image Photo: Reuters

Lebanon expands claim in Israeli sea dispute

Lebanon has further enlarged maritime territory it maintains is part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Mediterranean Sea, amid stalled talks with Israel to resolve a dispute over the area.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab signed a draft decree that had been pre-approved by the country’s Minister of Defense Zeina Adra and Public Works Minister Michael Najjar.

“We will not give up any inch of our homeland or a drop of its waters or an inch of its dignity,” Najjar said at a news conference yesterday.

The amendment adds about 1,400 square kilometers (540 square miles) to the EEZ over the initial Decree 6433 Lebanon submitted to the United Nations in 2011.

The amendment has now been referred to Lebanese President Michel Aoun to greenlight, followed by a request that the UN formally register the newly-established coordinates.

United States-mediated negotiations between Israel and Lebanon were re-launched in October to try to resolve the dispute over their maritime border, that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area. The talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by Washington, have since been suspended.

Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore reserves, although Lebanon has yet to discover any commercial gas reserves in its own waters.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz condemned the latest move by Beirut, saying that it would further derail a negotiated solution.

“Unilateral Lebanese measures will, of course, be answered with parallel measures by Israel,” he also cautioned in a statement.

Lebanon is struggling to cope with a deep financial meltdown that is threatening national stability, as part of the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.