Lebanon and Israel resume talks over disputed marine borders

US-mediated negotiations first began in October but had stalled

Israeli navy boats are seen in the Mediterranean Sea as seen from Rosh Hanikra, close to the Lebanese border, northern Israel May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
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Lebanon and Israel resumed US-mediated negotiations on Tuesday over the demarcation of disputed maritime borders, seven months after talks had come to a halt.

The first round of talks began in October but negotiations stalled after the Lebanese delegation expanded claims over disputed maritime areas.

The resumption of UN-hosted talks, which the US described at the weekend as “a positive step towards a long-awaited resolution” comes two weeks after Lebanon took a step closer towards officially expanding its provisional marine boundaries.

This move, which Israel warned would derail talks, was endorsed by Lebanon's caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab but halted by President Michel Aoun.

Mr Aoun said any amendments to the country's exclusive economic zone must be first approved by the government, leaving the door open for negotiations to resume this week.

The draft decree endorsed by  Mr Diab expands the area claimed by Lebanon from 860 square kilometres, based on a map that the Lebanese government sent to the UN in 2011, to 2,290 square kilometres.

After Tuesday’s talks, Mr Aoun said negotiations should continue without preconditions and in accordance with international laws and regulations.

His remarks came during a meeting with members of the Lebanese delegation who informed the president that the US mediating team asked that negotiations continue based on the boundaries that Lebanon had previously shared with the UN.

“Members of the delegation briefed President Aoun on the deliberations that took place during the meeting with the participation of the US delegation, whose head requested that negotiations be restricted only to the Israeli and Lebanese boundaries that have been deposited with the UN… contrary to the Lebanese proposal and to the principle of negotiating without preconditions,” a statement by the president office said.

The dispute over marine boundaries has delayed hydrocarbon exploration in an area that could potentially hold significant gas reserves.

Lebanon, which is suffering from one of the worst economic and financial crises to grip the country since the end of the civil war in 1990, has yet to make any commercial discoveries.

The talks between the two countries – which are technically in a state of war – are taking place at a UN post in the border town Naqoura.