Bou Saab says Israel deal possible within days as leaders meet in Baabda

President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and PM-designate Najib Mikati held a meeting Monday in Baabda to discuss a U.S. proposal to demarcate the maritime border with Israel -- a step that could allow both countries to explore offshore resources.

The meeting followed another by a Lebanese technical team and advisors to Aoun, Berri and Mikati. The technical team later joined the meeting of the three leaders.

“Things are on the right track and Lebanon’s stance is unified,” Mikati said after the talks.

“I had some observations and so did Speaker Berri and the technical committee endorsed them. The main pillars and basics won’t be touched and things are facilitated,” Mikati added.

Berri for his part said that the meeting was positive and that Lebanon’s stance is unified.

“Things are fast-paced and it is possible to sign the agreement with the Israeli side within days,” Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab for his part said.

Asked about the reports that Israel will obtain a share from the Qana field revenues, Bou Saab said: “Lebanon has got its full rights in the Qana field and I won’t say more.”

“The technical team unified all the stances and we unified all the observations in order to submit a report to the mediator and we hope that (U.S. mediator Amos) Hochstein will receive the Lebanese response tomorrow,” Bou Saab added.

“In light of this, he will present it to the other side and we hope to receive an answer by the end of the week,” Bou Saab said.

He also clarified that the Lebanese response is not final but rather in response to the proposal submitted Saturday by Hochstein.

“The devil in the details has become small and not big,” Bou Saab added.

Bou Saab did not elaborate on Lebanon's feedback but said they included "legal and logical" notes.

LBCI television meanwhile reported that the Lebanese observations have been divided into three categories: “essential, ordinary and trivial that can be ignored.”

“The participants in the meetings stressed that all these observations should not affect the signing of the agreement between the Lebanese and Israeli sides,” LBCI added.

The draft agreement floated by Hochstein aims to settle competing claims over offshore gas fields and was delivered to Lebanese and Israeli officials at the weekend.

Washington's offer has not been made public, but it has raised hopes that a deal could be reached after years of negotiations.

An agreement would mark a crucial step for Lebanon as it grapples with its worst-ever economic crisis.

Lebanon and Israel are officially at war and their land border is patrolled by the United Nations.

They reopened negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, but the process was stalled by Lebanon's demand that the map used by the U.N. in the talks be modified.

The negotiations resumed in early June after Israel moved a production vessel near the Karish offshore field.

The most recent proposal by Washington was welcomed by both Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah, which considers Israel its arch-enemy.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who had repeatedly threatened Israel with attacks if it proceeds with extraction in disputed areas before a deal is reached, welcomed Saturday's developments as "a very important step."

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid also welcomed the agreement, which he said grants Israel full claim over the disputed Karish field as well as profits from the nearby "Sidon reservoir", known as the Qana field, which will fall to Lebanon.

Lapid on Monday said on Twitter that "Israel gets 100 percent of its security needs, 100 percent of Karish and even some of the profits from the Lebanese reservoir."

But Aoun on Monday said "there will be no partnership with the Israel," while Bou Saab insisted Lebanon will have "full rights over Qana."

In the event that a final agreement is reached, Lebanon will not sign a treaty with Israel, given that the two sides are still at war, Bou Saab said.

Instead, a mechanism will be put in place to register the demarcation with the United Nations.

Source: Agence France Presse, Naharnet

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