BEIRUT: Israel is overtly stealing Lebanon’s underwater oil and gas reserves off the coast of south Lebanon as the government remains distracted over the issue of its kidnapped soldiers and policemen held by jihadi militants, Speaker Nabih Berri warned in comments published Monday.

Daily Al-Akhbar quoted Berri as saying that he had received credible information from an unnamed “international scientist” that Israel had started siphoning gas from one of Lebanon’s reserves in an area close to the southern border with Israel. The oil and gas is being siphoned at a very low cost, he added.

Berri deplored the fact that the government was not paying enough attention to the alleged theft, vowing to raise the issue of licensing for offshore gas exploration at the start of the new year.

The latest Israeli aggression on Lebanon would thrust back into the limelight the gas and oil issue and the need to approve as quickly as possible the long-delayed decrees for launching gas prospecting bids, the paper said.

Last August, the Lebanese government postponed for the fifth time the first round of licensing for offshore gas exploration due to political disagreements.

The dispute was over the designation of blocks open for bidding and the terms of a draft exploration and production agreement.

Experts had warned that some international companies were re-evaluating the situation in light of the repeated delays of the licensing round.
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