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Berri to Asharq Al-Awsat: French Proposal Has Some Acceptable Points, Others Need Amendment

Lebanon’s parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said on Thursday he will reply on Friday or Saturday to France’s latest proposal over how to resolve tensions with Israel.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said the latest proposal included “some acceptable points and others that were not and must be amended.”

French officials shared on Tuesday proposals made to Lebanese authorities to defuse tensions between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said as Paris attempts to work as an intermediary between the sides.

Israel and Hezbollah have been engaged in escalating daily cross-border strikes over the past six months – in parallel with the war in Gaza – and their increasing range and sophistication has raised fears of a wider regional conflict.

Hezbollah has amassed a large arsenal since 2006 and since October thousands of people on both sides of the border have been displaced.

“A number of proposals that we made to the Lebanese side have been shared (with you),” Sejourne said.

Sejourne was in Lebanon on Sunday where he met officials including politicians close to Hezbollah. French officials say they had seen progress in the responses from Lebanese authorities. Sejourne said the basis of the proposals was to ensure UN resolution 1701 was implemented.

Hezbollah has said it will not enter any concrete discussion until there is a ceasefire in Gaza, where the war between Israel and Hamas is in its seventh month.

Israel has flagged a potential military operation along its northern front, saying it wants to restore calm on the border with Lebanon so thousands of Israelis can return to the area without fear of rocket attacks, even if Hezbollah has said it will not stop exchanges until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.

Sejourne presented this year a written proposal to both sides that included Hezbollah’s elite unit pulling back 10km (6 miles) from the Israeli border and Israel halting strikes in southern Lebanon.

It also looked at long-term border issues and was discussed with partners including the United States, which is making its own efforts to ease tensions and exerts the most influence on Israel.

Berri did not go into details, saying the proposal will be up for debate.

“It wouldn’t be right to discuss it before the media before receiving the French response and how much they will be receptive to our comments,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He revealed that the proposal was written in English, rather than French, “which came as a surprise.”

Berri added that a ceasefire reached in Gaza will inevitably be implemented in southern Lebanon because both conflicts are connected.

Furthermore, he condemned Israel for its “systematic destruction of Lebanese towns and villages along the border.”

“Israel is bent on destroying them the same way it is levelling Gaza to the ground,” he stated. “It wants to turn the areas into scorched earth in a flagrant attempt to incite the supporters of the resistance against the fighters who are confronting the Israeli occupation that is violating resolution 1701.”

He cited Israel’s use of phosphorous bombs, which are banned by the international community, that destroy agricultural lands and render them unusable.

Meanwhile, a prominent source from the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal movement said the speaker’s response to the French proposal enjoys “unconditional” support from Hezbollah and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

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