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US mediator presents Lebanon’s maritime border proposal to Israeli team

After Amos Hochstein meets with Lebanese negotiators, Energy Ministry hopes disagreement on natural gas fields can be resolved soon

Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Energean working in the Karish oil field, offshore Israel, in 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein spoke with an Israeli negotiating team on Friday to discuss Lebanon’s proposal to resolve the maritime border dispute between the two countries linked to offshore gas exploration and extraction.

Hochstein presented the plan via video conference call, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The Energy Ministry said in a statement that it hoped the dispute would be resolved in the near future.

“Israel’s negotiating team for the maritime border held a professional meeting yesterday with the American mediator Amos Hochstein,” the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

“The team heard an update on the mediator’s visit to Lebanon, and the parties discussed formulating a constructive direction so that negotiations can move forward while preserving Israel’s economic and security interests, with the intention of reaching an agreement on the issue in the near future.”

Tensions surrounding the dispute have risen in recent weeks, after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the Karish offshore field, drawing condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of it.

Israel says the field is part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib, left, meets with US Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein in Beirut, Lebanon on June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanese negotiators reportedly told Hochstein earlier this month that they would be willing to drop demands for control of part of the Karish field claimed by Israel, but in exchange would seek full control of the Qana gas field that also straddles the countries’ offshore economic zones.

Indirect talks between the two countries, via US mediators including Hochstein, stalled last year when Lebanon changed its claim from a boundary known as Line 23 to a position further south at Line 29, increasing the area it wants by some 1,400 square kilometers and covering part of the Karish field.

Israel has been seeking to develop the Karish field as it tries to position itself as a natural gas supplier to Europe.

Earlier this month, Israel, Egypt and the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding in Cairo that will see Israel export its natural gas to the bloc for the first time.

The landmark agreement will increase liquified natural gas sales to EU countries, which are aiming to reduce dependence on supply from Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. The agreement will see Israel send gas via Egypt, which has facilities to liquify it for export via sea.

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said the signing of the MOU had cemented the role of “little Israel” on the global energy stage.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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