BEIRUT: Hezbollah deputy head Naim Qassem Sunday joined calls for Lebanon to start drilling for oil and gas off its southern coast to prevent Israel from stealing it.

“If we act now on this subject, Israel will not be able to take or steal our wealth,” Qassem said during a private meeting with mukhtars, mayors and members of municipal councils in the southern city of Tyre.

The comments come in light of a controversy surrounding Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas, and Israel’s suspicious activities inside the area that Lebanon considers its Exclusive Economic Zone.

The EEZs claimed by Israel and Lebanon overlap, and Lebanese officials accuse Israel of drilling to extract oil from a roughly 850 square kilometer area of sea that Beirut says is its own.

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

In his meeting Sunday, Qassem also touched on the Future-Hezbollah dialogue that kicked off last week, saying it was “beneficial for Lebanon because it brings closer the points of views on how to deal with many issues.”

However, he said that many of the big problems in Lebanon will not be resolved anytime soon because of their dependence on regional developments.

The first dialogue session brought top officials from Hezbollah and the Future Movement together at the residence of Speaker Nabih Berri last week.

Both sides have said that the dialogue is mostly aimed at easing sectarian tensions.
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