Israel to hold US-mediated talks with Lebanon on sea border

A picture taken from Lebanon's southern border town of Naqura on the border with Israel, south of Beirut, shows the maritime boundaries between Lebanon and Israel. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2020

Israel to hold US-mediated talks with Lebanon on sea border

  • Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war
  • Both are hoping to explore and develop new gas fields in the Mediterranean following a number of big finds in recent years

JERUSALEM: Israel will hold rare talks with Lebanon next month in an effort to resolve a longstanding maritime border dispute, an Israeli official said Saturday.
The official said Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will lead the Israeli delegation in talks mediated by the United States. Representatives from the three countries are likely to speak by video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic, the official said.
The official requested anonymity in line with regulations. There was no immediate comment from Lebanon.
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones.
Both are hoping to explore and develop new gas fields in the Mediterranean following a number of big finds in recent years. US diplomats have been shuttling between the two countries and pushing for direct talks in recent years.
Lebanon, which is mired in a severe economic crisis, is especially keen to develop offshore energy resources.
The Trump administration is likely to celebrate any direct talks as another diplomatic breakthrough in the Middle East, following recent agreements in which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — Gulf countries that have never gone to war with Israel — agreed to recognize it and establish diplomatic relations.
Israel invaded Lebanon during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war to battle Palestinian militants who had launched cross-border attacks, and it occupied a strip of territory in southern Lebanon until 2000.
In 2006, Israel fought a month-long war with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group. Hezbollah has vastly expanded its arsenal of rockets and missiles since then, and today Israel views it as its most immediate military threat.
Neither side is believed to be seeking war, but they have traded fire on a number of occasions in recent years, and both have warned that a future conflict would be far more devastating for the other side.
Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the US and other countries, is part of a political alliance that dominates Lebanon’s parliament and government.


Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

Updated 59 min 9 sec ago

Saad Hariri named new Lebanon PM, promises reform cabinet

  • Hariri immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan
  • He has previously led three governments in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three-time Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri was named to the post for a fourth time Thursday and immediately promised a government of technocrats committed to a French-backed reform plan.
Hariri said he would “form a cabinet of non politically aligned experts with the mission of economic, financial and administrative reforms contained in the French initiative roadmap.”
“I will work on forming a government quickly because time is running out and this is the only and last chance facing our country,” he added.
President Michel Aoun named Hariri to form a new cabinet to lift the country out of crisis after most parliamentary blocs backed his nomination.
Hariri, who has previously led three governments in Lebanon, stepped down almost a year ago under pressure from unprecedented protests against the political class.
“The president summoned... Saad Al-Deen Al-Hariri to task him with forming a government,” a spokesman for the presidency said.
Hariri was backed by a majority of 65 lawmakers, while 53 abstained.
Lebanon is grappling with its worst economic crisis in decades and still reeling from a devastating port blast that killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of Beirut in August.
Aoun warned Wednesday that the new prime minister, the third in a year, would have to spearhead reforms and battle corruption.
A relatively unknown diplomat, Mustapha Adib, had been nominated in late August following the resignation of his predecessor Hassan Diab’s government in the aftermath of the deadly port blast.
Adib had vowed to form a cabinet of experts, in line with conditions set by French President Emmanuel Macron to help rescue the corruption-ridden country from its worst ever economic crisis.
He faced resistance from some of the main parties however and threw in the towel nearly a month later, leaving Lebanon rudderless to face soaring poverty and the aftermath of its worst peacetime disaster.