Israel And Lebanon has reached a historic agreement, leaders from each side said separately on Tuesday, resolving a years-long maritime border dispute involving key oil and gas fields in the Mediterranean.
The United States is trying to reach an agreement between neighboring countries over an 860-square-kilometer (332-square-mile) area of the sea that has been disputed for years.
It includes the Karish oil and gas field and an area known as the Qana prospect, which are expected to fall in Israeli and Lebanese waters, respectively, according to the agreement. Israel has said it will begin extracting oil and gas from Karish and export it to Europe.
“The final version of the offer is satisfactory to Lebanon and meets its demands and preserves Lebanon’s rights to this natural resource,” Lebanese President Michel Aoun said in a statement hours after receiving Israel’s final offer through American mediator Amos Hochstein.
Aoun said he hoped the deal, pending signing, would be announced “as soon as possible”.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said: “This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel’s security, inject billions into Israel’s economy and ensure the stability of our northern border.”
The draft agreement meets all the security and economic principles laid down by Israel, Lapid said.
Israel’s prime minister will convene a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday, followed by a special cabinet meeting, he said.
Lebanese officials have said that the agreement does not mean that any “treaty” will be signed with Israel, and that the agreement is not technically a step toward normalizing relations between the two countries at war.
Earlier Tuesday, Lebanese negotiator and deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab told CNN that “Lebanon felt that [the deal] All Lebanon’s needs are taken into account and we believe the other side should feel the same way.”
Meanwhile, Israeli chief negotiator Eyal Hulata said: “All our demands were met, the changes we asked for were corrected. We have protected Israel’s security and we are on the way to a historic agreement.
On Tuesday, Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad also said French energy company Total, which owns the contract to explore Lebanese waters, would start work on the Qana prospect “immediately”.
Talks gained momentum after London-based oil and gas exploration company Energine arrived in June to begin development of the Karish field on behalf of Israel. Although the Energen ship is south of the disputed area, part of the field is in an area claimed by Lebanon.
The Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia, the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah, threatened Energen’s gas rigs if it began producing gas before the deal was reached.
On Tuesday, Hezbollah declined to comment when contacted by CNN, but the Iran-backed armed group has previously said it would abide by any agreement signed by the Lebanese government.
The historic agreement does not affect land borders, but it is likely to ease security and economic tensions for both nations.
Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Thursday that a deal would “deter us from a definitive war in the region.”