Lebanon Monday warned Israel against taking "unilateral steps" on the borders of its exclusive economic zone, as the dispute over the deepwater natural gas reserves threatens to boil over.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman warned against unilateral steps of "the kind that Israel commonly makes in violation of international law." He added that the new Lebanese government would discuss the issue.


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The government on Sunday approved the demarcation of its northern maritime border with Lebanon, in an effort to protect economic rights in offshore territories that Lebanon is claiming as its own.

In response, Lebanon said on Sunday that it would protect its borders and natural resources on Sunday.

“Lebanon has warned that it insists on protecting its borders and resources,” Ali Hamdan, spokesman for Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, told Bloomberg in a telephone interview from Beirut.

The maritime border line, according to the statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, demarcates economic rights in offshore territories that – with the discovery of vast natural gas reserves – have become extremely lucrative.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the maritime border marks the area of the state’s exclusive economic rights, including the right to exploit natural resources in the sea.

“The area we are discussing borders with Lebanon and Cyprus in the north. The [maritime] line that Lebanon submitted to the UN is significantly south of the Israeli line,” he said. “It contradicts the line Israel has agreed upon with Cyprus, and what is more significant to me is that it contradicts the line that Lebanon itself concluded with Cyprus in 2007. Our goal is to establish the position of Israel regarding its maritime boundary, according to international maritime law.”

Israel is now expected to submit this map to the UN.

Lebanon submitted its map last year.

According to government officials, Israel is moving on the issue now because under international maritime law, if one country makes a claim and another country does not counter it, the silence of the second country is seen as acquiescence.

Cyprus and Israel reached an agreement in December demarcating maritime borders to enable the search for more natural gas reserves in the area, with Israel interested in clarifying precisely where its maritime border reached.

Cyprus came to a similar agreement with Lebanon in 2007, but it has not yet been ratified by the Lebanese parliament.

The map Lebanon submitted to the UN runs south of the line it agreed to with Cyprus in 2007.

According to Israeli officials, what the government did Sunday in drawing up the boundary was simply draw a straight line from Israel’s border with Lebanon at Rosh Hanikra to the southern point of the Cyprus-Lebanese agreement in the Mediterranean.

Israeli diplomatic officials said there were two reasons why Lebanon was changing the line that it agreed upon with Cyprus in 2007.

The first had to do with economic reasons, and an interest in enlarging its zone because of recent natural gas findings in the area.

And the second, according to the officials, had to do with Hezbollah’s increasing influence in Lebanon, and its interest in having an “underwater Shaba Farms” issue over which they could justify continued conflict and dispute with Israel.

Jerusalem Post staff and Bloomberg contributed to this report.