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Israel, Lebanon agree to hold maritime border negotiation talks


World

Israel, Lebanon agree to hold maritime border negotiation talks

A senior American representative, likely Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker, will be present, along with a UN rapporteur. An Israeli naval vessel sails in the Mediterranean sea near the border with Lebanon, as Mount Carmel and the Israeli city of Haifa are seen in the background December 16, 2013 (photo…

A senior American representative, likely Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker, will be present, along with a UN rapporteur.

An Israeli naval vessel sails in the Mediterranean sea near the border with Lebanon, as Mount Carmel and the Israeli city of Haifa are seen in the background December 16, 2013 (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

An Israeli naval vessel sails in the Mediterranean sea near the border with Lebanon, as Mount Carmel and the Israeli city of Haifa are seen in the background December 16, 2013

(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Israel and Lebanon reached an agreement to hold negotiations on their maritime border, after a years-long impasse, a spokesman for Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz confirmed on Friday.

Talks are expected to begin in mid-October, after the Sukkot holiday, in Naquora, a city in southern Lebanon near Rosh Hanikra, where headquarters for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are located.

A senior American representative, likely Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker, will be present, along with a UN rapporteur.

Schenker, who visited Israel last week, has been involved in getting Jerusalem and Beirut to the table, with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz representing Israel, as the dispute has been over who has the rights to drill for natural gas. On the Lebanese side, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and officials in President Michel Aoun’s office were involved.

Schenker updated Steinitz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi with an updated agreement to launch a new round of talks last week. Rather than have both the US and the UN mediate, as Lebanon originally sought, the current agreement is for the US to mediate and the UN observe.

The dispute between Lebanon and Israel, which began over a decade ago, involves 860 square km in the Mediterranean Sea.  Israel has agreed to split the area 58: 42 in favor of Lebanon, which would like to start drilling for gas as soon as possible to help dig itself out of its ongoing economic crisis. Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, repeatedly got in the way of starting talks with Israel. Jerusalem also opposed UN mediation for the negotiations.

After last month’s massive explosion in Beirut and growing public criticism of Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon, the country showed greater readiness to negotiate with Israel.

The Trump administration will likely seek to present the talks as a further step towards making peace and normalization in the Middle East.







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