Lebanon, Israel start talks on disputed maritime border

Lebanese delegation will speak through UN and US officials to Israelis on disputed maritime border.

NAQOURA - Lebanese and Israeli teams met on Wednesday at a United Nations base in southern Lebanon for talks on their disputed maritime border, a United Nations source said.

The US-mediated talks follow three years of diplomacy by the United States and were announced weeks after Washington stepped up pressure on allies of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006.

The development comes against the backdrop of Lebanon's spiralling economic crisis, the worst in its modern history, and following a wave of US sanctions that recently included two influential former Cabinet ministers allied with the militant Hezbollah group. Israel, the United States, as well as some other Western and Arab countries consider the Iran-allied Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

Beirut hopes that oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it overcome the crisis and pay back its massive debt that stands at 170% of the GDP, making it one of the highest in the world.

The US-mediated talks began at a UN post along the border known as Ras Naqoura on the edge of the Lebanese border town of Naqoura. The Lebanese delegation will speak through UN and US officials to the Israelis.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometres (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their own exclusive economic zones.