UN chief warns Israel and Hezbollah of risk of wider war

After months of escalating violence along Israel's northern border with Lebanon, the UN chief warned on Friday that “the risk of conflict in the Middle East widening is real – and must be avoided.”

Speaking to reporters in New York, the leader, Secretary-General António Guterres, said that “a reckless move” by Israel or Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese group that targets Israel in alliance with fighters Hamas in Gaza could trigger a “catastrophe that will spread.” well beyond the pale and, frankly, beyond imagination.”

World leaders have been trying for months to calm tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, trying to prevent a real war. But instead of quelling the conflict, cross-border attacks and counterattacks have become more intense – and rhetoric from leaders on both sides has only grown more belligerent in recent days, prompting Guterres to express what he called “deep concern” about the fact that a war would break out for everyone.

“Many lives have already been lost, tens of thousands of people have been displaced, and homes and livelihoods have been destroyed,” Guterres said. He added that “the people of the region and the people of the world cannot afford for Lebanon to become another Gaza.”

Since Hezbollah began exchanging fire with Israeli forces following the Hamas-led assault on Israel on October 7, more than 100 civilians in Israel and Lebanon have been killed and more than 150,000 have been displaced from their homes. The exchanges also sparked fires on both sides of the border.

The Israeli military said in statements on Friday that it had “successfully intercepted a suspicious air target coming from Lebanese territory” and that “numerous launches were identified crossing from Lebanon to several areas in northern Israel.” The army said it responded Friday with artillery fire in southern Lebanon and with airstrikes on “terrorist targets” in four areas, including Hezbollah military facilities, and that “throughout the night” fighter jets Israelis “hit Hezbollah's terrorist infrastructure.”

Israel Katz, Israeli Foreign Minister, said this in a post on social media Friday that “Israel cannot allow the terrorist organization Hezbollah to continue attacking its territory and its citizens, and we will soon take the necessary decisions.” He added that “the free world must stand unconditionally with Israel” against Iran and the militant groups it supports.

“Our war is also your war,” he said.

Katz's comments were an apparent response to Hassan Nasrallah, the Lebanese militia leader, who said Wednesday that there would be “no place safe from our missiles and our drones” in Israel if war broke out on all fronts .

Nasrallah also threatened to draw Cyprus into the conflict if it allowed Israel to use its airfields and bases in a wider regional war. Cyprus and Israel have a bilateral defense agreement and the two countries have conducted joint exercises in the past. But Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides said his country was “absolutely not involved in any way.” comments posted on social media.

Nasrallah's threat confirmed the fears of world leaders seeking to contain the conflict, highlighting how quickly the fighting could intensify and spread further. President Biden, hoping to defuse the simmering conflict, sent one of his most senior aides, Amos Hochstein, to Israel on Monday and to Lebanon on Tuesday to push for a diplomatic solution.

Farnaz Fassihi contributed to the reporting.

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