U.S. bid to solve Lebanon-Israel EEZ row possibly revived – DAILY STAR

BEIRUT: American mediation efforts to resolve a maritime dispute between Israel and Lebanon appeared to be revived this week, following months of impasse over an oil-rich area in the Mediterranean Sea.

Reports of a deal emerged during the visit of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States, where he met President Barack Obama.

There, the two leaders discussed the issue of the maritime border, and the U.S. might soon present a settlement, according to Israel’s Channel 2 TV.

Israel and Lebanon both lay claim to an area that spans some 860 square kilometers off the coast of the two countries and is said to be rich in gas and oil.

But Mohammad Qabbani, head of Parliament’s Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee, questioned whether a new proposal could resolve the deadlock.

“I don’t know if the Americans have something new because they already tried to mediate around six months ago through Frederic Hof,” he said.

Qabbani was referring to a visit in February by U.S. Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs Frederic Hof, who said at the time that the White House was willing to help Israel and Lebanon to resolve the dispute over the EEZ – the maritime area in which a given state enjoys special rights governing the use of economic resources.

In February, the Americans tried to broker a compromise under which 550 square kilometers of the area would be recognized as Lebanese, while discussions over the rest of the EEZ would be put on hold, Qabbani said.

He added that the proposal was never officially tabled at the time. Lebanon’s officially lays claim to the entire EEZ, however.

“We want a full recognition of the entire border of our EEZ,” he said.

Lebanon’s EEZ is estimated to be worth between $5 billion and $8 billion.

Media reports Monday cited Lebanese sources familiar with the issue as saying the U.S. had presented a new package to Israel that includes a complete solution to the maritime border issue.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 02, 2013, on page 3.

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Spectrum begins first onshore oil survey in Lebanon DAILY STAR

BEIRUT: The first phase of the onshore oil and gas survey started Tuesday in the Batroun region amid expectations that Lebanon might be sitting on considerable gas wealth in some areas.

The British-based company Spectrum brought advanced mobile equipment to Batroun to explore the prospects of oil and gas in the area.

A spokesman for the company told The Daily Star that the first phase of the onshore oil and gas survey would continue until November.

He said the second phase would resume after the winter rainy season.

Experts believe that Lebanon may have substantial oil and gas wealth buried deep onshore, adding that some of the country’s geological structure is similar to Syria, which also has oil in its territories.

David Rowlands, the executive vice president of Spectrum, told The Daily Star that the results of this oil and gas survey would take several months at least.

“We have to study the land terrains and try to obtain permission from the owners of the land and municipalities before we survey for oil and gas. This is a long process,” Rowlands explained.

Asked about fate of gas licenses off the Lebanese coast, he said that companies were still waiting for the passage of two decrees announcing the 10 blocks available for bidding.

The decrees, demarcating 10 maritime oil exploration blocks and establishing a revenue-sharing model, require Cabinet approval before oil and gas contracts can be awarded.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated Wednesday that the caretaker Cabinet needed to convene in order to approve pending oil decrees and issue licenses for Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“Even if the Cabinet is a caretaker one, we are not against holding a Cabinet session provided that all the pending oil decrees are approved and licenses are issued,” Berri was quoted as saying during his weekly meeting with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh residence in Beirut.

Berri said all of Lebanon’s maritime oil wealth should be protected.

“It is our right to use all means to fully develop all our oil wealth,” he was quoted as saying, apparently hinting at the disputed maritime area with Israel.

Lebanon and Israel both lay claim to roughly 850 square kilometers of maritime area that is said to be rich in natural gas resources.

Delays in issuing the decrees could postpone offshore drilling and exploration. Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil has repeatedly called on the caretaker Cabinet to convene over the oil issue.

But sources said caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati was not too keen to call for a special Cabinet meeting to endorse the two decrees under the pretext that this move was unprecedented.

Forty-six international companies have submitted offers to drill for gas and oil off the Lebanese coast, but the delay in approving two important decrees has derailed efforts to draw the final list of companies that would start actual exploration.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2013, on page 5.

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Bassil: Some Lebanese don’t want to extract oil DAILY STAR

BEIRUT: Caretaker Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil Tuesday accused certain Lebanese political groups of blocking the passage of two oil decrees.

Speaking to reporters after inspecting the first oil survey in his hometown of Batroun, the minister said some Lebanese were endeavoring using all means to prevent Lebanon from taking full advantage of the oil and gas wealth off the Lebanese coast.

“The problem is not with Israel only but inside Lebanon as well. Unfortunately, there are some Lebanese who are hampering our work and this is exactly what Israel wants,” Bassil said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 03, 2013, on page 5.

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Hezbollah: Lebanon’s oil wealth at risk of Israeli piracy DAILY STAR
BEIRUT: Hezbollah warned Thursday that Lebanon’s oil and gas wealth was at risk of Israeli piracy if the caretaker government fails to issue licenses for the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

“The oil and gas sector in Lebanon is becoming vulnerable to Israeli piracy, because of mistakes made by an incompetent government on one hand and the deliberate obstruction of issuing licenses, by some in power, on the other hand,” MP Hassan Fadlallah said, reading out the bloc’s statement.

The statement added that Israel was “imposing facts and measures in international decision-making circles and institutions that impeded Lebanon’s ability to invest in the sector, especially if… the right to issue licenses is delayed or neglected.”

“Therefore, the caretaker government should convene a session to approve what needs to be approved,” it noted, saying this was the country’s highest priority.

The decrees, demarcating 10 maritime oil exploration blocks and establishing a revenue-sharing model, require Cabinet approval before oil and gas contracts can be awarded. The procedural delay is slowing down progress in the sector, Hezbollah argued.

The Loyalty to the Resistance bloc also spoke about the rising number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, criticizing some countries for exploiting the issue for political aid purposes.

“The bloc holds the U.N. chief responsible for negligence and deliberately delaying necessary aid for [Syrian refugees].”

The bloc also said that some countries could exploit humanitarian relief efforts and use it as a cover for Syrian rebels “with the aim of pressuring the Lebanese and interfering in their internal affairs,” he said.

Earlier this week, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour criticized what he said were baseless pretexts placed by some countries to withhold direct aid to Lebanon to manage the refugees. Hezbollah’s participation in the government was one factor that discouraged countries from providing direct aid.

Lebanon is in dire need for international support to help cope with the presence of some 1.3 million refugees that has burdened the country’s economy and host communities.

The bloc also praised officials and local figures in the eastern town of Baalbek for their cooperation with Hezbollah and the Army to contain clashes that erupted last week, affirming its keenness to maintain coexistence in the city between all sects. The bloc rejected “cheap political attempts” to destabilize the area.

Clashes between Hezbollah members and members from the Sunni Shiyyah family broke out last week over a personal dispute at a checkpoint set up by the resistance group. The fighting left four people killed and five others wounded.

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