May 27, 2019 / 11:29 AM / 2 months ago

Israel open to U.S.-mediated talks with Lebanon on sea border

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, Egypt January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel voiced openness on Monday to U.S.-mediated talks with Lebanon on resolving a dispute over the neighbors’ maritime border that has dogged Mediterranean oil and gas exploration.

Such talks, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz’s office said in a statement after he met U.S. envoy David Satterfield, could be “for the good of both countries’ interests in developing natural gas reserves and oil” by agreeing a border.

There was no immediate comment from Lebanese or U.S. officials.

Technically at war since Israel’s founding in 1948, Israel and Lebanon have long disagreed on border demarcations, a dispute affecting a sea area of about 860 sq km (330 square miles) extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.

Waters in one of those blocks are also claimed by Israel, which kicked off a gas bonanza in the eastern Mediterranean almost a decade ago with the discovery of two huge gas fields.

The dispute has led to years of brinkmanship with both sides promising to protect their resources and warning about encroachment.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra

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