Lebanon more optimistic than ever over deal on Israel maritime border

US official leading negotiations is arriving in Beirut at the weekend

A UN peacekeeper wears a mask as he stands near UN vehicles in south Lebanon’s Naqoura city near the Lebanese-Israeli border. Reuters
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Lebanon is highly optimistic about reaching a deal with Israel to delineate the two countries' shared maritime border under US mediation, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said on Friday.

“There has never been optimism to the extent that there is today,” Mr Bou Habib said.

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein, who has been mediating the indirect negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, will arrive in Beirut this weekend to continue talks with Lebanese officials.

Mr Hochstein last visited Lebanon in June, after tension over the maritime boundary escalated when Israel moved a vessel, operated by London-listed drilling company Energean, into the disputed Karish gasfield.

Israel says the gasfield in the Eastern Mediterranean, discovered a decade ago about 80 kilometres off the coast of Haifa, is part of its exclusive economic zone. Lebanon, however, says the field lies within disputed waters.

In the negotiations, Lebanon had initially demanded 860 square kilometres of territory in the disputed area. But the talks entered a stalemate last year when Beirut expanded its claim in the zone by about 1,400 square km to include part of Karish.

The negotiations had been on hold until Mr Hochstein returned last month. Lebanon is awaiting a response from Israel after relaying its position to the US official.

Further complicating the situation is Hezbollah, the Iran-backed political party and armed group, which has threatened to attack Israel if it continues with its plan to extract gas from Karish.

This month, Israel shot down three unarmed drones flown by Hezbollah that were heading towards Karish.

Lebanon is in dire need of more energy. An economic crisis that began in 2019 has plunged much of the country into poverty, with widespread shortages of bread, electricity, water, medicines and other essentials.

Updated: July 29, 2022, 3:12 PM