Israel, Lebanon hold fresh talks on sea border demarcation
Representatives from Lebanon and Israel on Wednesday held fresh rounds of talks on their Mediterranean Sea border dispute at the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) headquarters in Ras Al-Naqoura. Last month, the conflicting sides held three rounds of negotiations hosted by the United Nations in southern Lebanon.
After the US-mediated ‘productive’ talks, the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL) issued a joint statement stated that the US and UNSCOL are hopeful that these negotiations will lead to a long-awaited resolution. It also added that the two sides have agreed on continuing their negotiations in early December.
Amid the negotiation session, the Lebanese army and UNIFIL forces reportedly deployed relevant security measures on land and at the sea to prevent any form of clashes between the warring sides.
These talks between Lebanon and Israel are taking place over a disputed gas and oil-rich area in the Mediterranean Sea covering about 860 square kms (around 332 square miles) known as Zone No. 9.
As per a report by the Arab News portal, the Lebanese delegation stuck to its demand for a marine area of 2,290 sq. km in the Mediterranean Sea during the border demarcation negotiations.
These talks have emerged at a time when Lebanon is mired with its worst economic crisis in decades, noting that the crisis-hit country is seeking to settle the maritime border dispute in a bid to fulfill its offshore quest for oil and gas. Israel, on the other hand, already pumps gas from huge offshore fields.
Furthermore, these talks were launched in the backdrop of series of peace deals signed between three Arab nations with Israel to initiate normalisation of ties in the Middle Eastern region.
The first round of demarcation talks were held on October 14 chaired by David Schenker, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and mediated by former US Ambassador to Algeria John Desrocher. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has also described the border demarcation talks with Israel as strictly “technical”.
Noting that Lebanese armed movement Hezbollah controls the area bordering Israel, it has been criticising the maritime negotiations. On several occasions, Tel Aviv has accused the armed movement of attempting to violating the border accord resulting in occasional cross-border fire between the two sides.