The negotiations to resolve the maritime border demarcation dispute between Lebanon and Israel have made “very good progress” but more work is required to reach a final agreement, US mediator Amos Hochstein said on Friday.
Delineating a shared maritime border would help determine which oil and gas resources belong to which country and pave the way for more exploration.
Hochstein arrived in Lebanon on Friday for a lightning round of talks with top officials – including the president, prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker of parliament as well as security officials.
“I think we’re making very good progress,” Hochstein said after meeting President Michel Aoun, deputy speaker Elias Bou Saab and General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim.
Later, before his departure from Beirut’s airport, he said: “I’m very hopeful, but more work needs to be done.”
Hochstein was last in Beirut in late July for meetings with Lebanese officials, saying afterward that he looked “forward to being able to come back to the region to make the final arrangement.”
At the time, a senior Israeli official told Reuters the government would present a new Israeli proposal that “includes a solution that would allow the Lebanese to develop the gas reserves in the disputed area while preserving Israel’s commercial rights.”
A Lebanese official said at the time that the proposal would allow Lebanon to explore the entire Qana Prospect, an area with the potential to hold hydrocarbons and which crosses beyond Line 23.
Line 23 is the maritime line that Lebanon first set as its border during negotiations, before ramping up its demands to a line further south. Exploration rights south of Line 23 would represent a concession by Israel
Tensions with Hezbollah continue
Last month, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly threatened to attack Israel if a deal was not reached concerning the border demarcation. In some statements, the Hezbollah leader has warned that the movement will act if Israel begins extracting gas before a deal is reached.
Despite reports from some Israeli and Lebanese media outlets that the extraction of gas at the Karish field would be delayed until at least next month due to concerns of an escalation with Hezbollah, Energean, the company operating the gas rig at the field, confirmed on Thursday that the extraction was still set to begin by the end of September.
“Our flagship Karish project is on track to start production within weeks and will enhance energy security in Israel and the region,” said Energean CEO Mathios Rigas.