Report: In same room at maritime negotiations, Lebanese won’t talk to Israelis

Beirut’s team said set to ask American, UN mediators to relay messages across the room when they meet next week; energy minister announces makeup of Israeli delegation

View of the Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near the city of Caesarea, on January 31, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
View of the Leviathan gas field gas processing rig near the city of Caesarea, on January 31, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Lebanese negotiators do not intend to speak directly with their Israeli counterparts when the two sides meet next week for rare talks on delineating the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, according to Walla news and Axios reporter Barak Ravid.

Ravid tweeted Thursday that though the sides will sit in the same room, Lebanese officials are planning to ask US and UN mediators to relay messages to the Israeli side.

The talks will be held at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura.

Also Thursday, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced the makeup of the Israeli delegation that will attend the meeting.

Udi Adiri (Screen capture: YouTube)

Udi Adiri, director-general of the Energy Ministry, will lead the Israeli delegation and be accompanied by Steinitz’s chief of staff Mor Halutz as well as Aviv Ayash, the minister’s international adviser. Deputy National Security Adviser Reuven Azar, the Foreign Ministry’s Deputy Director-General for the United Nations and International Organizations Alon Bar, and Brig. Gen. Oren Setter, head of the Israeli military’s Strategic Division, will also attend the talks.

The Lebanese delegation will be led by Wissam Chbat, a senior official in Lebanon’s energy and water ministry.

Earlier Thursday, Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group said the rare talks with Israel beginning next week on the longstanding maritime border dispute do not constitute normalization or peace talks with the Jewish state.

“Despite all the talk that has been going around, the negotiating framework deals with our southern maritime borders and reclaiming our land, so as to delineate our national sovereignty,” the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc, Hezbollah’s political wing, said in a statement Thursday.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with ‘reconciling’ with the rapacious Zionist enemy, nor with the normalization that some Arab countries have adopted,” the terror group added, referring to the recent deals Israel reached with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“These countries never believed in or practiced resistance against the nation’s enemy for a single day,” the statement said.

A line of buoys placed by Israel near the Lebanese-Israeli maritime border, that wasn’t recognized by Lebanon and the UN, seen from the southern coastal town of Naqoura, Lebanon, July 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

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 within their own exclusive economic zones.

Both are hoping to explore and develop new gas fields in the Mediterranean following a number of big finds in recent years. US diplomats have been shuttling between the two countries and pushing for direct talks for years.

Lebanon, which is mired in a severe economic crisis, is especially eager to develop offshore energy resources.

UNIFIL last week welcomed the announcement of the talks and said in a statement that it was prepared to “extend to the parties all the support at its disposal.” The peacekeeping force added that it was also prepared to assist the sides in solving their land border disputes.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with David Schenker, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, September 10, 2019. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

David Schenker, assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs said the US will “welcome” steps by the parties to resolve the land border dispute. However, he clarified that the current talks are “a separate track.”

Schenker has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Beirut in recent months in an effort to reach an agreement where previous administrations have failed.

The agreement on the framework comes as Lebanon is going through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, compounded by the massive blast at Beirut’s port in August. Lebanon is hoping that oil and natural gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it pay back its massive debt.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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