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.

Hundreds of Syrians exit Lebanese town over tensions: UN

Updated 27 November 2020

Hundreds of Syrians exit Lebanese town over tensions: UN

  • UNHCR spokesperson: ‘Collective punishment... for a whole community for an incident involving one individual is unacceptable’
  • Those who fled, said they were chased out of Bsharre, a Christian-majority town, after a Syrian was accused of shooting dead a Lebanese resident

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: At least 270 Syrian families have left a north Lebanon town, as hostility toward them mounted over a murder allegedly committed by a Syrian national, the UN refugee agency said Friday.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees condemned “collective reprisals against Syrians in the town,” of Bsharre, saying many of the families fled in fear without taking their belongings.
“Collective punishment... for a whole community for an incident involving one individual is unacceptable,” a UNHCR spokesperson said in a statement.
Many of those who fled the Christian-majority town said they were chased out by Bsharre residents after a Syrian on Monday was accused of shooting dead a Lebanese resident, sparking widespread tension and hostility.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported forced evictions of Syrians in the wake of the murder, but Bsharre’s mayor denied that the Syrians had left out of fear.
An AFP correspondent in Tripoli saw dozens of Syrian families gathering outside a UNHCR building in the northern city.
A group of young men in Bsharre “assaulted us, threatened us and started a fire” in the house, Umm Khaled, a 31-year-old Syrian mother of five told AFP.
“We picked up our children and ran away to Tripoli,” located more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) east, she said.
Yassin Hassan, a 30-year-old Syrian who had lived in Bsharre for years, said he was beaten by a group of men.
“We ran away... without taking anything from our homes,” he told AFP.
Tripoli is among the most welcoming destinations in Lebanon for refugees.
Lebanon, which is grappling with an economic crisis, says it hosts some 1.5 million Syrians, including around one million registered as refugees with the United Nations.
UNHCR said it received “a large number of refugees from Bsharre” in its Tripoli reception center.
They were encouraged to find alternative housing but those with nowhere to stay were moved to shelters, a spokesperson told AFP.
The reasons behind the murder that fueled anti-Syrian sentiments in Bsharre remains shrouded in mystery.
The Syrian suspect in question has handed himself over to authorities, the army said.
A judicial source said investigations were still underway.
The mayor of Bsharre says the town is home to nearly a thousand Syrians.
Authorities have called on refugees to return to Syria even though rights groups warn that the war-torn country is not yet safe.