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BEIRUT: Ahead of US energy envoy Amos Hochstein’s planned visit to Lebanon next week to discuss maritime border demarcation, Lebanon sent a letter to the UN “to move negotiations on the southern maritime border from line 23 to line 29, while retaining the right to modify Decree No. 6433 in the event of reluctance and impossibility of reaching an equitable solution.
The letter explicitly states that “the area between lines 1 and 23 to the area between lines 23 and 29, with an increase of 1,430 km2 in addition to the previous 860 km2, is the disputed area, including the gas field of Karish”.
In this letter, Lebanon does not respect the principle of negotiation “oil field in exchange for an oil field”, that is to say the field of Qana in favor of Lebanon against the field of Karish for Israel. On the contrary, it includes a clear indication that the Karish field “is a disputed area, and Israel cannot continue exploration operations or begin extraction operations.”
Lebanon’s letter stresses that “Israeli action in this disputed area endangers international peace and security”.
This development is seen as an escalation by Lebanon to speed up indirect negotiations with Israel, which are being conducted by the United States under the auspices of the UN.
The letter, addressed under the leadership of President Michel Aoun to the President of the Security Council on January 28 and whose content has just been made public, stipulates that Lebanon adheres to its right to an area of 2,290 km2 and not 860 km2 only. .
A political observer told Arab News that Aoun sent the letter to the government but did not receive a response endorsing or opposing it.
“The letter included a veiled threat aimed at speeding up negotiations and achieving results before Aoun’s term ends, and perhaps opening closed political doors for his son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, to recommend him as his successor,” the Observer said.
The letter read: “Out of respect for the principle of the ‘path of negotiation’ which was not achieved after the indirect negotiations, it cannot be claimed that there is a proven Israeli exclusive economic zone, contrary to what the Israeli side claimed regarding the so-called field of Karish.
Maroun Al-Khawli, national coordinator of the Lebanese Coalition for Good Governance in the Extractive Industries, said: “The letter… will provide impetus for the negotiations between Lebanon and Israel and will speed up the process of reaching a final agreement.
“Moving the negotiation from Line 23 to Line 29 is intended to hamper Israel’s ambition to seize the disputed area, including the Karish field, and begin drilling operations, taking advantage of the absence of a Lebanese sovereign decision on this area because its oil interests and its exploration contracts are ready in the disputed area.
Al-Khawli added: “There is a general consensus among the various parties inside and outside the ruling authority on the need to keep internal conflicts out of negotiations with Israel and to place this question above all political, partisan or personal considerations.
At the end of December 2021, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, presented an objection to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding “Lebanon’s opening of the second round of licenses for oil and gas exploration in offshore waters, which was announced by Energy Minister Walid Fayad in November 2021. and covers 860 km2 of a disputed area.
The Lebanese letter further stresses that Lebanon “still relies on the success of the mediation efforts led by the American mediator and stresses its commitment to reach a negotiated solution at the maritime borders, under the auspices of the United Nations, which means resuming the negotiations where they were. left out, regardless of preconditions, except compliance with laws. In this context, we reaffirm that Lebanon has not taken any additional measures out of respect for the principle of mediation.
Hochstein’s visit to Lebanon has been repeatedly postponed until the Lebanese parties agree “to continue with the cards that have been distributed to them”.
Lebanon and Israel are officially still at war and there is no demarcation of land or sea borders between the two countries. The UN had drawn what is called the Blue Line to replace the land border, which includes several disputed areas.
Lebanon has shown some inconsistency in the demarcation of its maritime borders, as it drew a border from Ras Al-Naqoura to line 23 and brought it to the attention of the UN in 2011. However, Lebanon later said that was based on bad estimates, and the correct one was line 29.
Lebanon demanded during the negotiation sessions an additional area of 1,430 km2 which includes part of the Israeli Karish gas field in which the Greek company Energean PLC operates.
However, the Lebanese request for modification of the maritime border has not yet been sent to the UN because Decree No. 6433, which extends the border to line 29, has not been modified, the Cabinet having to approve the amendment again before sending it back to Parliament. .
Israel had accused Lebanon of changing its position on the demarcation of maritime borders during the previous round of negotiations.