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Israel’s Lapid condemns Hezbollah in first cabinet meeting as PM

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Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid accused Hezbollah of undermining Lebanon’s efforts to reach an agreement on their disputed energy-rich maritime border, as the new premier hosted his first cabinet meeting Sunday.

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Lapid, who retains his previous post as Israel’s foreign minister, took over as prime minister on Friday from Naftali Bennett, his partner in a now defunct eight-party coalition.

On Saturday, Israel’s army said it had intercepted three drones launched by Hezbollah that were headed towards an offshore gas field in the Mediterranean, near a disputed area that is the subject of US-mediated maritime talks.

“Hezbollah is continuing on the path of terrorism and is hurting Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on a maritime border,” Lapid said.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement confirmed it had launched drones towards the Mediterranean’s Karish gas field.

Israel said the drones, which were not armed, were downed by a fighter jet and missiles launched from a warship as they headed towards the offshore area.

Israel and previous United Nations maps put Karish within Israel’s maritime borders, and not in the disputed area subject to ongoing negotiations.

But Lebanon last month condemned Israel when a vessel chartered by Israel and operated by London-listed Greek energy firm Energean entered the Karish field.

Hezbollah at the time warned Energean against proceeding with its activities.

Lebanon and Israel resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the UN in the talks needed modifying.

Lebanon initially demanded 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of waters it said were under dispute, but then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles), including part of the Karish field.

Rising tensions with Lebanon are among a growing list of foreign challenges facing Lapid, who will serve as a caretaker premier until elections set for November 1, Israel’s fifth vote in less than four years.

He is scheduled to hold talks in Paris this week with French President Emmanuel Macron as world powers revive efforts to restore a nuclear accord with Iran, which Israel opposes.

US President Joe Biden is also due in Israel later this month for his first trip to the Jewish state since taking office.

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