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Israel wants US mediation in gas dispute with Lebanon

A United Nations helicopter carrying Italian peacekeepers takes off from the UNIFIL headquarters for a patrol over the Blue Line, a UN-drawn boundary between Lebanon and Israel, in the costal town of Naqoura, southern Lebanon, on Feb. 7, 2018.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
BEIRUT: Israel offered on Wednesday to accept US mediation in a dispute with Lebanon over a potentially lucrative block of gas resources in the Mediterranean.
As tension rises over the issue, the senior US diplomat for the Middle East, David Satterfield, made a surprise visit to Lebanon this week for talks with senior government officials, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to visit on Feb. 15.
“We are willing to accept American mediation to resolve the issue diplomatically. There was international mediation on the matter in the past,” Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday.
“We were close to reaching a compromise in 2013, but the whole thing collapsed at the 11th hour.”
There is also growing unease over Israeli plans to build a cement wall on its border with Lebanon. Construction work has already begun at the Ras Al-Naqoura border crossing.
Talks took place at Ras Al-Naqoura on Wednesday between representatives of the Lebanese and Israeli armies, brokered by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The two sides discussed the possibility of deciding on the maritime border between the two countries in the same way as the land border was established. “UNIFIL proposed this solution, and Lebanon welcomes it provided the international force undertakes this task,” Lebanese MP Mohammed Qabbani told Arab News.
Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council said Israel’s behavior was a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and threatened border stability. “We grant the armed forces the political backing to act against any Israeli aggression on the border — on land and at sea,” it said.
Resolution 1701 was passed after the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, and guarantees Lebanon’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Israeli minister Steinitz said: “I do not need these explicit threats. Energy security and the protection of our energy installations — and to a great extent the gas rigs as well — are at the top of our list of priorities.
“Let there be no doubt, the state of Israel is the strongest nation in the region, and we will defend our territorial waters and our gas rigs and fields.
“I think both Israel and Lebanon are interested in a diplomatic solution. Lebanese officials are interested in exploiting gas and oil, and they have the right to do so. However, they should not make threats.”

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