US envoy needs more time in Lebanon-Israel maritime dispute

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BEIRUT (TBEN) — The US envoy mediating between Lebanon and Israel over the two countries’ disputed maritime border said on Friday some progress has been made, but more needs to be done to resolve the issue.

Amos Hochstein, a senior energy security adviser at the U.S. State Department, is mediating between the two countries, shuttling between Beirut and Jerusalem as tensions remain high near the tense border after the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group and Israel made threats recently. exchanged.

He spoke Friday, at the end of a short visit to Beirut, where he met top officials including President Michel Aoun, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and Interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

“I think we are making very good progress. I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement,” he said after meeting Aoun.

Hochstein later told reporters at the airport before he left: “I am very hopeful with what we discussed today, but there is still more work to be done.”

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Mikati’s office said in a statement that the two discussed ideas Hochstein brought with him, adding that Lebanese officials will study them and “answer shortly”.

A Lebanese official who attended the talks told The The Bharat Express News that the US envoy’s proposal gives Lebanon the right to the Qana field, which is partly in Israel’s domain. Some of it extends deep into the disputed area. The official added that the key point now is how to draw the demarcation line in a way that extends south of Qana.

In 2017, Lebanon approved licenses for an international consortium by France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to proceed with offshore oil and gas development for two of the ten blocks in the Mediterranean, including one that is partially disputed with neighboring Israel.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with the regulations, said France’s Total said once a deal is reached it will begin exploration in the border area.

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Last month, Novatek announced its withdrawal from the consortium. Lebanese media reported that a Qatari company will acquire the Russian company.

This was Hochstein’s first visit to Lebanon since late July. The previous visit came after Israel set up a gas platform at the designated site in the Karish field. Israel says the field is part of its UN-recognized exclusive economic zone, while Lebanon insists Karish is in disputed territory.

In July, the Israeli army shot down three unarmed Hezbollah drones flying over the Karish field. Last month, the leader of Hezbollah warned Israel about the maritime dispute, saying that “any arm” that reaches to steal Lebanon’s wealth “will be cut off.”

Hezbollah, which has fought several wars with Israel, has repeatedly said it would use its weapons to protect Lebanon’s economic rights. Still, Hezbollah officials have said they would support an agreement between the government of Lebanon and Israel.

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US-brokered indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel have stalled since last year due to disagreements within Lebanon over the size of the disputed area.

Officially at war since Israel’s founding in 1948, the two countries both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 sq mi) of Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

Last year in talks, the Lebanese delegation — a mix of army generals and professionals — presented a new map that calls for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles) as Lebanese territory.

Hochstein had said a solution to the border crisis would help Lebanon emerge from the economic collapse that began in October 2019, which would leave more than 75% of the population in poverty.