BEIRUT: Lebanese officials on Thursday began internal discussions in preparation for a response to US envoy Amos Hochstein, who has urged them to settle a maritime border dispute with Israel.
Hochstein conveyed ideas for advancing the negotiations, which have been stalled for several months.
After he met Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday, presidential adviser and former minister Elias Abi Saab said: “We evaluated the meetings that took place, where is Lebanon's interest, and what are the next steps for this visit. There is a step forward in what the mediator presented, but nothing is final yet, and we will see how its results will be.
“Some things must be completed internally, and there are things that Hochstein will present later.”
Hochstein, who is the US State Department's senior adviser for global energy security, arrived in Lebanon on Tuesday to revive talks between Lebanon and Israel over a maritime border dispute that is holding up oil and gas exploration.
While the ideas he conveyed to the Lebanese side were not revealed, it was reported that he had “made a positive offer regarding Line 23, giving Lebanon the area of 860 sq. km that it demands, in addition to preserving the entire Qana field."
Before leaving Lebanon on Wednesday evening, Hochstein said that Lebanon had an opportunity to reach a deal. “We are at the moment of bridging the gaps in the maritime delimitation file,” he said.
He linked reaching an agreement with addressing the economic crises that Lebanon is mired in, emphasizing that Lebanon needed to support itself. “Let's see something that works, that the reforms that are necessary are passed, are in place, and are serious, and then the international community will support Lebanon,” he said.
The head of the Lebanese Phalange Party, Sami Gemayel, said in response to the visit: “In a failed state, the international negotiator must negotiate with all the political and security authorities and turn into a judge of peace among them.”
Businessman Bahaa Hariri tweeted: “The time has come for the maritime border demarcation file to witness the birth of a solution that is far from the political class's quotas and the mistakes that Lebanon made as a result of its influence.
“Reaching an agreement as soon as possible may be a step toward mitigating the severity of the economic collapse.”
Retired soldiers staged a sit-in at the intersection of the Presidential Palace in Baabda, coinciding with a Cabinet session.
They called on the Cabinet not to approve the 2022 draft budget because it did not guarantee “justice, equality and the right to a decent life, livelihood and medicine.”
They said the draft budget did not secure the “life needs and concerns of the military in active service and retirement, but rather imposes additional taxes and fees that they cannot bear.”
The movement of retired service personnel extended to Tripoli, in north Lebanon, where protesters staged a sit-in in front of the Tripoli Finance Building branch and marched to the home of Mikati.
Others staged a sit-in in front of the house of Finance Minister Youssef Khalil in the southern city of Tire, and a similar move was carried out in front of the Zahle Saray in the Bekaa.
Also on Thursday, dozens of families of the Beirut port blast victims stormed the Justice Palace in Beirut to demand faster court decisions in the case.
They were objecting against the delay in deciding on requests for response against the investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, to enable him to resume his investigations into the crime and issue the indictment.
Riot police tried to prevent the families from entering the building and a stampede broke out.
The families managed to enter the palace, holding pictures of their loved ones, the Lebanese flag, and banners calling for “support for justice and for Judge Rola Al-Masry to speed up the response requests that obstruct the investigation and justice process.”
They stressed the need for Bitar to resume his work and investigations.
Judge Suhail Abboud, the first president of the Courts of Cassation, met the protesters upon the insistence of the families and the activists accompanying them.
He told the activists that Al-Masry was studying the case carefully and she would retire only in April and not this month.
The families’ spokesman William Noun, who is also a brother of one of the blast victims, expressed his fear of the issue becoming diluted through the way the case was being dealt with.
“This is totally unacceptable by the families of the martyrs,” he said.