Israel officially announces an agreement with Lebanon to conduct negotiations on demarcating the maritime borders

A spokesman for the Israeli Energy Minister, Yuval Steinitz, said that Israel and Lebanon reached an agreement to conduct negotiations on the maritime borders between the two countries, after years of stalemate.

It is expected that the talks between the two sides will start in the middle of next October, after the “Throne Day” holiday, in the southern Lebanese city of Naqoura, where the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is located, according to the Israeli Jerusalem Post newspaper. Late Friday night.

The meeting will be attended by a prominent representative of the United States, perhaps Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker, as well as a UN rapporteur.

Schenker, who visited Israel last week, participated in efforts to get the parties to come to the negotiating table. 

The Israeli side will be represented by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, while the Lebanese side will be represented by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and officials from President Michel Aoun’s office. 

The dispute revolves around the right to explore for natural gas in marine areas.

Schenker briefed Israeli Energy Minister Steinitz as well as Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on an updated agreement to start a new round of talks. 

Instead of the United States and the United Nations mediating, as Lebanon originally sought, the current agreement is for the United States to mediate and the United Nations as an observer.

The conflict between Lebanon and Israel, which began more than a decade ago, concerns an area of ​​860 square kilometers in the Mediterranean Sea. 

Israel agreed to divide the area 42:58 in favor of Lebanon, which wants to start exploration for gas as soon as possible to help get out of its ongoing economic crisis.

According to the newspaper report, Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, has repeatedly blocked the start of talks with Israel. Israel also opposed UN mediation in the negotiations.

In the wake of last month’s massive explosion in the Beirut port and mounting public criticism of Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon, the country has shown a greater willingness to negotiate with Israel.

The administration of US President Donald Trump is likely to seek to present the talks as another step toward achieving peace and normalization in the Middle East.