Lebanon and Israel are resuming US-mediated talks regarding a dispute over their Mediterranean Sea border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.
The talks, between countries still technically at war, kicked off at the UN base in the town of Naqura in southern Lebanon, the National News Agency reported on Tuesday.
Lebanon and Israel took part in indirect talks to discuss demarcation last year. But they stalled after Lebanon demanded a larger area, including part of the Karish gas field, where Israel has given exploration rights to a Greek firm.
The talks last year were supposed to discuss a Lebanese demand for 860sq km (330 square miles) of territory in the disputed maritime area, according to a map sent to the United Nations in 2011.
However, Lebanon then said the map was based on erroneous calculations and demanded 1,430sq km (552 square miles) more further south, including part of Karish.
“The discussion will start from where we left it off,” a source at the Lebanese presidency told AFP news agency on Tuesday. He said both Israel and Lebanon demanded a different demarcation line.
“We don’t accept the line they’ve proposed, and they don’t accept ours, so we’ll see what the mediator suggests.”
Last month, Lebanese President Michel Aoun demanded Israel halt all exploration in Karish until the dispute was settled.
In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling for oil and gas in Blocks 4 and 9, with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek.
Lebanon in April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves.
Washington said on Friday the discussions would be brokered by US diplomat John Desrocher, and called the resumption of talks “a positive step towards a long-awaited resolution”.
Desrocher arrived in Beirut on Monday night to take part in the talks, according to The Associated Press news agency.
Lebanese politicians hope that commercially viable hydrocarbon resources off Lebanon’s coast could help lift the debt-ridden country out of its worst economic crisis in decades.
But Lebanon’s government stepped down after a enormous blast at Beirut’s port in August 2020, and deeply divided politicians have been unable to form a new cabinet ever since.