Lebanon, Israel hold talks over disputed maritime border

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Lebanon and Israel have held a short opening round of indirect talks over their disputed maritime border.

The session, which was held on Wednesday October 14, 2020, was mediated by US officials, and both sides insisted the series of talks are purely technical and not a sign of any normalisation of ties.

The opening round of discussions was held at the headquarters of UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in the Lebanese border town of Naqoura.

Lebanon’s delegation head said he hopes the talks will resolve the maritime border dispute within a “reasonable time”.

“The talks mark a first step in the thousand-mile march towards the demarcation of the maritime frontier,” Brigadier General Bassam Yassin said statement issued after the session.

“Based on the higher interests of our country, we are looking to achieve a pace of negotiations that would allow us to conclude this dossier within reasonable time,” he added.

The talks came against the backdrop of Lebanon’s spiralling economic crisis, the worst in its modern history, and following a wave of US sanctions that recently included two influential former cabinet ministers allied with the armed Hezbollah group.

Israel, the US, as well as some other Western and Arab countries consider the Iran-allied Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Israel has said that there will be “direct negotiations”, something Lebanese officials have denied.

Israel sent a six-member team, including the director-general of its energy ministry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser and the head of the army’s strategic division.

Lebanon’s four-member delegation comprised two army officers, a Lebanese oil official and a maritime border law expert.

A statement from Lebanon’s two main Shia parties, coming just hours before the meeting was due to start, called for reform of the negotiating team which they said must include only military officials, without any civilians or politicians.

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