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.

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

Updated 31 October 2020

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

  • Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms
  • Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces prevented the arrival of hundreds of protesters at the French ambassador’s residence and the French Embassy in Lebanon on Friday.

They feared the recurrence of riots similar to the ones that erupted in front of the Danish Embassy in Ashrafieh, Beirut, in 2006, and led to 28 people being injured, damage to storefronts, and the burning of the consulate building and terrorizing of people.

A few hundred worshippers left mosques after Friday prayers and marched to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms.

Khaldoun Qawwas, Dar Al-Fatwa’s media spokesperson, told Arab News: “These groups have nothing to do with Dar Al-Fatwa, which has already announced its position regarding what happened in France in two separate statements.”

Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan, the grand mufti of Lebanon, in a statement issued a week earlier, said that “freedom of opinion and expression does not entail insulting the beliefs and symbols of others, and this requires a reconsideration of the concept of absolute freedom.”

He stressed the “renunciation of violence and confrontation of radicalism and terrorism that has no religion or race.”

Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut, since the embassy and the French ambassador’s residence are located where roads leading to the city’s western and eastern neighborhoods intersect. This led to a huge traffic jam in the capital.

The protest’s starting point was the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque in Al-Mazraa, situated only a few kilometers from the Residence des Pins (Pine Residence).

Three major security checkpoints — one set up by the riot police — separated the Residence des Pins and protesters, some of whom were transported by buses from the north of Lebanon to Beirut.

Protesters held Islamic signs and chanted slogans denouncing France, its President Emmanuel Macron and its former colonization of the country. Some protesters tried to remove barbed wire and threw stones, water bottles and batons at the security forces. Another group burned the French flag. Security forces responded by throwing tear gas canisters, leading to the retreat of the protesters.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of the Roman Catholic condemned “the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.”

The council considered that “this terrorist crime has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. It is an individual act carried out by terrorists haunted by radicalism, obscurantism and the rejection of the French people’s historical civilizational values. Through their acts, they abuse the spirit of tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other and the freedom of thought and belief which all religions call for.”

The council called for “staying away from defaming religions and beliefs and inciting hate and resentment among people, raising the voice of moderation, wisdom and reason, working together in the spirit of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together announced by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb from the UAE last year.”

During the Friday sermon, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan condemned “any criminal act against any people, including the French people.” He added: “We categorically reject what happened in Nice yesterday, strongly condemn it and consider it a blatant and insolent attack on Muslims before others.”

He simultaneously condemned “the official French position that affronted the Prophet, took lightly and made light of the feelings of millions of Muslims.”