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Israel and Lebanon could reach deal on maritime border

Israel and Lebanon will start negotiations to agree their maritime border within weeks.

According to Reuters, the talks will be held with US meditation at the UN compound in Naqoura in southern Lebanon. Although the two neighbouring countries have no peace treaty and are formally in a state of war, agreeing a maritime border is in both countries’ interest as large deposits of natural gas have been discovered in the area.

US Assistant Secretary of State, David Satterfield, has been traveling between Israel and Lebanon to try to lower tensions between the two countries. According to an Israeli official, one of the proposals discussed between the two sides is for international energy groups, operating in both Israeli and Lebanese waters, to carry out the first seismological survey of the disputed area.

Last week, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel was open to US-mediated talks on the sea border. Lebanon has not commented publicly on whether it would attend talks or on any possible timeline.

Lebanese politicians close to parliament speaker Nabih Berri have quoted him saying that there was “clear progress” on efforts to resolve the maritime border dispute. Berri said Lebanon was awaiting responses after presenting a “united stance” on the matter.

Israel is offering 19 offshore blocks to oil and gas companies for exploration and production, but it has avoided offering areas close to the disputed border.

Lebanon and Israel have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area around 860 square kilometres (332 square miles) that extends along the southern edge of three of Lebanon’s 10 blocks. Until now the only formal dialogue between the two countries was a tripartite committee under the auspice of the UN together with Israeli military officers and the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Last month, Lebanon said that it planned to include five offshore blocks in a future bidding round for oil and gas exploration. Four of those blocks lie along disputed maritime borders — two claimed by Israel and two by Syria.