
The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the north of Yemen and other large centers, say their campaign is a show of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The Houthi attacks have prompted a series of strikes against their positions by the United States and Britain, and have led other navies to send vessels to the region to try to protect the vital Suez Canal trade route.
The Rubymar went down in the southern Red Sea late on Friday or early on Saturday, according to statements from the Yemen government and CENTCOM.
The US military previously said the Feb. 18 missile attack had significantly damaged the bulk vessel and caused an 18-mile (29-km) oil slick. The ship was carrying about 21,000 metric tons of fertilizer, CENTCOM said on Saturday.
Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, the foreign minister in Yemen's internationally recognized government in Aden, said in a post on X: "The sinking of the Rubymar is an environmental catastrophe that Yemen and the region have never experienced before.
"It is a new tragedy for our country and our people. Every day we pay the price for the adventures of the Houthi militia ..."
MARINE LIFE THREATENED
The release of such large amounts of fertilizer into the Red Sea poses a serious threat to marine life, said Ali Al-Sawalmih, director of the Marine Science Station at the University of Jordan.
The overload of nutrients can stimulate excessive growth of algae, using up so much oxygen that regular marine life cannot survive, said Al-Sawalmih, describing a process called eutrophication.
"An urgent plan should be adopted by countries of the Red Sea to establish a monitoring agenda of the polluted areas in the Red Sea as well as adopt a cleanup strategy," he said.
The overall impact depends on how ocean currents deplete the fertilizer and how it is released from the stricken vessel, said Xingchen Tony Wang, assistant professor at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College.
The ecosystem of the southern Red Sea features pristine coral reefs, coastal mangroves and diverse marine life.
Last year, the area avoided a potential environmental disaster when the United Nations removed more than 1 million barrels of oil from a decaying supertanker moored off the Yemen coast. That type of operation may be more difficult in the current circumstances.
The Houthi attacks have stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread, destabilizing the wider Middle East.
In a separate report, the UKMTO agency said it had received a report of a ship being attacked 15 nautical miles west of Yemen's port of Mokha.
"The crew took the vessel to anchor and were evacuated by military authorities," the UKMTO said in an advisory note.
Italy's defense ministry also said that one of its naval ships had shot down a drone flying towards it in the Red Sea.
The Houthi Transport Ministry, meanwhile, said there had been a "glitch" in undersea communication cables in the Red Sea as a result of actions by US and British naval vessels. It did not give further details. 


US: Israel Agreed to Framework for Gaza Ceasefire, Hamas Now Must Decide

A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
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US: Israel Agreed to Framework for Gaza Ceasefire, Hamas Now Must Decide

A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A damaged building from Gaza is pictured, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from Southern Israel, March 2, 2024. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior US administration official said Saturday, a day before talks to reach an agreement were to resume in Egypt.
International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10. A deal would also likely allow aid to reach hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians in northern Gaza who aid officials worry are under threat of famine.
The Israelis “have more or less accepted” the proposal, which includes the six-week ceasefire as well as the release by Hamas of hostages considered vulnerable, which includes the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women, said the official.
“Right now, the ball is in the court of Hamas and we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators Egypt and Qatar are expected to receive a response from Hamas during the Cairo talks scheduled to start Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not publicly authorized to discuss the sensitive talks.


US Military Planes Airdrop About 38,000 Meals Into Gaza

Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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US Military Planes Airdrop About 38,000 Meals Into Gaza

Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Children look for salvageable items amid the rubble of a Mosque and makeshift shelters that were destroyed in Israeli strikes in Deir El-Balah in central Gaza on March 2, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

US military C-130 cargo planes on Saturday dropped food in pallets over Gaza, the first American airdrop of humanitarian aid into the Palestinian enclave, three US officials said.
Three planes from Air Forces Central dropped 66 bundles containing about 38,000 meals into Gaza at 8:30 a.m. EST, according to two of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity before a public announcement.
The airdrop is expected to be the first of many announced by President Joe Biden on Friday. The aid will be coordinated with Jordan.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Friday that the airdrops were being planned to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance in a safe way to people on the ground.
The C-130 cargo plane is a widely used military jet to deliver aid to remote places due to its ability to land in austere environments and cargo capacity.
A C-130 can airlift as much as 42,000 pounds of cargo and its crews know how to rig the cargo, which sometimes can include even vehicles, onto massive pallets can be safely dropped out of the back of the aircraft.
Air Force loadmasters secure the bundles onto pallets with netting that is rigged for release in the back of a C-130, and then crews release it with a parachute when the aircraft reaches the intended delivery zone.

Other countries including France, Egypt and Jordan have carried out airdrops of aid into Gaza.

At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip - one quarter of the enclave's population - are one step from famine, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


Ship Attacked by Houthis Sinks in Red Sea

A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024).  EPA
A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA
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Ship Attacked by Houthis Sinks in Red Sea

A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024).  EPA
A handout photo shows the British-registered cargo vessel, Rubymar, sinking after being damaged in a missile attack by the Houthis in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, 26 February 2024 (issued 27 February 2024). EPA

A ship attacked by Yemen's Houthi militias has sunk in the Red Sea after days of taking on water, officials said Saturday.

The Rubymar had been drifting after the attack in February. It marks the first ship sunk by the Houthis amid their monthslong attacks on shipping in the vital waterway.

Yemen's internationally recognized government, as well as a regional military official, confirmed the ship sank. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had not been cleared for publication.

A statement issued by the Yemeni Foreign Ministry on Friday urged all concerned nations and regional and international organizations tasked with preserving maritime environments to take swift practical action to save the Red Sea from an imminent environmental catastrophe.

“Leaving the ship to its fate will result in serious harm to marine ecosystems and hundreds of thousands of Yemenis who rely on fishing, as well as potential damage to desalination plants along the Yemeni coast,” said the statement.


Palestinian Authority Hopes for Gaza Ceasefire by Ramadan

Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
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Palestinian Authority Hopes for Gaza Ceasefire by Ramadan

Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Palestinians inspect the destroyed Al Bokhari mosque following an Israeli airstrike in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip, 02 March 2024. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER

The Palestinian Authority hopes a ceasefire can be agreed in the Gaza war in time for Ramadan, its foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, said on Saturday.

Speaking at a news conference at a diplomatic forum in Antalya, Türkiye, Maliki said the PA would be "the only legitimate authority" to run Gaza after the war.

The PA, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007.

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating through mediators over a possible ceasefire in Gaza, with the aim of halting fighting in time for Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, due to begin this year on March 10.


Gaza Ceasefire Talks to Resume in Cairo on Sunday, Egyptian Security Sources Say

A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)
A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)
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Gaza Ceasefire Talks to Resume in Cairo on Sunday, Egyptian Security Sources Say

A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)
A general view shows Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt July 13, 2020. (Reuters)

Gaza ceasefire negotiations are due to resume in Cairo on Sunday, two Egyptian security sources said on Saturday.

The parties have agreed on the duration of a Gaza truce, as well as hostage and prisoner releases, they said.

The completion of the deal still requires an agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza and a return of its residents, they added, according to Reuters.

The sources said that an incident on Thursday incident in which more than 100 Palestinians seeking aid were killed by Israeli fire according to Gazan authorities, had not slowed down the talks, but instead pushed negotiators to hasten in order to preserve progress.


Israeli Strike Kills 3 Hezbollah Fighters in Lebanon

A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS
A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS
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Israeli Strike Kills 3 Hezbollah Fighters in Lebanon

A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS
A view shows an Israeli tank and military vehicles near Israel's border with Lebanon in northern Israel, October 9 - REUTERS

An Israeli drone strike killed three Hezbollah fighters in south Lebanon on Saturday, security sources in Lebanon said, the latest to die in months of cross-border hostilities that have been fought in parallel to the Gaza war.

The men were killed when the car they were in was targeted on a coastal road near the town of Naqoura, the sources said. The Israeli army said it was checking reports on the incident, The Associated Press reported.

Israeli strikes since October have killed more than 200 Hezbollah fighters and some 50 civilians in Lebanon, while attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers and five civilians. Tens of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese have fled villages on both sides of the frontier.

Hezbollah signalled this week that it would halt its attacks if Israel's Gaza offensive stops, but it is also ready to keep on fighting if the Gaza war continues. On Friday, Hezbollah announced the deaths of four members killed in Lebanon.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last Sunday indicated that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a Gaza ceasefire, but was open to a diplomatic deal to withdraw Hezbollah fighters from the border.

Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati told Reuters on Thursday a halt to fighting in Gaza as early as next week would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities at the border.