Lebanon looks to block Israeli frontier wall

Beirut: Lebanon on Tuesday pledged a diplomatic push to prevent neighbouring Israel’s construction of a dividing wall between the two countries as tensions mount over off-shore exploration for oil and gas.

President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri pledged to “pursue efforts to mobilise at the regional and international level to block building of the wall by Israel”, a statement said after a meeting.

Israel has been building a wall since 2012 on its volatile frontier with Lebanon – with the two countries still technically in a state of war.

Israel and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah fought a devastating conflict in 2006.

Lebanon says part of the wall follows the UN-demarcated “Blue Line” that was drawn up after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and insists some sections will cut into its territory.

The renewed focus on the wall comes as the two sides spar over Lebanon’s plans to explore for oil and gas off shore in waters eyed by both sides.

Beirut is set to sign contracts with a consortium including French firm Total, Italian company ENI and Russia’s Novatek to begin looking for energy deposits off its Mediterranean coast in 2019.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman last month said awarding such bids amounted to “provocative behaviour” by Lebanon’s government.

The statement from Lebanon’s presidency denounced the Israeli “allegations” and warned against attempts to “usurp” its resources.

Despite the hostility between the two countries, Israeli and Lebanese military officials meet regularly under the auspices of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to discuss border issues.

On Monday a meeting was held and discussions focused on “engineering works south of the Blue Line,” UNIFIL said in a statement.

“Any activity close to the Blue Line should be predictable, with sufficient prior notification to allow for coordination by the parties, so as to avoid misunderstandings and prevent incidents,” it added.

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