Lebanon offers 'more united approach' to maritime dispute with Israel

US envoy Amos Hochstein is in Beirut to mediate indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, right, meets with US envoy Amos Hochstein, centre left, for talks on the disputed maritime border between Lebanon and Israel. AP
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A US envoy mediating a maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel said a proposal tabled by the Lebanese government during his visit to Beirut “will enable negotiations to go forward”.

Amos Hochstein told US-based Al Hurra TV that the Lebanese government had taken “a very strong step forward today by presenting a more united approach”.

Separately, an unnamed official said Lebanon had made a new offer to Mr Hochstein, which included holding back on demands for territory where Israel plans to imminently extract gas at the Karish field.

Israel says Karish is in its exclusive economic zone, but Lebanon says the field is in contested waters and should not be developed until the two countries conclude talks to delineate their maritime boundary.

"We're in a delicate place to try to get the sides to narrow the gaps and get to a place where they can reach an agreement," Mr Hochstein said after meetings with Lebanon's president, parliament speaker and caretaker prime minister.

Beirut's proposal, however, included a claim for all of a separate field it had initially only sought part of, the official close to the negotiations said.

Mr Hochstein landed in Beirut on Monday to relaunch indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel after a year-long pause.

Lebanese authorities last week requested Mr Hochstein visit after a gas production vessel arrived in Israel to launch extraction operations in the Karish offshore field, drawing condemnation from Lebanon, which had laid claim to parts of it.

But in meetings on Tuesday with Mr Hochstein, Lebanon's leaders pushed for the country's maritime border to exclude Karish and include the whole of the nearby Qana field instead, the official close to the negotiations told AFP.

“We want the entire Qana field,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the issue.

Lebanon had initially demanded 860 square kilometres of territory in the disputed maritime area, including part of Qana.

It then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometres, also taking in part of Karish.

In Tuesday's offer, Lebanon “proposed increasing its initial demand for 860 square kilometres … to about 1,200 square kilometres”, the official said, taking in all of Qana but none of Karish.

Mr Hochstein will submit the new offer to Israel then relay its response to Lebanon.

President Michel Aoun called on the US envoy to proceed swiftly following Tuesday's meeting.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged the Lebanese government to "seize the opportunity to improve its economy and build a better future for the Lebanese people".

"I also look forward to the day when Lebanon decides that it is willing to take advantage of the natural gas in its economic waters. It is a pity that the leadership in Lebanon is dealing with unnecessary disputes instead of producing gas for the benefit of its citizens," he said.

Lebanon and Israel have no diplomatic relations and are separated by a UN-patrolled border.

Lebanon is undergoing a severe economic collapse, with much of country plunging into poverty. The local currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value, while the state electricity provider is able to give out only a few hours of power a day — if that — forcing people to turn to expensive private generators.

Updated: June 15, 2022, 6:12 AM