This post contains reports of two areas of dispute, first over the maritime boundary between Lebanon and Israel, and the other (3 news reports) in the Wazzani area of Lebanon, a principle source of fresh water for both countries. A history of a previous water dispute can be found at http://www.waternet.be/jordan_river/wazzani.htm
BEIRUT: A dispute between Lebanon and Israel over their maritime boundary has heated up and sparked fears of conflict as both countries move to assert sovereignty over an area potentially rich in gas.
Tension rose last month after Israel’s cabinet approved a map of the country’s proposed maritime borders with Lebanon and submitted it to the United Nations, which has been asked to mediate.
The map conflicts with one submitted by Lebanon to the UN last year and that gives Israel less territory.
The Lebanese say their map is in line with an armistice accord drawn up in 1949 and not contested by Israel.
They also challenge Israel’s assertion that an accord signed in 2007 between Cyprus and Lebanon sets the same boundaries as those agreed between the Jewish state and Cyprus in 2010.
Neither side for now appears willing to budge on the issue, especially given the discovery of important energy reserves near the disputed area which could generate billions of dollars.
Energy Minister Gebran Bassil told AFP that Lebanon’s new cabinet, in which the militant group Hezbollah plays a key role, was rushing to approve a decree setting out the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
An EEZ is a sea zone that gives a state the right to explore its maritime resources.
“Israel cannot arbitrarily flout international law and aggress Lebanon by creating a zone of conflict in our waters,” Bassil said.
“It’s not simply a question of them tracing a line and stating what’s theirs.” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whose party fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006, also waded into the dispute last week warning the Jewish state against any attempt to plunder Lebanon’s offshore gas and oil reserves.
The United Nations and diplomats are urging both sides to exercise restraint and to resolve the matter at the negotiating table. The disputed zone consists of about 854 square kilometres (330 square miles).
“It is common to the point of routine for neighbouring countries to have … overlapping claims,” a senior State Department official said, asking not to be named.
“There are many mechanisms available to both countries to resolve this problem peacefully,” he said. “These mechanisms range all the way from direct negotiations to binding arbitration.”
He and other diplomats interviewed by AFP said that even though the rhetoric over the border was heating up, it was in no one’s interest to start a conflict given the economic interests at stake.
They also pointed out that companies involved in gas exploitation will shun the area should the dispute escalate.
“Companies that do this kind of work avoid working in troubled waters like the plague,” said the State Department official. “They are not looking for legal problems or to be in the middle of a dispute.”
Another Western diplomat in Beirut said that although legally Lebanon’s case appears stronger than that of Israel, it was unlikely the issue would be resolved anytime soon.
Hampering progress is the fact that both countries are technically still at war and as such will not negotiate face to face. Lebanon also has yet to begin underwater energy exploration — even in territory not contested — to determine what lies under its seabed.
“Lebanon is lagging way behind Israel on this,” the Western diplomat said.
“It needs to set up the legal framework to begin exploration and research.”
Diplomats said the best way to proceed for Lebanon and Israel at this point is to let mediation run its course while exploring for gas and oil outside the contested area.
“Clearly, there has got to be a process in the future where Lebanon and Israel resolve this (maritime) line,” the State Department official said.
“In the meantime, both countries are perfectly free to move forward with hydro-carbon exploitation in areas that are not under dispute.”
Israel Erects Earth Mounds in Wazzani Area Amid Warning Against ‘Calculated Incursion’
By Naharnet Newsdesk
Israeli troops deployed 10 tanks and bulldozers before midnight Monday and began erecting earth mounds at the technical fence in the Wazzani area where they clashed with Lebanese troops the same day.
Media reports said Tuesday that the move led to a state of alert among Lebanese and UNIFIL troops on Army Day.
The 10 Israeli vehicles included three Merkava tanks, they said, adding that the patrols pointed their floodlights at parks on the banks of the Wazzani river.
On Monday morning, the Lebanese and Israeli armies exchanged fire after a Jewish state patrol crossed the U.N.-drawn Blue Line, the Lebanese military said.
Both sides reported no casualties but each blamed the other for the clash.
The Lebanese army command said the incident occurred at around 5:50 am when a 15-member Israeli patrol in the Wazzani area crossed the technical fence and went beyond it about 70 meters.
“Forces stationed in the area confronted it and an exchange of fire occurred,” the communiqué said. The Israeli patrol withdrew from the area at around 7:25 am, it added.
However, an Israeli military spokeswoman told Agence France Presse that an Israeli military force “carrying out a routine patrol within Israeli territory near the Israel-Lebanon border was fired upon from the direction of Lebanon.”
Two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and a senior Israeli officer were killed in a rare cross-border clash in Adaisseh in August last year, the worst such violence since the 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah.
Involved Lebanese sources told An Nahar daily on Tuesday that the “army confronted the Israeli incursion yesterday as it did in the Adaisseh confrontation to stress Lebanon’s right in having reservations in the area of the violation.”
They said the “calculated incursion” was a message against Lebanon’s attempts to claim its rights over the natural resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone and demarcate its maritime borders.
The sources warned that Lebanon should be ready for a “difficult battle” with the Jewish state.
Lebanon files complaint against Israel over border incident
The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanon filed Wednesday a complaint at the United Nations against Israel over a recent border incident in south Lebanon, the National News Agency reported Wednesday.
The agency said Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry, through it representative in New York, submitted a complaint to the U.N. over the entry of an Israeli patrol on July 1, 2011, into Lebanese territory by a distance of 15 meters after it crossed the Wazzani River.
The Lebanese Army engaged in a brief confrontation with Israeli soldiers shortly after dawn Monday when an Israeli Army convoy crossed the Blue Line at Wazzani into Lebanon. The fight did not lead to any casualties.
The Foreign Ministry said the incident represented a violation and abuse of Lebanon’s sovereignty and to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, international law and the U.N. charter, and poses a threat the peace of the two countries.
UNSCR 1701 ended the 2006 July-August war between Lebanon and Israel and extended the mandate of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, which monitors a cease-fire between the two countries.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams warned Tuesday incidents such as Monday’s exchange of fire on the Lebanon-Israel border could quickly turn into a war, as Prime Minister Najib Mikati affirmed Lebanon’s commitment to defend its sovereignty by all legitimate means.
Lebanese, Israeli troops exchange fire on border
Amy Teibel, Jerusalem, Associated Press
Israeli and Lebanese troops briefly exchanged fire Monday on the countries’ border, a volatile area where tensions can easily reignite hostilities between the two nations.
Officials on both sides reported no casualties and each blamed the other for the clash.
The Israeli military said Lebanese army soldiers fired on Israeli troops conducting a routine border patrol in Israeli territory, provoking the Israeli soldiers to return fire.
A Lebanese military official said the shooting occurred after Israeli forces briefly entered Lebanese territory. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the shooting took place along the Wazzani River in the southeastern corner of Lebanon across from Israeli positions.
Neeraj Singh, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, said the gunfire had ceased and the area was quiet. UNFIL has launched an investigation to determine how the incident unfolded, he added.
Israeli military officials said Israel wanted “to contain the situation and maintain the calm at the border.”
The violence stoked new tensions on the volatile frontier where Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah militants battled five years ago in a devastating monthlong war.
In May, Israeli troops clashed with a large crowd of pro-Palestinian Lebanese demonstrators who approached the border. The military acknowledges opening fire after protesters tried to damage the border fence. But it says the six demonstrators killed might have been shot by Lebanese army troops, a claim the Lebanese dispute.
In another incident that took place almost a year ago, Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire in a fierce border battle that killed a senior Israeli officer, two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.