Lebanon, Israel to hold maritime border talks

Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col and Lebanese outgoing Defense Minister Zeina Akarin Beirut at an event to announce border talks with Israel. (AP Photo / Bilal Hussein)
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Updated 13 October 2020

Lebanon, Israel to hold maritime border talks

  • UNIFIL shows readiness to support negotiating parties
  • Israel had agreed in June 2019 to start talks on these maritime borders with US mediation

BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced a “framework agreement,” not a “final agreement,” with the US to re-negotiate demarcating the southern borders of Lebanon and the correlation of the land and sea tracks.

Berri said on Thursday that he had worked on this agreement for a decade, highlighting that it was reached on July 9, and the US sanctions against his political assistant, former minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and others came later and have nothing to do with the demarcation of borders.

The US Department of State quickly welcomed “the decision to start Lebanese-Israeli talks over borders,” emphasizing that this “paves the way for stability, security, and prosperity and serves the interests of Lebanon, Israel, and the region.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Lebanon in March 2019, revealed that “the agreement on negotiations between Lebanon and Israel is the result of three years of endeavors.”

The leadership of the UN Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) welcomed the agreement to negotiate and stressed its readiness to “provide all possible support to the parties and facilitate efforts to resolve this issue.”

UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Stefano Del Col listens as Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, announces border talks with Israel. (AP)

Israel had agreed in June 2019 to start talks on these maritime borders with US mediation, and Lebanon had insisted on reaching an agreement on the maritime and land borders together.

Lebanon and Israel are officially considered at war, and there is no demarcation of the land or maritime borders between them.

The UN marked what is known as the Blue Line to replace the land border. It includes several points over which the two sides continue to dispute.

Lebanon is proceeding with these negotiations with US mediation in light of a dispute over the maritime borders that emerged during the identification of three out of a total of 10 points for oil and gas exploration in the exclusive economic zone.

Berri told a press conference on Thursday: “Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon revived the file of border demarcation, and the initiative on which I insisted was the April 1996 Understanding and the Security Council Resolution 1701. I also insisted that the meetings take place at the UN headquarters in Naqoura, under UN auspices, and with the UN’s knowledge.”

Berri added: “After confirming the presence of oil on our borders, I personally started in 2010 demanding from the UN to demarcate the maritime borders and draw a white line in the Mediterranean. Due to the UN’s reluctance and its request for help from the US, I personally took the initiative to request assistance.”

He said Pompeo’s visit to Lebanon and his meeting with him brought the file of border demarcation back to the discussion table.

Berri pointed out that “the US has been requested to act as a mediator for demarcating maritime borders and is ready for that. When the demarcation is finally agreed upon, the maritime border demarcation agreement will be deposited with the UN in accordance with international law and relevant treaties.”

He said: “The US intends to make every effort to successfully manage and conclude the negotiations as soon as possible. And if the demarcation succeeds, there is a very large scope – especially with regard to Blocks 8 and 9 – for it to be one of the reasons for our debt repayment.”

Berri highlighted that “the land borders of southern Lebanon will be demarcated based on the positive experience present since the April 1996 Understanding and under Resolution 1701. With regard to maritime borders, continuous meetings will be held under the auspices of the UN Special Coordinator.”

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said: “Israel and Lebanon will hold talks mediated by the US on the maritime borders between the two countries.”

“The talks are expected to take place after the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) holiday, which ends on Oct. 9,” he said.

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations”
  • Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.


Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.