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Israel-Lebanon maritime border talks postponed amid impasse

Announcement comes after Jerusalem accused Beirut of changing its stance in negotiations; both sides said to continue to meet with US mediators

UN military vehicles of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) enter the southern Lebanese border town of Naqura where the second round of of talks started on October 28, 2020 between Lebanon and Israel at a UN base on the demarcation of the maritime frontier between the two countries (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)
UN military vehicles of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) enter the southern Lebanese border town of Naqura where the second round of of talks started on October 28, 2020 between Lebanon and Israel at a UN base on the demarcation of the maritime frontier between the two countries (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

A source with the Lebanese military said Monday that an upcoming round of border talks with Israel due this week had been postponed.

News of the postponement of the session scheduled to take place on Wednesday came after Israel accused Lebanon of changing its stance in the negotiations.

“We were officially informed of the postponing of the indirect round of negotiations,” a Lebanese military source told AFP, adding that the request had been made by the US, which is brokering the talks.

The announcement came as talks between representatives from the two countries on the maritime border appeared to reach a stalemate in recent days.

UN peacekeeping military vehicles patrol near the post where the indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon were being held in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura, Lebanon, October 14, 2020. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

A Lebanese source told the Reuters news agency that despite the delay, mediators from the United States would continue contacts with both sides.

An unnamed Israeli official confirmed the delay to Reuters but gave no further details.

The countries, which remain technically at war, opened negotiations on the border dispute under US and UN auspices last month to clear the way for offshore oil and gas exploration.

Israel has since accused Lebanon of changing its position in talks on their maritime border and warned it could lead to a “dead end” that would be damaging for the whole region.

Israel and Lebanon have been negotiating based on a map registered with the United Nations in 2011, which shows an 860-square-kilometer (330-square-mile) patch of sea as being disputed.

But Lebanon considers that map to have been based on wrong estimates.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun speaks during an address to the nation at the presidential palace, in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

Last week, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz invited Lebanese President Michael Aoun to meet in Europe for direct high-level negotiations. The message came after the two exchanged barbs on Twitter over the talks.

Earlier this month, Aoun set out his country’s position on the maritime border, which he said should be “based on the line that departs on land from the point of Ras Naqoura.”

The demarcation should be “according to the general principle known as the median line, without taking into account any impact of the occupied Palestinian coastal islands,” Aoun tweeted, referring to the Israeli coastline.

Aoun’s tweet confirmed that Lebanon is now demanding an additional 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles) of sea further south, which includes part of Israel’s Karish gas field, said Lebanese energy expert Laury Haytayan.

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