Lebanon and Israel have reached a historic agreement demarcating a disputed maritime border between them after years of U.S.-mediated negotiations, officials said.
On Wednesday, Israel’s Security Cabinet approved the agreement. “Cabinet members expressed support for promoting the approval procedures of the agreement by the government,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office said in a statement.
It said the majority of the cabinet members voted in favor of the deal except for Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked who abstained from voting.
The statement stressed on the “importance and urgency in reaching the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon at this time.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun described the sea border demarcation agreement with Israel as “a gift to the Lebanese people,” adding that it will “pull Lebanon out of the abyss.”
“The situation in Lebanon deteriorated a lot after the country fell into an abyss that wasn’t a coincidence, but rather as a result of actions and behavior that led it to the current situation,” Aoun said.
“The aid dispensed to Lebanon through the Paris 1, Paris 2 and Paris 3 conferences was of no use due to a main reason, which is the failure to change the governance method, and because of the waste of funds that characterized the work of institutions and administrations,” the President added.
As for the demarcation deal, Aoun said it will “allow Lebanon to extract oil and gas, which will pull Lebanon out of the abyss it was thrown into.”
Aoun also called for holding accountable those responsible for “the theft of public funds” and said that “the gradual repatriation of Syrians will begin as of the end of next week.”
Lebanon and Israel have been locked in a dispute over a maritime area of 860 square kilometers (332 square miles), according to maps sent by both countries to the UN in 2011.
The area is rich in natural gas and oil. Starting in 2020, five sessions of indirect negotiations have been held on the issue under UN sponsorship and US mediation, with the latest round held in May 2021.
U.S. President Joe Biden called both Aoun and Lapid on Tuesday to congratulate them.
The agreement is meant to resolve a territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean sea in an area where Lebanon aims to explore for natural gas. Israel is already producing natural gas at fields nearby.
It sets a border between Lebanese and Israeli waters for the first time and also establishes a mechanism for both countries to get royalties from TotalEnergies’ exploration of an offshore gas field that straddles the boundary.
The deal does not touch on their shared land border, where Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese armed group Hezbollah have clashed repeatedly in recent decades.