Lebanon and Israel have held their first talks in 30 years aimed at resolving a long-running dispute over their maritime border in the emerging East Mediterranean gas production hub.
The brief first session on Wednesday was hosted by the United Nations and mediated by the US who has been pushing both sides to demarcate their marine borders.
It is not immediately clear if any progress was made in the talks held in in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura, near the Israeli border.
The meeting lasted about an hour and the teams are expected to gather again on 28 October.
The head of Lebanon’s delegation 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 was quoted as saying in a 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.”
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 has a maritime border dispute with Israel over an area of about 860 square kilometres extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern exploration blocks.
Lebanon licensed a consortium of France’s Total, Italy's Eni and Russia’s Novatek in 2018 to carry out the country’s first offshore energy exploration in two of the blocks. One of the blocks, Block 9, contains waters disputed with Israel.
The powerful Iran-backed group Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government, had in the past repeatedly got in the way of starting talks with Israel, which has on its part opposed UN mediation.
After a massive explosion at Beirut's port in August and growing public criticism of Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese politics, Lebanon has shown greater readiness to negotiate with Israel.
The Total-led consortium failed to find commercial reserves with the Byblos-1 well on Block 4 in April.
The French supermajor said it is aware of the border dispute affecting less than 8% of Block 9 and would ensure to drill away from the disputed area.