Mediterranean: Israel and Lebanon have started discussions on their maritime border

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An observation round? Lebanon and Israel, still officially at war, began on Wednesday, for the first time in years, discussions to delimit their common maritime border.

Under the auspices of the United Nations and in the presence of an American mediator, the talks began in Naqoura, in the south of Lebanon, at around 10:30 am (9:30 am French time). They broke off an hour later, with members of the delegations meeting on October 28 for a new tour de table.

The negotiations are taking place on a border base of UNIFIL, the UN force deployed to monitor the buffer zone between the two countries. The Lebanese army and UNIFIL soldiers had blocked the roads leading to the base very early on, while helicopters from the UN force flew over the area.

860 km2 of territorial waters at the center of tensions

Two soldiers and two civilians – an official from the Petroleum Authority and a specialist in the law of the sea – represent Lebanon. The Israeli delegation is made up of six members, including the director general of the Ministry of Energy, a diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the head of the military’s strategic affairs directorate.

Fearing to stumble on the same pitfall as in previous discussions, Lebanon has been insisting for several days on the “technical”, and not political, nature of the talks. For many years, the two countries have been fighting over 860 km2 of territorial waters. The creation of exclusive economic zones should make it possible to remove the obstacles to prospecting for offshore hydrocarbon deposits, particularly natural gas.

Hezbollah evokes “a capitulation”

Politically, Lebanon fears to take a step towards the recognition of a land border, which would eventually replace the “blue line” drawn by the UN in 2000, after 22 years of occupation of the Galilean plateau of southern Lebanon by Israeli forces. Clashes take place there regularly. The Lebanese political class, despite the economic and social emergency, is divided: early this Wednesday, the two Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal considered that these discussions represented “a capitulation in the face of Israeli logic which wants some form of normalization”. They demanded that the civilian personalities of the delegation be replaced by soldiers.

According to the UN, talks on the land border between the two countries will be conducted separately within the framework of meetings supervised by UNIFIL.

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