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Lebanon demands extra 1,430 sq. km. in US-brokered talks with Israel

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Lebanon called for an extra 1,430 square kilometers (550 sq. miles) on Wednesday during the second round of US-brokered negotiations with Israel over maritime borders between Beirut and Tel Aviv.

For years, the debate was over close to 860 sq. kilometers of disputed waters, where there are believed to be large swathes of natural gas reserves.

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But senior political and military sources in Lebanon told Al Arabiya English ahead of Wednesday’s session that the Lebanese Army Commander ordered the delegation heading the talks to state that Lebanon’s southern maritime border begins from Ras al-Naqoura toward the sea.

But Reuters reported that the Israeli team presented its own map that pushed the boundary farther north than its original position, according to a source familiar with what was discussed.

All sides agreed to have another session on Thursday.

This will be the third round of dialogue in less than a month after Washington spent years trying to mediate and find common ground for the talks to begin.

The first round of talks earlier this month was seen as positive, with little controversy surrounding any of the topics discussed that included opening speeches and each delegation’s positions.

Read more: Journalists covering border talks between Lebanon and Israel attacked by Hezbollah

While the formalities were relatively straightforward the first time around, officials dug into details and technicalities on Wednesday.

According to a Lebanese army study, Lebanon’s new maximalist approach references the border between the French and British mandate instead of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

“It also does not take into account Tekhelet’s island in Israel and other small rocks, as they are small and uninhabited,” said Laury Hatayan, the MENA Director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute.

In recent years, Lebanese officials have demanded that Beirut’s border begin from the “B1” point, demarcated in the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

The new directives appear to backtrack on that stance and demand Ras al-Naqoura as the starting point, giving Lebanon more than 1,400 sq. km. they had not claimed previously.

The Armistice Agreement “largely matches” with the international boundary line, or Paulet-Newcomb line, a Lebanese army source said.

Why does this matter?

Tekhelet, an island claimed by Israel, is around 1,800 meters south of Ras al-Naqoura and 1,000 meters west of the shore.

Based on this, the Lebanese army has conducted a new study based on the UN Law of the Sea Convention, ratified by Lebanon in 1982. This has not been agreed to or signed by Israel.

The Lebanese army source said that the delineation of the Lebanese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundaries allowed for the modification of the maritime boundary line, “provided that more accurate data is available, and this is the case.”

But this line would also cross the Karish Field, which Energean from Greece is prepping to dig in after signing a deal with Israel.

“Accordingly, the Karish field will be located in a disputed area which bears consequences on international companies drilling for oil and gas in this area. The same can be said of concession Block 72, which was open for bidding by Israel on June 2020,” the army source added.

Hatayan, an oil and gas expert, told Al Arabiya English that the Israelis probably expected this new Lebanese approach but that it was unclear how Tel Aviv would respond.

She noted that new dispute could result in Energean and other energy companies to refrain from investments in Block 72 or the Karish Field.

The US State Department said it does not comment on private, diplomatic discussions, when asked if the new Lebanese stance threatened the fate of the negotiations.

Read more: Initial Lebanon-Israel border talks were ‘productive’: US State Department

- With Reuters