Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on April 12 approved a draft decree expanding the country’s claims in a dispute with Israel over its maritime border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.
Hassan Diab signed off on the document after the minister of public works and the minister of defense earlier agreed to it.
The amendment would add about 1,400 sq km to the exclusive economic zone claimed by Lebanon in its original submission to the United Nations.
The draft decree relating to the amendment of the initial decree 6433 of 2011 has now been referred to the presidency for approval ahead of a request to the United Nations for a formal claim to register the new coordinates for the maritime zone.
Negotiations between old foes Lebanon and Israel were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute; yet, the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
“I expect it [the decree] will be signed as everyone—the minister of defense and the prime minister and the president—[is] concerned about this,” minister of public works Michel Najjar said during a news conference earlier on April 12.
Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields, but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Lebanon’s latest move would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution. “Unilateral Lebanese measures will, of course, be answered with parallel measures by Israel,” he said in a statement.
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
“We will not give up any inch of our homeland or a drop of its waters or an inch of its dignity,” Najjar said.
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