After a nearly six-month pause, Lebanon and Israel on Tuesday resumed indirect talks with U.S. mediation over their disputed maritime border.
The five-hour negotiations round was held “amid total secrecy and away from the media spotlight,” Lebanon’s National News Agency said.
“The Lebanese side insisted on its right to its maritime border and to every drop of water, according to the internationally-recognized law of the sea,” NNA added.
The Lebanese and American delegations had arrived from Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport aboard two military helicopters, as Naqoura and the southern coast witnessed intensive patrols by the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL peacekeepers.
UNIFIL also staged maritime and aerial patrols and Israeli aircraft intensively overflew Naqoura and the sea off it, NNA said.
The resumption of talks comes after a nearly six-month pause.
It also comes after a new U.S. administration took over.
Lebanon, witnessing the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, is eager to resolve the border dispute with Israel, paving the way for potential lucrative oil and gas deals.
Local media said the talks were held at a U.N. post along the border known as Ras Naqoura, on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Naqoura. The Lebanese delegation spoke through U.N. and U.S. officials to the Israelis.
American Ambassador John Desrocher, who serves as the U.S. mediator, arrived in Beirut Monday night to take part in the talks.
The U.S. has been mediating the issue for about a decade, but only late last year was a breakthrough reached on an agreement for a framework for U.S.-mediated talks. The talks began in October but stopped few weeks later.
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their own exclusive economic zones.
In the second round of talks, the Lebanese delegation — a mix of army officers and civilian experts — offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers for Lebanon.
Lebanon’s leadership is not united behind the Army Command’s decision regarding the extended area.
“There is weakness in the Lebanese stance and it is important for the Israelis to join the talks when Lebanon is in a weak position,” said Laury Haytayan, a Lebanese oil and gas expert.
Israel already has developed a natural gas industry elsewhere in its economic waters, producing enough gas for domestic consumption and to export to Egypt and Jordan.
Lebanon, which began offshore drilling earlier this year and hopes to start drilling for gas in the disputed area in the coming months, has divided its expanse of waters into 10 blocs, of which three are in the area under dispute with Israel.
Ras Naqoura already hosts monthly tripartite, indirect Israel-Lebanon meetings over violations along the land border.
Israel and Lebanon also held indirect negotiations in the 1990s, when Arab states and Israel worked on peace agreements. The Palestinians and Jordan signed agreements with Israel at the time but Lebanon and Syria did not.