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Turkey Criticizes Potential 'Spread' of Israeli Military Operations to Lebanon Border

A smoke plume billows during Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in south Lebanon near the border with Israel on June 26, 2024.
A smoke plume billows during Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in south Lebanon near the border with Israel on June 26, 2024.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized what he said Wednesday were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to “spread the war” in Gaza to the region.

“Israel is now setting its sights on Lebanon and we see that Western powers behind the scenes are patting Israel on the back and even supporting them," Erdogan told lawmakers.

Netanyahu has said the “intense phase” of fighting against Hamas in Gaza will end soon and Israeli forces will redeploy to the northern border where Israel and the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah have been trading fire for months. Netanyahu has cast the shift as defensive.

U.S. officials this week have expressed their own opposition, warning Israel against moves that could expand the conflict.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that a heightened conflict between Israel and Hezbollah could touch off a regional war. Austin urged a diplomatic solution as he hosted talks with Gallant on Tuesday.

"Another war between Israel and Hezbollah could easily become a regional war, with terrible consequences for the Middle East," Austin said. "Diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation."

Gallant, speaking before meeting with Austin, said, “We are working closely together to achieve an agreement, but we must also discuss readiness on every possible scenario.”

Israel’s army said last week that it has plans "approved and validated" for fighting Hezbollah.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also urged Israel to avoid escalation in Lebanon when he met with Gallant on Monday.

Israel and Hezbollah last fought a full-scale war in 2006 when a cross-border Hezbollah attack sparked 34 days of fighting that took a heavy toll on Lebanon, especially the country's southern region.

Gallant also met with CIA chief Bill Burns, the key U.S. official in negotiations to free hostages held by Hamas.

The war in Gaza was triggered by the Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and led to the capture of about 250 hostages. Israel's counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 37,600 Palestinians, mostly civilians, but including thousands of combatants, according to the territory's health ministry.

Some information for this story was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.