US envoy visits Beirut, mediating in Lebanon-Israel dispute

Acting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield, is in Beirut as part of a US shuttle diplomacy effort to resolve tensions between Israel and Lebanon over a border wall and energy drilling in disputed waters. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2018

US envoy visits Beirut, mediating in Lebanon-Israel dispute

BEIRUT: A senior US diplomat met Lebanon’s foreign minister on Wednesday in Beirut as part of a US shuttle diplomacy effort to resolve tensions between Israel and Lebanon over a border wall and energy drilling in disputed waters.
Disputes over Israeli construction of the border wall, Lebanon’s start of oil and gas exploration at sea and the growing arsenal of Lebanon’s Iran-backed group Hezbollah have caused a spike in tensions between Lebanon and Israel, both friends of the United States that regard each other as enemies.
Lebanon this month signed its first offshore energy exploration and production agreements with a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek. One of two blocks given to the consortium, Block 9, contains waters claimed by Israel.
, has been shuttling back and forth between Israel and Lebanon in a bid to resolve the disputes.
He met Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Wednesday in Beirut. The two had last met on Friday, after which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated Lebanon’s rejection of US proposals to resolve the maritime dispute as “unacceptable.”
This was an apparent reference to a maritime demarcation line proposed by US diplomat Frederic Hof in 2012, which would give Lebanon around two-thirds and Israel around one-third of a disputed triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles).
A senior Lebanese government source said Satterfield did not come with any new plan, and talks still revolve around the Hof line.
A source in the foreign ministry said he discussed the disputed area, how Lebanon can preserve its rights and how to keep exploration and drilling from being affected.
Satterfield left without making any public comments.
The US Embassy in Lebanon said Satterfield “continues to engage” on regional issues and on helping Lebanon develop its resources in agreement with its neighbors.


Benjamin Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges

Updated 1 min 22 sec ago

Benjamin Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges

  • Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different scandals
  • The indictment does not require Netanyahu to resign but is expected to raise pressure on him to step down

JERUSALEM: Israel’s attorney general on Thursday formally charged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a series of corruption cases, throwing the country’s paralyzed political system into further disarray and threatening the long-time leader’s grip on power.
Capping a three-year investigation, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three different scandals. It is the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister has been charged with a crime.
According to the indictment, Netanyahu accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of champagne and cigars from billionaire friends, offered to trade favors with a newspaper publisher and used his influence to help a wealthy telecom magnate in exchange for favorable coverage on a popular news site.
The indictment does not require Netanyahu to resign but is expected to raise pressure on him to step down.
Mandelblit was set to issue a statement later Thursday, as was Netanyahu, who has called the allegations part of a witch hunt, lashing out against the media, police, prosecutors and the justice system.
The most serious charges were connected to so-called “Case 4000,” in which Netanyahu is accused of passing regulations that gave his friend, telecom magnate Shaul Elovitch, benefits worth over $250 million to his company Bezeq. In return, Bezeq’s news site, Walla, published favorable articles about Netanyahu and his family.
The relationship, it said, was “based on a mutual understanding that each of them had significant interests that the other side had the ability to advance.” It also accused Netanyahu of concealing the relationship by providing “partial and misleading information” about his connections with Elovitch.
Two close aides to Netanyahu turned state’s witness and testified against him in the case.
The indictment also said that Netanyahu’s gifts of champagne from billionaires Arnon Milchan and James Packer “turned into a sort of supply line.” It estimated the value of the gifts at nearly $200,000.
The indictment said Netanyahu assisted the Israeli Milchan, a Hollywood mogul, in extending his U.S. visa. It was not immediately clear what, if anything, Packer received in return.