Lebanon, Israel hold second round of maritime demarcation talks

Lebanon and Israel, still technically at war and with no diplomatic ties, launched a second round of maritime border talks under United Nations and United States auspices to allow for offshore energy exploration.

Local news reports described the meeting on Wednesday as “serious” as the two sides got down to technicalities and the Lebanese delegation pushed for an additional 1,430sq km (550sq miles) to be included in Lebanese territory.

The talks, expected to last for two days, were being held at a base of the peacekeeping group the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) – in the Lebanese border town of Naquora, guarded by army roadblocks and with UN helicopters circling above.

After years of quiet US shuttle diplomacy, Lebanon and Israel this month said they had agreed to begin the negotiations in what Washington hailed as a “historic” agreement.

The announcement came weeks after Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates became the first Arab nations to establish relations with Israel since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

Lebanon – which last saw military clashes with Israel in 2006 – insists the negotiations are purely technical and do not involve any soft political normalisation with Israel.

“Today’s session is the first technical session,” said Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese energy expert who said she expected “detailed discussions on demarcation”.

Talks later wrapped up and were set to resume at 10am (08:00 GMT) Thursday, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Lebanon, mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, is looking to settle the maritime border dispute so it can press on with its offshore quest for oil and gas.

The search for hydrocarbons has already heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean following repeated Turkish exploration and drilling operations in waters claimed by both Cyprus and Greece.

‘Maximalist approach’

In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for drilling in two blocks in the Mediterranean with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, Eni and Novatek.

Exploration of one of the blocks is more controversial as part of it is located in an 860sq km (330sq mile) area claimed by both Israel and Lebanon.

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