Lebanon and Syria begin talks on disputed maritime border

Discussions follow a landmark agreement on Israel and Lebanon's maritime border earlier this month

Syria's President Bashar Al Assad proposed direct talks via the countries’ foreign ministries to solve the maritime border dispute with Lebanon. Reuters
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The presidents of Lebanon and Syria have met to discuss delineating the maritime border between the countries, a week after a landmark Lebanon-Israel deal on a disputed boundary in the Mediterranean.

The meeting comes before a visit by a Lebanese delegation to Damascus next week to discuss the issue, Reuters reports.

As with the Lebanon-Israel maritime dispute, the contention between Syria and Lebanon has focused on a section of the East Mediterranean where one side — in this instance Syria — has offered drilling and exploration rights to a foreign energy company.

Last year, Syria signed an agreement with Russian firms East Med Amrit and Capital Limited, to explore potential oil and gas reserves in an area thought to be rich in resources, Syrian state media reported. The agreement followed a 2013 deal with Russian company Soyuzneftegaz which was halted due to the security situation in Syria.

The country’s nearly decade-long civil war has all but ended, with the exception of ongoing tensions and sporadic violence around the rebel-held enclave of Idlib on the Turkish border.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said a new agreement on the maritime border would be a priority following the deal with Israel on October 11 which delineated areas both sides could explore for oil and gas, as well as agreeing on a profit sharing scheme at the Karish oilfield, where Israel has allowed drilling to commence.

Mr Aoun told Syrian President Bashar Al Assad that Lebanon was keen “to begin negotiations with Syria to delineate its northern maritime boundary”, a Lebanese official said after Saturday's talks.

Mr Aoun then tasked Elias Bou Saab, the deputy speaker of parliament who negotiated on behalf of Lebanon in the indirect talks over the boundary with Israel, to head a delegation to Damascus next week to kick-start discussions, the official said.

The delegation would include the Lebanese foreign and transport ministers as well as head of the General Security agency Abbas Ibrahim, the official added.

Syria's Sham FM radio reported that details of the delineation had yet to be discussed and that Mr Al Assad proposed holding direct talks via the countries’ foreign ministries.

The two leaders discussed delineation last year.

Mr Aoun's term as president of Lebanon, which is in the midst of a deep political and economic crisis, ends on October 31. Three parliamentary sessions have failed to elect a successor.

Mr Al Assad secured another seven-year term last year in an election derided by Syria's opposition and the West as a farce.

The vote was held after the government regained control of much of the territory lost to opponents in a conflict that erupted in 2011.

Updated: October 23, 2022, 11:37 AM