Cabinet during Final Session for 2012 to Focus on Refugees Crossing to Lebanon, Discuss Oil Tendersإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
The cabinet is expected on Thursday to focus on the humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees fleeing the turmoil in the neighboring country into Lebanon during its last session for 2012 as it will also tackle launching the first phase of issuing tenders for oil exploration, An Nahar newspaper reported Monday.
Sharp differences surfaced among cabinet members on how to deal with the mass influx of Syrian and Palestinian refugees into Lebanon from Syria, the daily said.
Energy Minister Jebran Bassil and Minister of State Ali Qanso from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party recently proposed closing the border with Syria and halting the influx of the refugees.
However, the proposal was confronted by fierce rejection by several ministers, who stressed that the government is incapable of implementing such a measure given that the state can't monitor and control the border and refugees would seek to use illegal crossings to enter the country.
Up until this week, around 10,000 Palestinians had fled from Syria to Lebanon, but since the latest violence another 3,000 had crossed the border or were in the process of crossing, U.N. Relief and Works Agency deputy chief of staff Lisa Gilliam said.
More than 150,000 Syrian refugees have fled the bloody conflict in their home country for Lebanon, according to figures released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Concerning the oil excavation in Lebanon’s territorial waters, As Safir newspaper reported Monday that if the government launched the tenders during its session on Thursday the companies wishing to participate in them would submit their applications in January 2013 and they will be studied by the newly-appointed members of the Petroleum Authority.
The daily said that in May the oil authority will kick off the tenders and receive the detailed offers by the companies, whereby after six months it will evaluate the offers and start negotiations with the companies.
In 2014, according to As Safir, the cabinet would ink the deals with the companies that won the tenders to kick off in 2015 the oil exploration off Lebanon's shore.
The formation of the Petroleum Authority in November was the first major step in future oil exploration since parliament passed a law last year setting the country's maritime boundary and Exclusive Economic Zone.
The members of the authority that has the power to negotiate with international oil companies and issue licenses for the winning firms are Nasser Hteit, Walid Nasser, Wissam al-Zahabi, Assem Abu Ibrahim, Wissam Shbat and Gaby Daaboul.
The head of the committee will be rotated each year between the six members to appease the major factions in the country.
Speaker Nabih Berri stressed in comments published in As Safir that this step would boost Lebanon's economic future and makes it a more adequate environment for investments.
Bassil voiced hope that the cabinet would approve releasing the tenders on Thursday's session as “we are ready for this stage and it would be unfortunate to waste another minute.”
Lebanon has been slow to exploit its maritime resources compared with other eastern Mediterranean countries. Israel, Cyprus and Turkey are all much more advanced in drilling for oil and gas.
The country has submitted to the United Nations a maritime map that conflicts significantly with one proposed by Israel.
The disputed zone consists of about 854 square kilometers (330 square miles), and suspected energy reserves there could generate billions of dollars.
Two companies working with the Lebanese authorities that specialize in three-dimensional exploration have already surveyed around half the Exclusive Economic Zone, Bassil said in September.
They found a large number of gas reservoirs all along the coast.
The area off the southern coast alone contains 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the minister said.