Lebanon's negotiator on maritime border dispute with Israel arrives in New York

Elias Bou Saab arrived on Monday as a maritime deal draws closer

The Leviathan gasfield in the Mediterranean Sea is pictured from the northern beach of Nasholim in Israel. AFP
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Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s deputy parliament speaker and lead negotiator on the maritime border dispute with Israel, arrived in New York on Monday, several diplomatic sources told The National.

Mr Saab’s trip was planned at the last minute, the sources said. He has come independently of the Lebanese delegation headed by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who will land in New York on Monday night.

The Lebanese parliamentarian has become a key interlocutor in the maritime dispute with Israel, with ownership of lucrative undersea gasfields at stake.

He is in direct contact with US envoy Amos Hochstein, who will also be in New York. Mr Hochstein visited Beirut this month.

A diplomatic source told The National that Mr Hochstein may also meet Mr Mikati in New York and US Secretary of State of State Antony Blinken will hold a meeting with the Lebanese prime minister as well.

A deal is seen as close between Lebanon and Israel, and US President Joe Biden's administration is hoping to seal it in coming weeks.

The maritime dispute involves an 860-square-kilometre section of a reportedly gas- and oil-rich area in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A resolution could delineate the maritime border between Lebanon and its southern neighbour for the first time since Israel was established in 1948.

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A deal would involve a territorial swap in return for an Israeli concession granting Beirut extra maritime territory near the Qana gasfield.

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah issued a threat at the weekend to Israel, saying it could come under attack if it starts pumping in the Karish gas rig near the disputed area before a deal is sealed.

The party's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said Hezbollah has "sent a very strong message, far from the media, that [Israel] faces a problem if it begins extraction from the Karish field before Lebanon obtains its rightful demands".

Israeli outlet Globes reported on Sunday that Hezbollah and Israel had exchanged indirect messages in recent days with the aim of avoiding a confrontation in Karish. The outlet said the goal is to reach a deal in the coming weeks.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun is also hoping for a deal before his term ends on October 31. Mr Aoun cancelled his trip to New York for financial reasons, as Beirut struggles with an unprecedented economic collapse.

Updated: September 19, 2022, 6:38 PM
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