Lebanon Asks French Help in Maritime Dispute with Israel

YERUSHALAYIM -

The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament has turned to France to help resolve a dispute with Israel over rights to an offshore zone believed to contain major gas and oil fields.

Speaker Nabih Berri claimed that Israel was seeking to encroach on Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, and that if not resolved it could lead to war.

During a visit by French President Francois Hollande over the weekend, he asked his guest to mediate the dispute, according to the daily Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal.

“Israel is claiming part of the EEZ as its own when in fact we have evidence of the contrary,” Berri told Hollande, who was in Lebanon for a two-day visit at the start of four days of meetings in the region.

“This dispute is hindering our efforts to invest in our oil and gas wealth,” he lamented.

“This is a problem that Israel is creating and it may spark a war,” a parliamentary source quoted Berri as saying.

The maritime dispute stems from Lebanon’s rejection of the maritime agreement signed between Israel and Cyprus in 2011. As a result, Israel opposes Lebanon’s repeated attempts to grant international oil companies licenses to explore for oil and gas in the disputed region.

According to the report, the area in question consists of over 323 square miles of territorial water. Beirut claims a maritime map it submitted to the United Nations matches an armistice accord with Israel from 1949 that is not contested by Israel.

It is not the first time Lebanon has tried to enlist international support in pressing its claim in the area. In 2014, Berri made a similar appeal to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit to Lebanon, calling on the U.S. to continue its efforts to resolve the dispute with Israel.

A U.S. Geological Survey in 2010 said the field may contain up to 123 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil.