Lebanon warns Israel against sea-border demarcation

FM Mansur says Beirut will complain to UN: "This is a de facto policy that will not bring peace for Israel"; Lebanese Army chief urges restraint.

By OREN KESSLER
July 11, 2011 20:58
3 minute read.
Tamar offshore gas field.

tamar offshore gas field_311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Lebanon’s president and foreign minister on Monday rebuked Israel for its plan to mark the two countries’ maritime border, vowing to wage a diplomatic offensive to thwart Jerusalem’s efforts to ensure unrestricted access to lucrative natural gas reserves.

“Israel’s measures have created a new point of tension in the region and threaten peace and security across this region,” Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said in Beirut, claiming the frontier, as proposed by Israel, cut through Lebanon’s economic zone.

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Countries usually negotiate maritime borders among themselves, but without diplomatic negotiations between the neighboring states, the issue is to be resolved at the United Nations.

“For sure we will [file a complaint],” Mansour told the Daily Star newspaper. “This is an aggression on our gas and oil rights and we will not remain silent... This is a de facto policy that will not bring peace for Israel. Israel is creating a new area of tension.”

Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea, however, took a more restrained tone, urging the government not to drag the country into a regional conflict over the maritime border dispute. Geagea said the Beirut government bears full responsibility for protecting Lebanon’s sea borders, and urged the government to prevent Hezbollah from making a “strategic decision” that might conflict with that of the cabinet.

“Demanding maritime rights is one thing, and dragging the issue of borders into a bigger regional conflict is another thing – and totally different,” Geagea told reporters at his home in Meerab, south of the coastal city of Sidon.



But Lebanon’s president came down squarely on the side of the foreign minister.

“President Michel Suleiman warns against any unilateral decisions Israel may take on maritime borders that would be a breach of international law, as is Israel’s habit,” read a statement from the president’s office. “Lebanon will defend its rights and resources by any and all legitimate means.”

Suleiman said the issue would be discussed at the first meeting of Lebanon’s fragile new government.

Energy Minister Jibran Bassil also joined the fray, denouncing Israel’s proposed sea border as an aggression.

“We are not attacking anyone but we should not accept that anyone will attack us – even by one centimeter,” he told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television.

Recent years have seen the discovery of two major gas fields off of the eastern Mediterranean coast. In December, Jerusalem reached an agreement with Cyprus marking the two countries’ sea borders. That agreement came after Cyprus came to a similar understanding four years ago with Lebanon, though that pact has yet to be approved in the Lebanese parliament.

Israel’s cabinet approved its border map on Sunday for submission to the UN, but Lebanese officials say the map conflicts sharply with the map they had already presented to the world body.

Israeli officials said ministers at the meeting simply extended a straight line from the so-called Blue Line (the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel published by the United Nations in June 2000) to the southernmost point of the Cyprus-Lebanon agreement.

The map Lebanon recently submitted to the UN, they said, runs south of the line to which it agreed with Cyprus.

Officials attributed the current dust-up to Hezbollah’s growing clout in the government and the militant group’s interest in retaining any available pretext for continuing its fight against Israel.

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