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U.S. and Europe warn Lebanon’s Hezbollah to ease strikes on Israel and back off from wider Mideast war

U.S., European and Arab mediators are pressing to keep stepped-up cross-border attacks between Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah militants from spiraling into a wider Middle East war that the world has feared for months. Iran and Israel traded threats Saturday of what Iran said would be an "obliterating" war over Hezbollah.

Hopes are lagging for a cease-fire in Israel's conflict with Hamas in Gaza that would calm attacks by Hezbollah and other Iranian-allied militias. With the stalled talks in mind, American and European diplomats and other officials are delivering warnings to Hezbollah — which is far stronger than Hamas but seen as overconfident — about taking on the military might of Israel, current and former diplomats say.

The Americans and Europeans are warning the group it should not count on the United States or anyone else being able to hold off Israeli leaders if they decide to execute battle-ready plans for an offensive into Lebanon. And Hezbollah should not count on its fighters' ability to handle whatever would come next.

On both sides of the Lebanese border, escalating strikes between Israel and Hezbollah, one of the region's best-armed fighting forces, appeared at least to level off this week. While daily strikes still pound the border area, the slight shift offered hope of easing immediate fears, which had prompted the U.S. to send an amphibious assault ship with a Marine expeditionary force to join other warships in the area in hopes of deterring a wider conflict.

Despite this past week's plateauing of hostilities, said Gerald Feierstein, a former senior U.S. diplomat in the Middle East," it certainly seems the Israelis are still ... arranging themselves in the expectation that there will be some