Lebanon and Israel have concluded the first round of indirect talks over the demarcation of their disputed maritime borders. The talks ended on Wednesday at the headquarters of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The Naqoura region in southern Lebanon around the building faced tight security imposed by the Lebanese army and UNIFIL soldiers.
Lebanese state media reported that the first round of talks lasted for just an hour. Agreement was reached on holding the second round on 28 October.
No details were provided about the first meeting, which was attended by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker; he chaired the opening session after arriving in Beirut on Tuesday evening. Former US Ambassador to Algeria, John Desrocher, acted as mediator.
The Lebanese negotiating team was headed by Brigadier General Bassam Yassin. The Israelis included the Director-General of the Energy Ministry, Udi Adiri, in their team.
“We hope that the other parties will respect their obligations based on achieving the requirements of international law and maintaining the confidentiality of the deliberations,” said Yassin. “We are looking for the negotiation wheels to turn at a pace that enables us to conclude this issue within a reasonable time.”
After the session, the Lebanese delegation refused to take an official photo with their Israeli counterparts.
Late on Tuesday, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement stressed in a joint statement the need for the negotiation team to be military officials only, and not civilians or politicians. The statement described the talks as “a recognition of the Israeli logic that wants any form of normalisation.”
Lebanon and Israel are locked in a dispute over an area of 860 square kilometres in the Mediterranean, which is rich in oil and gas reserves.