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Lebanon accuses Israeli naval gunships of entering its territorial waters

Lebanese military says warship stayed there for 10 minutes before turning back; IDF denies claim that comes days after countries agreed a maritime border deal

An Israeli Sa'ar Class 4.5 missile boat guards the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli Sa'ar Class 4.5 missile boat guards the Energean floating production, storage and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in footage published by the military on July 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Lebanese military claimed Sunday that Israeli naval gunships have violated Lebanon’s sovereignty by entering its territorial waters. The Israel Defense Forces denied the claim.

The latest alleged incident took place Saturday off the coast of Naqoura in southern Lebanon, the Lebanese military said, accusing an Israeli warship of crossing some 330 meters into Lebanese territory and staying there for 10 minutes before turning back.

Lebanon said this was the latest in a series of incidents in recent weeks and that they had raised the issue with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL.)

The Israeli military has denied the claim. In a statement, the IDF said “There was no instance of [Israeli vessels] crossing the territorial waters on the Lebanese border.”

The incident comes days after Israel and Lebanon announced that they had reached a “historic” agreement over the maritime border between the two countries in gas-rich Mediterranean waters.

The deal would put to bed a long-running dispute over some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea, covering the Karish and the Qana gas fields.

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of Rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon (Ras al-Naqura), on June 6, 2022. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Israel and Lebanon have never agreed to demarcate their border on land either, keeping to a UN-enforced ceasefire “Blue Line” instead, and thus leaving their offshore exclusive economic zone disputed. The lack of a maritime border had not been a major issue until a decade ago, when a gas discovery bonanza began in the eastern Mediterranean, potentially reshaping the region’s economic future.

Successive US administrations have sought to broker a maritime agreement.

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