Lebanon and Israel have agreed to a framework for the United States-mediated talks aimed at ending a long-running dispute over borders that have been the front line of several conflicts.
Lebanon and Israel, still in a formal state of war, have contested their land and maritime borders for decades, including an area on the edge of three Lebanese offshore energy blocks. Washington has been mediating in efforts to bring the two sides to the table.
On Thursday, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the framework for talks had been agreed.
“This is a framework agreement, and not a final one,” Berri told a news conference, saying discussions would be held under the auspices of the United Nations at a base near the UN-monitored boundary with Israel, known as the Blue Line.
“The United States were asked by both sides, Israel and Lebanon, to act as a mediator and facilitator to draw up the maritime borders, and it is ready to do this,” he quoted an agreement as saying.
He said the US would push for an agreement as soon as possible, but told reporters the agreement on a framework was reached prior to Washington’s move to impose sanctions on his aide, Ali Hassan Khalil, for corruption and financially enabling Hezbollah, the heavily armed group.
Israel’s energy minister confirmed that two sides would hold US-mediated talks.
Lebanon’s change of tack has come when the country is facing a crippling crisis as its economy has been crushed under a mountain of debt. The crisis was compounded by a massive port explosion that ruined a swathe of Beirut on August 4.
The issue of the maritime border is particularly sensitive due to the possible presence of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean.
In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling in two blocks in the Mediterranean for oil and gas with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek.
Lebanon in April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves.
Exploration of Block 9 has not started and is much more controversial as Israel also claims ownership over part of it.