Lebanese president approves historic maritime border deal with Israel

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BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Thursday the cash-strapped country had approved a U.S.-brokered maritime border deal with Israel.

Lebanon and Israel both claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea which host offshore gas fields.

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The maritime border demarcation agreement comes after months of talks brokered by senior US official Amos Hochstein, and would mark a major breakthrough in relations between the two countries, which have been officially at war since the establishment of Israel in 1948 .

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« This indirect agreement responds to Lebanese demands and maintains all our rights, » Aoun said in a televised speech.

Aoun made the announcement hours after meeting with interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Nabih Berri, who had received copies of the latest version of Hochstein’s deal earlier this week.

US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the two countries had agreed to « formally » end their maritime border dispute, and that their leaders had both told him they were ready to take the next steps.

Israel’s cabinet voted Wednesday in favor of the US-brokered deal by a « large majority » of its ministers. The deal will go to the Knesset, or parliament, for a two-week review period before a final Cabinet vote.

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Lebanon hopes that the delimitation of maritime borders will pave the way for gas exploration to help it out of its crippling economic crisis.

« I hope that the end of these negotiations is a promising start to laying the cornerstone for the economic growth that Lebanon needs through the extraction of oil and gas, » Aoun said. « Which would add the stability, security and development that our Lebanese nation needs. »

Meanwhile, Israel also hopes to exploit gas reserves and hopes the deal will reduce the risk of war with the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The agreement stipulates that the disputed waters would be divided along a line straddling the « Qana » natural gas field. Gas production would be based on the Lebanese side, but Israel would be compensated for gas extracted from its side of the line.

Lebanon is working with French energy giant Total on preparations for exploring the field.


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