Israel agrees to discuss maritime border dispute, US tells Lebanon
US envoy says Jerusalem has assented to hold talks over parcels claimed by both countries, as Beirut seeks to push forward with off-shore drilling initiatives
BEIRUT, Lebanon — A top US envoy has said Israel agreed to discuss disputed land and sea borders with Lebanon, which is eyeing hydrocarbon exploration off its coast, two Lebanese officials said Tuesday.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP.
Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters, including for a block disputed by its southern neighbor Israel.
The US State Department’s acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, David Satterfield, held a meeting in Beirut on Monday on his second visit in a week.
Satterfield “told officials Israel had agreed to hold negotiations to draw up the maritime border” with Lebanon, an official source who attended the meeting told AFP.
The Jewish state also agreed to discuss the territorial frontier between the two countries, including several disputed areas, the source said.
A delegation from each side would take part in talks at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, but the latter would not be a party to the talks, he added.
Another source familiar with the plan said negotiations would begin soon.
“There has been positive progress overall, and the issue is down to the last details before the start of the negotiations,” they said.
Israel and Lebanon are technically at war, although the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after two decades of occupation.
A consortium composed of energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek was awarded two of Lebanon’s 10 exploration blocks last year.
It is set to start drilling in block 4 in December, and later in the disputed block 9.
Last year, Total said it was aware of the border dispute in less than eight percent of block 9 and said it would drill away from that area.
On April 5, Lebanon invited international consortia to bid for five more blocks, which include two also adjacent to Israel’s waters.
Lebanon’s economy is mired in debt and struggling to grow as the civil war in neighboring Syria stretches into its eighth year. The war has brought more than a million refugees into the Mediterranean nation. Beirut hopes that oil and gas brings cash into the state’s dried up coffers.