UN Chief Warns Israel and Hezbollah of the Risk of a Wider War

After months of escalating violence along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the chief of the United Nations warned on Friday that “the risk for the conflict in the Middle East to widen is real — and must be avoided.”

Speaking to reporters in New York, the chief, Secretary General António Guterres, said that “one rash move” by Israel or Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese group targeting Israel in allegiance with Hamas fighters in Gaza, could trigger a “catastrophe that goes far beyond the border and, frankly, beyond imagination.”

World leaders have tried for months to calm tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, trying to prevent a full-fledged war. But instead of quelling the conflict, strikes and counterstrikes across the border have become more intense — and the rhetoric of leaders on both sides has only become more bellicose in recent days, prompting Mr. Guterres to express what he called “profound concern” that all-out war would erupt.

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

Ever since Hezbollah began trading fire with Israeli forces in the wake of the Hamas-led assault on Israel on Oct. 7, over 100 civilians in Israel and Lebanon have been killed, and more than 150,000 have been displaced from their homes. The exchanges have also sparked wildfires on both sides of the border.

The Israeli military said in statements on Friday that it had “successfully intercepted a suspicious aerial target that crossed from Lebanese territory” and that “a number of launches were identified crossing from Lebanon into several areas in northern Israel.” The military said that it responded with artillery fire in southern Lebanon on Friday and aircraft strikes on “terror targets” in four areas, including Hezbollah military structures, and that “throughout the night” Israeli fighter jets had “struck Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure.”

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

“Our war is also your war,” he said.

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

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

Mr. Nasrallah’s threat confirmed the fears of world leaders trying to contain the conflict, highlighting how quickly the fighting could further escalate and extend. President Biden, hoping to defuse the simmering conflict, dispatched one of his senior aides, Amos Hochstein, to Israel on Monday and to Lebanon on Tuesday to press for a diplomatic solution.

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