Lebanon, Israel begin landmark maritime border talks, says UN source

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Long-time foes Lebanon and Israel met briefly on Wednesday for unprecedented talks on their disputed maritime border but broke up after barely an hour and agreed to meet again in two weeks.

The talks were mediated by the United States, which has pushed for negotiations to resolve the argument over potentially gas-rich Mediterranean waters.

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Two Lebanese military helicopters were seen bringing the Lebanese delegation to the meeting. The Lebanese team was expected to be led by a military officer, and the Israeli side by the director general of its energy ministry.

Agreement to hold the talks was announced weeks after the United States stepped up pressure on allies of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, imposing sanctions on senior politician from its main Shiite ally, the Amal party.

Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, says the talks are not a sign of peace-making with its long-time enemy. Israel’s energy minister has also said expectations should be realistic.

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The talks come after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain agreed to establish full relations with Israel, under US-brokered deals which realign some of Washington’s closest Middle East allies against Iran.

Wednesday’s meeting was hosted by the United Nations, which has monitored the land boundary since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000 and ended a 22-year occupation. The next talks will be held on Oct 28.

Hours before the first meeting, Hezbollah and Amal criticized the Lebanese delegation in its current form, calling for changing the team to ensure it includes only military officials.

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