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Lebanon, Israel agree to talks over maritime border disputes

Nabih Berri, Speaker of the parliament of Lebanon
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Lebanon [File photo]

Lebanon and Israel have agreed to UN- and US-mediated indirect talks over the disputed maritime border between the two countries, Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri announced yesterday.

Israel's Minister for Energy Yuval Steinitz also confirmed the talks, telling reporters negotiations would start after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which ends on 9 October.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, David Schencker, whose administration is set to act as a facilitator for indirect negotiations, said talks would start in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura in the week beginning 12 October.

Lebanese Army officials will reportedly carry out the negotiations, speaking to an Israeli delegation indirectly, through UN and US officials, under the supervision of the Mediterranean state's president and government.

The planned negotiations between Lebanon and Israel, which are still officially at war, come after nearly three years of "intense diplomatic engagement" which helped formulate a framework agreement, according to Schenker.

READ: Lebanon president calls for end to Israeli violations

Both Berri and Schenker, however, re-iterated to reporters that the framework for talks was not an official agreement and that the ultimate aim was to demarcate the maritime border between the two countries.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed the agreement, saying that negotiations "have the potential to yield greater stability, security and prosperity for Lebanese and Israeli citizens alike", the New York Times reported.

The dispute, which is over 330 square miles of the Mediterranean Sea that both Lebanon and Israel claim as part of their exclusive economic zones, is a particularly sensitive issue due to the possible presence of untapped fuel reserves.

Both Israel and Cyprus have already begun mining offshore gas in areas of the eastern Mediterranean, but Lebanon has so far found only non-commercially viable traces of fuel in undisputed blocks.

Potential fuel reserves in Lebanese waters, however, have long been billed as an economic lifeline for the crisis-ridden country, but plans to explore blocks eight, nine and ten have stalled over ownership disputes.

The planned talks will be the first negotiations between the two warring states on a civilian matter in 30 years, and the US could be set to mediate further negotiations over the UN-demarcated Blue Line, the border which separates Lebanon and Israel, in the near future.

READ: Hezbollah refutes Netanyahu's missile depot claims, invites media to site

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