Naqoura Bay, south of the Lebanese city of Tyre. Lebanon and Israel will hold talks on their disputed land and maritime borders, Photo: Jack Guez/AFP

Lebanon and Israel will hold 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 said without providing a date for the negotiations.

Berri said a framework agreement had been reached to start the negotiations.

“On the issue of maritime border, continuous talks will be held at the UN headquarters in Naqoura under UN sponsorship,” he said.

“The US representatives and the US 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.

“UNIFIL stands ready to extend to the parties all the support at its disposal and facilitate efforts towards a resolution of this issue.”

Lebanon over the past year has seen its financial sector collapse, massive capital flight, and the spiraling depreciation of its national currency. Technically, it is still at war with Israel.

US envoy David Schenker said on September 8 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 February 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.

In April, Lebanon 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 of part of it.

The announcement comes amid a seismic regional shift as Gulf Arab states bring covert ties with Israel into the open, paving the way for regional integration of the long-sidelined Jewish state.

It also comes days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that another explosion could hit Lebanon following the August 4 Beirut port blast, should the country fail to tackle Hezbollah’s alleged weapons stores.

– AFP

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