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Lebanon confirms talks with Israel over disputed sea border

Lebanon confirms talks with Israel over disputed sea border

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s parliament speaker confirmed Thursday that an agreement has been reached on a framework of indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel over a longstanding disputed maritime border between the two countries.

Israel announced the talks last week, saying Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will lead the Israeli delegation. Thursday's declaration by Speaker Nabih Berri is the first confirmation by Lebanon that the negotiations will take place.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones.

Berri said the U.S.-mediated talks will be held at the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the southern border town of Naqoura under the banner of the United Nations. He did not give a start date for the talks.

Indirect talks mean that Lebanese army negotiators will not be speaking directly to members of the Israeli delegation but through U.N. officials.

The United States has been mediating between Lebanon and Israel since 2010 until a breakthrough was reached in July on the framework for the indirect talks, Berri said.

He said the U.S. mediation stalled but it received a push in March last year during a visit to Beirut by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during which he discussed the dispute with Lebanese officials.

The agreement on the framework comes as Lebanon is going through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. Beirut is hoping that oil and natural gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it pay back its massive debt.

Lebanon began offshore drilling earlier this year and is expected to start drilling for gas in the disputed area with Israel before in the coming months.