Roundup: Israeli, Lebanese leaders agree on landmark maritime border deal

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JERUSALEM, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Israel and Lebanon have agreed to resolve a decades-long dispute over their maritime border in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, leaders of the two countries announced Tuesday.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun's office said in a statement that the final draft deal -- delivered to him by U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein, who brokers the negotiations between the two countries -- satisfied Lebanon and "meets its demands and preserves its rights to its natural wealth."

Minutes later, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement that his country was also satisfied with the draft.

"This is a historic achievement that will strengthen Israel's security, inject billions into Israel's economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border," Lapid said.

He did not provide further details about the draft agreement but said it "meets all the security and economic principles laid out by Israel."

Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite party and armed group in Lebanon that considers Israel its arch-foe, also gave a green light to the agreement, according to a report by the Al Arabiya TV news.

A senior Hezbollah official was quoted as saying that the group had accepted the terms of the deal and considers the negotiations "over."

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz welcomed the draft deal in a statement, saying it would bring calm and an economic boost to the region.

"Israel is interested in Lebanon as a stable and prosperous neighbor, and the agreement is fair and good for both sides," he said.

Gantz made the remarks during a situation assessment meeting at Israel's Northern Command, together with Army Chief Aviv Kochavi.

On Thursday, Israel heightened its military alertness near the Lebanese border after both Israel and Lebanon rejected the former proposal of the deal sent by Hochstein, sparking fears of possible escalation with Hezbollah.

The new deal lays the groundwork for resolving a long-standing dispute over an area in the Eastern Mediterranean containing at least two natural gas fields: Karish, an Israeli-developed natural gas field, and Qana, a smaller natural gas field that has yet to be explored.

Lebanon claimed part of Karish and Hezbollah has launched drones toward Karish several times, heightening the urgency of the talks.

Israel has insisted the Karish gas field is completely within its territory.

On Sunday, London-based Energean energy company announced in a statement that gas pumping testing began at the production facility of Karish following the Israeli government's approval.

Israel has repeatedly said it will start producing gas from Karish as soon as the preparations were completed, regardless of the result of the negotiation.

A senior Israeli official, talking to Xinhua on Tuesday on condition of anonymity, said that under the deal, the border will set Karish completely within Israeli territory.

The new border puts most of the Qana gas field within Lebanese territory. Lebanon could produce gas from the Qana field but would pay Israel the revenues for gas produced from the Israeli side, the official said.

French energy giant Total would be licensed to explore the field and would pay royalties to Lebanon and Israel, the official said.

He revealed that the security cabinet and the government will discuss the deal on Wednesday and that the deal will then be presented to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, with a vote expected within days.

Signing the deal would be considered a landmark breakthrough in the ties between the two countries, which have been in an official state of war since the creation of Israel in 1948.

However, it's unclear whether the Knesset will approve the deal or not.

Lapid wishes to conclude the deal before the country's parliamentary election on Nov. 1. But right-wing groups petitioned the Supreme Court, Israel's top court, to prevent Lapid, a centrist leader who heads an interim government ahead of the election, from signing it.

On Monday, right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu accused Lapid of "caving in" to Hezbollah by accepting the deal.

It remained unclear whether Netanyahu has seen the draft deal, which has yet to be presented at the Knesset.

Netanyahu seeks to reclaim the premiership he held for 12 consecutive years until he was ousted by a coalition headed by Lapid and former lawmaker Naftali Bennett in 2021.

He repeatedly said that the hawkish government he hopes to form after the elections with far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies will not be bound by any agreement with Lebanon. Enditem

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