Hezbollah warns Israel of border dispute with Lebanon


BEIRUT — The leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on Tuesday issued a warning to Israel’s sworn enemy over the maritime border dispute between the two countries, saying “any weapon” that manages to steal Lebanon’s wealth “will be cut off “.

Hassan Nasrallah’s remarks came amid intensified US efforts to resolve a more than decade-old maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon, which have been officially at war since Israel’s establishment in 1948.

Both countries claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon also claims the Karish gas field is in disputed territory under ongoing maritime border negotiations, while Israel claims it is within its internationally recognized economic waters.

Amos Hochstein, a senior energy security adviser at the US State Department who mediated the dispute, met with senior Lebanese officials last week. After the talks, he said the two countries were getting closer to an agreement on the dispute.

Hochstein reportedly then visited Israel and is expected to return to Beirut in the coming weeks with Israeli responses to Lebanese requests.

Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies who fought a month-long war in the summer of 2006. Israel views the Iran-backed Shia militant group as its most serious immediate threat, estimating that Hezbollah possesses some 150,000 rockets and missiles targeting Israel.

In his speech at a rally south of Beirut attended by tens of thousands to mark Ashoura, Nasrallah said Lebanon “should be ready for all possibilities”.

“We will not tolerate the idea of ​​our wealth being stolen,” Nasrallah said.

Ashura is one of the most important days in the Shia religious calendar, commemorating the 7th century martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

Lebanon badly needs a maritime border deal in the Mediterranean as it hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves to try to alleviate what has become the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

Last month, the Israeli army shot down three unarmed Hezbollah drones flying over the Karish field. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati then criticized Hezbollah, saying the move could pose risks for the country. Hezbollah then released drone footage showing Israeli ships in the area.

“Don’t make mistakes with Lebanon or with the Lebanese people,” Nasrallah said. “Any arm that tries to reach for some of this (Lebanese) wealth will be cut off.”

Nasrallah also warned Israel not to target any Palestinian officials in Lebanon as part of a ceasefire that ended three days of deadly fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip. The Islamic Jihad group, along with the much larger Hamas militant group that rules Gaza, is an ally of Hezbollah.

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