Lebanon's PM condemns Hezbollah for launching drones at gasfield

Israel shot down three unarmed aircraft flying towards Karish in contested Eastern Mediterranean waters

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Lebanon's caretaker prime minister has described any non-state interference in Beirut's maritime border negotiations with Israel as “unacceptable” in an apparent criticism of Hezbollah after the Iran-backed group flew three drones towards an Israeli rig at the weekend.

A government statement said any act outside diplomatic negotiations and “the state's responsibility” exposed Lebanon to “unnecessary risks”.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati held talks with Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib on the issue on Monday.

“Accordingly, we call upon all parties to demonstrate a sense of high national responsibility and to abide by what had been previously declared that everyone without exception stands behind the state in the negotiation process,” the statement said.

Israel on Saturday shot down the three unarmed drones that were headed towards the Karish gasfield in waters claimed by both Lebanon and Israel.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and militant group, said the drones were on a reconnaissance mission. “The message was delivered,” it said. Israel and Hezbollah have repeatedly engaged in conflict previously.

US-mediated indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon, which do not have diplomatic relations with each other, have failed to make much headway over the maritime dispute.

The issue reared its head again last month when Israel moved a ship, operated by London-listed Energean, to the Karish gasfield in a move that angered Lebanon.

Energean hopes to start extraction at Karish this year. Israel believes the field, about 80 kilometres west of Haifa, is part of its exclusive economic zone, while Lebanon says it lies within the disputed waters.

In the negotiations, Lebanon had initially demanded 860 sq km of territory in the disputed maritime area. But the talks were complicated last year when Beirut expanded its claim in the zone by about 1,400 sq km, including part of Karish.

The indirect talks had been on hold until US energy envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut last month. Lebanon is awaiting a response from Israel after relaying its position to Mr Hochstein.

Israel's newly appointed Prime Minister Yair Lapid criticised Hezbollah at the weekend, accusing it of “continuing on the path of terrorism" and "hurting Lebanon's ability to reach an agreement on a maritime border”.

Updated: July 04, 2022, 3:08 PM
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