February 21, 2018 / 12:18 PM / in 4 months

U.S. envoy visits Beirut, mediating in Lebanon-Israel dispute

BEIRUT, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A senior U.S. diplomat met Lebanon’s foreign minister on Wednesday in Beirut as part of a U.S. shuttle diplomacy effort to resolve a worsening dispute between Israel and Lebanon over a border wall and energy drilling in disputed waters.

Disputes over Israeli construction of the border wall, Lebanon’s start of oil and gas exploration at sea and the growing arsenal of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah have caused a spike in tensions between Lebanon and Israel, both friends of the United States that regard each other as enemies.

Lebanon this month signed its first offshore energy exploration and production agreements with a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek. One of two blocks given to the consortium, Block 9, contains waters claimed by Israel.

David Satterfield, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, has been shuttling back and forth between Israel and Lebanon in a bid to resolve the disputes.

He met Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Wednesday in Beirut. The two had last met last Friday, after which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated the Lebanese state’s rejection of U.S. proposals to resolve the maritime dispute as “unacceptable”.

This was an apparent reference to a maritime demarcation line proposed by U.S. diplomat Frederic Hof in 2012, which would give Lebanon around two thirds and Israel around one third of a disputed triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles).

Satterfield left both meetings without making any public comments.

The U.S. Embassy in Lebanon said Satterfield “continues to engage” on regional issues and on helping Lebanon develop its resources in agreement with its neighbours. (Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Peter Graff)

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