Israel, Lebanon sign US-brokered maritime border deal in rare diplomatic feat

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Israeli and Lebanese leaders signed a landmark US-brokered agreement on their maritime boundary on Thursday, marking a diplomatic departure from decades of hostility and opening the way to offshore energy exploration.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun signed a letter approving the deal in Baada, followed by Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s signature in Jerusalem, with a handover ceremony of less-senior delegations set to take place at the UN peacekeeping base in Naqoura along the border.

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Lapid hailed the deal as a “tremendous achievement” and Lebanese negotiator Elias Bou Saab said it marked the beginning of “a new era" between the two sides, which nevertheless remain technically at war.

The accord removes one source of potential conflict between Israel and Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and could help alleviate Lebanon’s economic crisis.

After meeting Lebanon’s speaker of parliament Nabih Berri, Amos Hochstein, the US envoy who mediated the negotiation, told reporters he expects the agreement to hold even amid changes in leadership in both countries.

Hochstein referred to both upcoming elections in Israel on November 1 and the end of Aoun’s term on October 31, saying the accord should be kept up “regardless of who is elected very soon as next president of Lebanon.”

An offshore energy discovery - while not enough on its own to resolve Lebanon’s deep economic problems - would be a major boon, providing badly needed hard currency and possibly one day easing crippling blackouts.

While Lebanon and Israel have both voiced satisfaction with having settled a dispute peacefully, prospects for a wider diplomatic breakthrough appear remote.

“We have heard about the Abraham Accords. Today there is a new era. It could be the Amos Hochstein accord,” Saab said, referring to the 2020 US-brokered normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Lapid said: “It is not every day that an enemy country recognizes the state of Israel, in a written agreement, in view of the international community,” Lapid told his cabinet in broadcast remarks.

Aoun however has insisted that a deal will not lead to a normalization of ties between the two states.

Aoun on Thursday assured that the US-brokered maritime border deal would not change the foreign policy of his country, which officially remains in a state of war with Israel.

In a statement from the presidential palace after he signed the agreement, Aoun said it would have "no political dimensions or impacts that contradict Lebanon’s foreign policy.”

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