Lebanese officials hold talks over border dispute amid anger over port blast
BEIRUT: Lebanese officials began internal talks on Thursday in preparation for a response to US envoy Amos Hochstein, who urged them to settle a maritime border dispute with Israel.
Hochstein passed on ideas to move forward the negotiations, which have been stalled for several months.
After meeting Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday, presidential adviser and former minister Elias Abi Saab said, “We have assessed the meetings that have taken place, where is Lebanon’s interest and what are the next steps for this visit. There is a step forward in what the mediator has presented, but nothing is final yet, and we will see how his results will be.
“Some things need to be completed internally, and there are things that Hochstein will present later.”
Hochstein, who is the US State Department’s senior adviser on global energy security, arrived in Lebanon on Tuesday to restart talks between Lebanon and Israel over a maritime border dispute that is delaying oil and gas exploration.
Although the ideas he conveyed to the Lebanese side have not been revealed, it was reported that he had “made a positive offer regarding line 23, giving Lebanon the 860 km2 area it demands , in addition to preserving the entire field of Cana. “
Before leaving Lebanon on Wednesday evening, Hochstein said Lebanon had the opportunity to reach an agreement. “We are filling in the gaps in the maritime delimitation file,” he said.
He linked the conclusion of an agreement to the resolution of the economic crises in which Lebanon is mired, stressing that Lebanon must meet its needs. “Let’s see something that works, that the necessary reforms are adopted, are in place and are serious, and then the international community will support Lebanon,” he said.
The leader of the Lebanese Phalange Party, Sami Gemayel, said in response to the visit: “In a failed state, the international negotiator must negotiate with all the political and security authorities and become a justice of the peace between them.
Businessman Bahaa Hariri tweeted: “Time has come for the maritime border demarcation file to witness the birth of a solution away from the quotas of the political class and the mistakes made by Lebanon from fact of its influence.
“Reaching an agreement as soon as possible can be a step towards mitigating the severity of the economic collapse.”
Retired soldiers staged a sit-in at the intersection of the presidential palace in Baabda, coinciding with a Cabinet session.
They called on the Cabinet not to approve the 2022 draft budget as it failed to ensure “justice, equality and the right to a decent life, livelihood and medicine”.
They said the proposed budget does not address the “needs and concerns of the lives of active duty and retired service members, but rather imposes additional taxes and costs that they cannot afford.”
The movement of retired military personnel has spread to Tripoli in northern Lebanon, where protesters staged a sit-in outside the branch office of Tripoli’s finance building and marched to Mikati’s home.
Others staged a sit-in outside Finance Minister Youssef Khalil’s house in the southern city of Tyre, and a similar move was carried out outside the Zahle Saray in the Bekaa.
Also on Thursday, dozens of families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion stormed the Beirut courthouse to demand faster court decisions in the case.
They were protesting the delay in ruling on requests for a response against the investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, to allow him to resume his investigations into the crime and publish the indictment.
Riot police attempted to prevent the families from entering the building and a stampede broke out.
The families managed to enter the palace, waving photos of their loved ones, the Lebanese flag and banners calling for “support for justice and for Judge Rola Al-Masry to expedite the demands for answers which hinder the investigation and the judicial process”.
They stressed the need for Bitar to resume his work and investigations.
Judge Suhail Abboud, first president of the Court of Cassation, met the demonstrators at the insistence of the families and activists accompanying them.
He told activists that Al-Masry was studying the matter carefully and that she would not retire until April, not this month.
The families’ spokesman, William Noun, who is also the brother of one of the victims of the explosion, expressed concern that the issue was getting diluted because of the way the case was being handled.
“It is completely unacceptable for the families of the martyrs,” he said.