BEIRUT: Lebanon and Israel will hold UN-mediated talks on their disputed maritime and land borders, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced Thursday.
The United States will act as a facilitator during the talks, which are due to be held in the southern Lebanon border town of Naqoura, Berri told a news conference without providing a date for the negotiations.
Berri said a framework agreement had been reached to start the negotiations, and read out a Sept 22 copy of it.
“The United States were asked by both sides, Israel and Lebanon, to act as a mediator and facilitator to draw up the maritime borders, and it is ready to do this,“ he quoted it as saying.
“On the issue of maritime border, continuous talks will be held at the UN headquarters in Naqoura under UN sponsorship,“ he said.
“The U.S representatives and the U.S special coordinator for Lebanon are prepared to provide meeting minutes together that they will sign and present to Israel and Lebanon to sign at the end of each meeting,“ he added.
The UN peacekeeping force patrolling the shared border welcomed the news.
UNIFIL “welcomes today’s announcement of a framework agreement to launch negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on maritime border demarcation between the two countries,“ it said in a statement.
“UNIFIL stands ready to extend to the parties all the support at its disposal and facilitate efforts towards a resolution of this issue.”
Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war.
U.S envoy David Schenker on Sept 8 said he hoped to come to Lebanon and sign a framework agreement towards starting discussions “in the coming weeks”.
The issue of the maritime border is particularly sensitive due to the possible presence of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean.
In Feb 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling in two blocks in the Mediterranean for oil and gas with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek.
Lebanon in April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves.
Exploration of Block 9 has not started and is much more controversial as Israel also claims ownership over part of it. — AFP