Lapid: Hezbollah undermining Lebanon ability to reach sea border deal


Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday warned that Israel would take any step necessary to "defend" itself, after it shot down three drones launched by Hezbollah a day earlier.

Hezbollah launched the unmanned aircraft toward an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea. The move appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area that is rich in natural gas.

"Hezbollah continues its path of terrorism, undermining Lebanon's ability to reach an agreement on the maritime border. Israel will continue to protect itself, its citizens and its assets," Lapid said.

He noted that the drones "attempted to damage Israeli infrastructure in Israel's economic waters."

Referring to Israel's domestic political turmoil, Lapid said: "The education crisis cannot wait. Budgets for hospitals cannot be postponed. The Iranians, Hamas and Hezbollah are not waiting. We have to act against them in all arenas, at any given moment, and that is exactly what we will do."

On Saturday, in his first speech as caretaker PM, Lapid had said: "I stand before you at this moment and say to everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don't test us."

"Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy," he added.

Israel last month set up a gas rig in the Karish field, which it says lies within part of its internationally recognized economic waters. Lebanon has claimed it is in disputed waters.

Hezbollah issued a short statement, confirming it had launched three unarmed drones toward the disputed maritime issue over the Karish field on a reconnaissance mission. "The mission was accomplished and the message was received" by Israel, it said.

Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the Iranian-backed Lebanese group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.

The U.S. last week said that mediator Amos Hochstein had held conversations with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. "The exchanges were productive and advanced the objective of narrowing differences between the two sides. The United States will remain engaged with parties in the days and weeks ahead," his office said in a statement last week.

Lebanon and Israel, which have been officially at war since Israel's creation in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

On Saturday, careraker Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters that Lebanon received "encouraging information" regarding the border dispute but refused to comment further saying Beirut is waiting for the "written official response to the suggestions by the Lebanese side."

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