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Energy Minister's office: We're examining renewal of talks

Israel, Lebanon to resume US-brokered maritime border talks next week — report

Hezbollah-affiliated daily says Beirut has let go its demand for another 1,420 sq. km. of waters, paving way for renewal of stalled negotiation for 1st time under Biden

A helicopter flies over a base of the UN peacekeeping force, in the town of Naqoura, Lebanon, October 14, 2020, during the first round of talks between Lebanese and Israeli delegations on the countries' maritime border. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
A helicopter flies over a base of the UN peacekeeping force, in the town of Naqoura, Lebanon, October 14, 2020, during the first round of talks between Lebanese and Israeli delegations on the countries' maritime border. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Israel and Lebanon will renew talks next week about their disputed maritime border after the negotiations had broken down, according to a report Thursday by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper.

The US-mediated talks are set to resume Monday, for the first time under US President Joe Biden, following the previous round in November.

According to the report, the US envoy to Lebanon has updated Lebanese army chief Joseph Aoun of the decision. Lebanese President Michel Aoun will meet the military delegation to coordinate the country’s position ahead of the talks.

Lebanon and Israel began indirect talks with US mediation in October to reach a deal over a disputed area of coastal waters believed to be rich with oil and natural gas deposits. The meetings, which stopped a few weeks later, were held at a UN post along the border of the two nations.

The negotiations were the first non-security talks to be held between the two countries, which remain technically in a state of war and have no diplomatic relations following decades of conflict. Resolving the maritime border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.

A maritime map of the eastern Mediterranean showing Exclusive Economic Zone borders, including an area of dispute (marked 4) between Israel and Lebanon. Source: IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2012 (www.iemed.org/medyearbook)

In late October, the Lebanese delegation to the talks — a mix of military generals and professionals — offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles). This area was on top of the already disputed 860-square-kilometer (330-square-mile) area of the Mediterranean Sea that each side claims is within its own exclusive economic zones.

Lebanon’s outgoing minister of public works, Michel Najjar, said earlier this month that he had signed a decree that would formally increase the area claimed by his country in the border dispute. He said, however, that his decree still required the signatures of the defense minister, prime minister and president to go into effect.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2019. (Flash90)

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the time accused Lebanon of “blowing up” negotiations.

The Al-Akhbar report said the Lebanese president has now agreed to back down from that demand, paving the way for the new talks. Israel’s Energy Ministry had prepared to present its own, more northern, proposed border in case Lebanon presented its more southern border.

Steinitz’s office said in a comment on Thursday’s report that the ministry was “examining the renewal of the talks on the basis of the known disputed territory.”

Lebanon is passing through the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history and had plans to start drilling in search for oil and gas in the disputed area this year.

Israel has already developed offshore natural gas rigs, producing enough for domestic consumption and export abroad. Lebanon hopes that its own oil and gas discoveries will help alleviate its long-running economic troubles.

AP contributed to this report.

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