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Lebanon sees ‘positive proposals’ to settle maritime dispute with Israel

US envoy Amos Hochstein asked to provide suggestions in writing for Lebanese PM to officially respond; Hezbollah chief said to have given OK to continue mediated talks

In this photo released by Lebanese government, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, center, and US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, left, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, February 9, 2022. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)
In this photo released by Lebanese government, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein, center, and US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, left, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, February 9, 2022. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister responded positively to proposals from US negotiator Amos Hochstein on settling a maritime border dispute with Israel, in comments published Friday, as Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah reportedly gave a green light to continue negotiations.

Longtime foes Israel and Lebanon have been engaged in US-led talks over the past year aimed at demarcating offshore exclusive economic zones. The disputed area, hundreds of square miles wide, is thought to contain large deposits of natural gas, a potential game changer for Lebanon, which is mired in a devastating economic crisis.

Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib told the Lebanese Al Joumhouria newspaper that US mediator Amos Hochstein brought “positive proposals that can be built upon” and that Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun had asked for them to be delivered in writing so the country can formally respond.

Hochstein, the US State Department’s Senior Adviser for Global Energy Security, notified Israel recently that Nasrallah had given his approval to the Lebanese government to move forward with the negotiations, according to a Thursday Haaretz daily report.

Defense officials told the newspaper the terror group is keen on an agreement. In October, Nasrallah had warned Israel against unilaterally searching for natural gas in the disputed maritime region before any agreement is reached.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their exclusive economic zones.

“I am confident that there will be a unified position in Lebanon and that there’ll be a unified position in Israel, and that we’ll be able to move forward,” the Israel-born Hochstein said earlier this month.

An Israeli Navy Sa’ar 5 corvette defends a natural gas extraction platform off Israel’s coast, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel and Lebanon had resumed negotiations over their disputed maritime border in 2020 but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying.

Lebanese politicians hope that commercially viable hydrocarbon resources off Lebanon’s coast could help lift the debt-ridden country out of an unprecedented financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst in modern times.

A senior defense official told Haaretz that solving the dispute is of high priority for the United States, due to its belief it can help alleviate Lebanon’s spiraling energy crisis.

Lebanon is currently grappling with its worst-ever financial crisis, and fuel shortages have ground the country to a halt in recent months.

With a bankrupt state unable to deliver more than an hour or two of electricity a day, individuals, businesses and institutions have relied almost entirely on diesel-powered generators.

Both Israel and Lebanon announced last month their intentions to resume talks.

Hochstein met with Israel’s Energy Minister Karine Elharrar last month.

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