As US envoy David Satterfield left Beirut Friday for Geneva without making any breakthrough in the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and the "Israeli" entity, President Michel Aoun warned the entity there would be "tragic consequences" if it encroached on Lebanese boundaries.
Aoun's warning was the latest chapter in an ongoing maritime boundary dispute between the two countries that are technically at war, heightening tensions in the southern border region fueled by "Israel's" construction of a cement wall and its threats over Lebanon's oil and gas exploration.
Aoun said that Lebanon's determination to defend its potential oil and gas wealth in its territorial waters deterred "Israel" from violating the Lebanese land and maritime border.
In a move that appeared to cast doubts on US mediation efforts to resolve the dispute, the president urged "Israel" to turn to international arbitration to settle the issue.
"The current situation does not permit 'Israel' to encroach on the [Lebanese] border because there is a Lebanese decision to defend the land and sea border," Aoun said in an interview with the Iraqi Al-Sumaria TV conducted during his official visit to Iraq this week. Excerpts of the interview were released by Aoun's media office Friday.
"Lebanon has maps dating back to the 20s that confirm its rights to its land. The whole world has [access to] them and they can't be manipulated. What Israel is demanding in this respect will lead to the loss of these rights," Aoun said. "Let ‘Israel' resort to [international] arbitration. Or else, the consequences could be tragic and 'Israel' realizes what that means to reach these consequences."
Speaker Nabih Berri also said this week that "there are ‘Israeli' maps that prove Lebanon's right to its maritime oil reserves, particularly in blocks 9 and 8."
Aoun said the maritime border dispute with ‘Israel' could be settled through a third party under United Nations sponsorship "to demarcate the border and resolve this problem."
The "Israeli" entity has recently ramped up its rhetoric against Lebanon over energy Block 9, a sliver of which lies in a disputed area. Earlier this month, Lebanon granted licenses to a consortium of three international companies for oil and gas exploration and production in two energy blocks, including Block 9, a move 'Israeli' Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called "very provocative."
In remarks published by An-Nahar newspaper Friday, Aoun said Lebanon's oil exploration would not be affected by "Israeli" threats.
"It is unlikely that the 'Israeli' threats will affect the start of oil exploration," the president said.
Aoun also said that Satterfield, the acting US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, did not bring any new proposals during his visit to Beirut this week after returning from the entity where he discussed the border dispute with officials there.
With his shuttle diplomacy, Satterfield has been acting as a mediator between Lebanon and the entity over the border dispute. He met with Berri, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to brief them on the results of his talks with the "Israeli" officials.
Sources close to Berri also said that Satterfield didn't bring any further suggestions for resolving the dispute, except for the already rejected "Hof Line" proposal.
In 2011, US diplomat Frederic Hof reportedly proposed that Lebanon acquire 550 square kilometers of the disputed 860 square kilometers that it insists is part of its maritime territory and abandon the remaining part to "Israel". Lebanon rejected the proposal.
In addition to the maritime border dispute, the "Israeli" entity has begun building a cement "separation wall" along the UN-demarcated Blue Line. Lebanon has warned against the wall passing through certain points that it has reservations on in the disputed territory.
In a series of tweets posted Friday, Bassil said that Lebanon is "not politically or militarily weak and we are able to protect our oil. We did not engage [in drilling operations] with urgency because 'Israel' is not able to start drilling in the contested areas. They ['Israelis'] cannot bar us from working in Block 9."
Separately, the European Union urged the Lebanese government to carry out economic reforms ahead of three international donor conferences in support of Lebanon. EU Ambassador to Lebanon Christina Lassen made the plea during a meeting with Berri, with whom she discussed recent developments in the region and Parliament's priorities ahead of parliamentary elections slated for May 6. Lassen highlighted the potential of the three upcoming conferences in Rome, Paris and Brussels to support the stability and further economic development of Lebanon.
To ensure the success of the conferences to attract public- and private-sector investments, she called for "further accelerating the government's reform program, stressing that it is imperative that economic reforms as well as concrete steps to implement Lebanon's dissociation policy are undertaken immediately," according to a statement released by the EU's media office in Beirut.
"The success of all three support conferences depends on Lebanon embarking on a track of sustainable growth and stability and a clear understanding of mutual commitments and accountability," Lassen said.
She called for "a clear plan from the government to tackle reforms, including measures to stabilize the fiscal situation, balance the debt, and strengthen the public investment management framework, including through legislation on anti-corruption."
The EU envoy expressed hope that the 2018 draft state budget would be passed before the Paris IV Conference, also known as "Cedre Conference."
Set for April 6, the conference is designed to garner international support for Lebanon's economy and infrastructure.
Ahead of Paris IV, the Rome II Conference to enlist support for the Lebanese Army and security forces is set for March 15 in Italy.
A third international conference, set to be held in Brussels later in the spring, will focus on support for Syrian refugees in the region.
Referring to the border row between Lebanon and the "Israeli" entity, Lassen expressed support for the efforts to de-escalate current tensions concerning Lebanon's southern borders and encouraged continued diplomatic engagement from all sides to resolve the dispute.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team