Lebanon confirms talks with Israel over sea border
The two countries have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war
Lebanon's parliament speaker confirmed on Thursday that an agreement has been reached on a framework of indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel over a longstanding disputed maritime border between the two countries.
Israel announced the talks last week, saying Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will lead the Israeli delegation. Thursday's declaration by Speaker Nabih Berri is the first confirmation by Lebanon that the negotiations will take place.
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometres of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones.
Berri said the US-mediated talks will be held at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping force in the southern border town of Naqoura under the banner of the United Nations. He did not give a start date for the talks.
Indirect talks mean that Lebanese army negotiators will not be speaking directly to members of the Israeli delegation but through UN officials.
The United States has been mediating between Lebanon and Israel since 2010 until a breakthrough was reached in July on the framework for the indirect talks, Berri said.
He said the US mediation stalled but it received a push in March last year during a visit to Beirut by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during which he discussed the dispute with Lebanese officials.
The agreement on the framework comes as Lebanon is going through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. Beirut is hoping that oil and natural gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it pay back its massive debt.
Lebanon began offshore drilling earlier this year and is expected to start drilling for gas in the disputed area with Israel before in the coming months.
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