BEIRUT — A United Nations official said the international body is willing to assist Lebanon demarcate its naval border with Israel to protect the country's gas reserves.

Michael Williams said Lebanon has every right to benefit from its potential off shore oil and gas resources.

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His comments in Beirut Monday followed a request by Lebanon for the UN to protect the country's gas reserves along the maritime border with Israel, after a huge gas field was discovered off the coast.

The appeal was part of a growing dispute between the two warring countries over natural resources beneath the eastern Mediterranean.

On Wednesday last week, a UN spokesman said that the organization would not help determine the maritime border and would not interfere with gas drilling in the area.

According to the UN spokesman, UNIFIL's mandate under resolution 1701 "does not include the demarcation of maritime borders. National conflicts and maritime conflicts are two separate things."

Lebanon has accused Israel of drilling in fields that extend into its waters, an allegation Israel denies. There is no official naval border separating the two countries.

At the end of December, it was announced that the offshore natural gas reserve contains some 16 trillion cubic feet of gas worth an estimated $45 billion.

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