Lebanon is at least seven years behind Israel in terms of developing its maritime natural gas and oil fields, Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported United Nations special representative Michael Williams as saying Thursday. Williams urged Lebanon to begin passing laws that would allow energy companies to begin searching for oil and natural gas in Lebanon's Mediterranean coast.

Williams also said that the UN was committed to the implementation of UN resolution 1701, which ended hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 and supported the territorial integrity of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders, including those borders at sea.

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While acknowledging that issues surrounding the Israeli-Lebanese border could influence peace keeping between the two countries, he stressed that Beirut must begin focusing more attention on issues of development in the energy field.

Lebanese Energy Minister Jibran Bassil told As-Safir that
Prime Minister Nijab Mitaki's government has now put the oil and gas issue as a high priority. Bassil also said that the Cabinet has created a unified approach to the issue of offshore energy exploration, and has created a government commission for the matter.

On Wednesday, Lebanon’s cabinet approved a memorandum of understanding with Iran to help Beirut pursue oil and gas oil exploration, a Lebanese government source told the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper.

While Beirut has complained of Israel's "illegal" and "aggressive" pursuit of its maritime zone and resources, in signing the agreement with Iran, Lebanon may be violating UN Security Council sanctions against the Islamic Republic and could incur a condemnation from the world body, the Ya Libnan website reported.

Last month, Beirut said it filed a complaint to the UN over the recent demarcation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) at the maritime border between Israel and Cyprus, which allows the two countries to exploit natural resources within their respective areas of sovereignty, and which by default also demarcated the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Lebanese Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Adnan Mansour had told Hezbollah affiliated news Channel Al-Manar that the demarcation is in effect a violation of Beirut's right to exploit resources, including natural gas and oil, that fall within its maritime borders.

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