SAT 30 - 5 - 2020
Date: Jul 5, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Israel frustrated with Lebanon over border dispute: minister
BEIRUT/TEL AVIV: Israel's energy minister voiced frustration on Friday with what he claimed was Lebanon's failure to agree to U.S.-mediated talks on setting their maritime border, suggesting Iran-backed Hezbollah was applying pressure on Beirut.

Senior U.S. official David Satterfield has been shuttling between Lebanon and Israel in an effort to launch the talks between the countries, which have remained formally in a state of war since 1948.

Israel and Lebanon have long disagreed on border demarcations in the eastern Mediterranean, an issue that gained prominence in the past decade when large deposits of natural gas were found there.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on June 19 he expected U.S.-mediated talks to start within a month. On Wednesday, Lebanon insisted any demarcation of its sea boundary with Israel be implemented only as part of a wider package including the land border - something Israel has previously ruled out.

But Lebanese officials have said that Israel is reneging on previously agreed terms, while calling for some items to be agreed on verbally.

Lebanese MP Bazzi Wednesday, speaking on behalf of Speaker Nabih Berri, said the speaker emphasized the need to have written agreements, as opposed to a suggestion to have verbal agreements, an idea put forward by the U.S., which is leading efforts to bring the two parties together.

“We do not even trust Israel in written [agreements]. What about verbal [ones]?” Bazzi told reporters following the speaker’s weekly meeting with lawmakers.

Lebanon has also said that Israel's insistence on low-level U.N. representation in potential talks is a major sticking point.

Bazzi added that Lebanon’s request to change a phrase in the agreement that would have the meetings be “hosted by the U.N.” instead of “under the sponsorship of the U.N.,” was another sticking point.

Steinitz sounded skeptical of an agreement on Friday.

"(The) Lebanese on the one hand really want to develop their natural resources, and the unresolved dispute with Israel is disruptive for them - for us too, but for them more," Steinitz told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM.

But Steinetz added Lebanon could also be facing "internal pressure, that they (are) under the sway of fear of Hezbollah." Hezbollah is also part of the Lebanese coalition government.

Steinitz said Lebanon had yet to formally refuse the overture for mediation. He said that "in a week, 10 days we will know finally if we are on the way to talks or if this matter will be postponed by another one, two or three years".

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem were not immediately available for comment. - with Reuters

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