Lebanon names team for maritime border talks with Israel

BEIRUT (AP) - Lebanon announced the names of its delegation on Monday, which will have indirect talks with Israel later this week over the controversial maritime border between the two countries.
The announcement by President Michel Aoun's office comes two weeks after Lebanon and Israel reached an agreement on a framework for the US-brokered talks. Talks are due to begin Wednesday at the headquarters of the United States Peacekeeping Force in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqoura.
Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically at war. They each claim about 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean as being within their own exclusive economic zones.
Aoun's office said the Lebanese delegation of four will be led by the Brig Air Force. Gene. Bassam Yassin. The three other members are Lieutenant Colonel Mazen Basbous, the Lebanese oil official Wissam Chbat and the border specialist Najib Massihi.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will lead the Israeli delegation, according to Israeli officials.
Lebanese officials have arranged for a team of experts to be dispatched to show that talks with Israel this week are purely technical and will not mean normalization between the two countries.
Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon said last week that the talks do not mean reconciliation with Israel. A statement by the Hezbollah bloc in parliament last week said that defining the limit of “national sovereignty” was the responsibility of the Lebanese state.
During the talks, the Lebanese delegation will speak to the Israelis through representatives from the United States and the United States.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Schenker, the leading American diplomat for the Middle East, will be in Lebanon ahead of talks for the opening session, the State Department said.
It added that Schenker will be assisted by Ambassador John Desrocher, who will act as US mediator for these negotiations.
The agreement to start talks on the maritime border "is a critical step forward that offers the potential to bring stability, security and prosperity to Lebanese and Israeli citizens alike," the State Department said in a statement on Monday.
The talks take place as Lebanon is going through the worst economic and financial crisis in modern history. Beirut hopes that oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help to get out of the crisis.
Lebanon started offshore drilling earlier this year and is expected to start gas drilling in the disputed area with Israel in the coming months.
Lebanon and Israel hold monthly tripartite indirect meetings in Naqoura to discuss violations along their border. The countries also negotiated indirectly in the 1990s when Arab states and Israel worked to reach peace deals. Although the Palestinians and Jordan signed agreements with Israel, Lebanon and Syria did not.

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