Israeli Navy ship crosses into Lebanese waters

An Israeli Navy vessel crossed into Lebanese waters early Monday morning, breaching the contested maritime border, according to the Lebanon-based LBC TV news.

The ship was detected by UNIFIL forces off the coast of the Rosh Hanikra land border between Israel and Lebanon, according to the report, which said that the UN peacekeepers informed Lebanese authorities of the suspected breach.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately respond to questions about the alleged incident and would not confirm the report’s veracity.

The incident comes a month after Israel and Lebanon were reported to have made significant progress toward opening direct talks on officially demarcating the maritime border between the two countries, with the first round of direct negotiations now expected to take place in July.

US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield has shuttled between Israel and Lebanon in recent months to mediate in the border dispute, and in mid-June achieved a breakthrough between the Lebanese leadership and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, according report at the time by Channel 13 news.

The marine border agreement will likely have an impact on offshore oil and gas exploration.

An Israeli official told Reuters in June that one proposal being discussed was to allow energy companies to carry out seismic surveys in both Israeli and Lebanese waters, which are believed to hold deposits of oil and natural gas.

Last year, Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas in its waters, including in a block disputed by Israel, with which it has fought several wars and has no diplomatic relations.

A consortium composed of energy giants Total, Eni and Novatek was awarded two of Lebanon’s 10 exploration blocks last year.

It is set to start drilling in block 4 in December, and later in the disputed block 9.

Last year, Total said it was aware of the border dispute in less than eight percent of block 9 and said it would drill away from that area.

In April, Lebanon invited international consortia to bid for five more blocks, which include two also adjacent to Israel’s waters.

Israel also produces natural gas from reserves off its coast in the Mediterranean.

Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, though the last Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after two decades of military presence.

Israel has fought two wars in Lebanon, one in 1982 against Palestinian terrorist groups, and another in 2006 against Hezbollah, as well as a number of smaller operations.

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