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Lebanon to hold indirect negotiations with Israel over border feud

Lebanon and Israel will hold indirect, UN-coordinated talks over the long-standing issue of maritime and land border demarcations between the two countries, Lebanese House speaker Nabih Berri announced on Thursday.

Beirut, 1 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Lebanon and Israel will hold indirect, UN-coordinated talks over the long-standing issue of maritime and land border demarcations between the two countries, Lebanese House speaker Nabih Berri announced on Thursday.

The negotiations will be carried out by the Lebanese army under the supervision of the president and the upcoming government, Berri said, adding that his role has now ended.

“I have been calling on the UN to demarcate the sea border for the past 10 years,” Berri said at a press conference.

The meetings will be held at the United Nations offices in Naqoura, in southern Lebanon, under the auspices of a UN coordinator, he added.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz welcomed the development and said Israel’s goal is to put an end to the dispute over the maritime borders “in order to help develop natural resources for the benefit of all peoples.”

He said Israel looked forward to starting direct negotiations in the near future.

Berri said that the United States has been asked by the two parties to act “as a mediator and facilitator” for the border demarcation.

The Lebanese Shiite official stressed that the US will exert “its utmost efforts to establish a positive and constructive atmosphere between the two parties in order to conclude the negotiations.”

Berri’s declaration came as US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker is expected in Beirut in October.

Berri, also a close ally of Hezbollah, said that once an agreement is reached, it will be signed by Lebanon, Israel and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

UNIFIL welcomed the announcement to launch negotiations between Lebanon and Israel on the demarcation of the maritime border.

“We support any agreement between the two countries that enhances confidence and motivates the parties to recommit themselves to respecting the Blue Line [between Israel and Lebanon] and the broader demarcation process,” UNIFIL said in a statement.

The demarcation will help Lebanon economically, added Berri, who also called on French President Emmanuel Macron to ask French energy firm Total not to delay exploration for gas in the offshore area.

Lebanon is passing through its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war ended.

Israel and Lebanon are officially at war, and there are recurring tensions along the border between the Israeli army and the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

The conflict between the two countries stems over demarcation methods, concerning about 856 square kilometres of waters.

The issue grew following natural gas discoveries in the Mediterranean sea, as both countries claim gas deposits there for themselves.

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