Israel says accepts US-mediated talks with Lebanon on sea border

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel's energy minister said Monday his country had agreed to enter US-mediated talks with Lebanon on maritime borders that would have an impact on offshore oil and gas exploration.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a statement after meeting US State Department official David Satterfield that Israel agreed to move forward with the talks.

Lebanese officials said last week that Satterfield, the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, had informed them that Israel agreed to the negotiations. Israel had not commented at the time.

Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters, including for a block disputed by its southern neighbour Israel, with which it has fought several wars.

A consortium composed of energy giants Total, Eni and Novatek was awarded two of Lebanon's 10 exploration blocks last year.

It is set to start drilling in block 4 in December, and later in the disputed block 9.

Last year, Total said it was aware of the border dispute in less than eight percent of block 9 and said it would drill away from that area.

In April, Lebanon invited international consortia to bid for five more blocks, which include two also adjacent to Israel's waters.

Israel also produces natural gas from reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean.

Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, although the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after two decades of occupation.