BEIRUT — US envoy Amos Hochstein, head of the indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over their common maritime border, said Friday that "there is still work to be done" but "very good progress" was made in reaching an agreement between the two countries.
These remarks were made during a very quick visit to Lebanon during which the American envoy met with Lebanese officials, in a context of recently increased tensions between Beirut and Tel Aviv.
"We are making progress in the negotiations in order to reach an agreement that will be in the interest of the Lebanese economy," Hochstein said Friday from Beirut International Airport, just before his departure from the Lebanese capital.
The drilling company Energean, which works for Israel, announced Thursday that it is ready to start gas production from the Karish field "within weeks." After the arrival of Energean's platform at the gas field, Hezbollah threatened violence if the exploitation began before Lebanon was "granted its rights."
'Very good progress'
"Our meeting was excellent and I think we have made very good progress," said Hochstein said after his meeting in Baabda, according to reports by the Lebanese Presidency. At the presidential palace, the US envoy met with President Michel Aoun, as well as with Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab, Head of Diplomacy Abdallah Bou Habib and Director of General Security Abbas Ibrahim.
"I am grateful to President Aoun for receiving me and for the discussions held, and I am optimistic about reaching an agreement," Hochstein continued.
The American envoy was also received at the Grand Serail by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. He also met shortly with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
The latter reaffirmed "Lebanon's commitment to the framework agreement and its determination to exploit its resources in the entirety of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), to enjoy its rights and its sovereignty."
In a later statement, Berri called for a return "to Naqoura (the border locality between Lebanon and Israel) for indirect negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations and the mediation of the United States ... in order to achieve the desired results." Negotiations were suspended months ago following Lebanon's maximalist demands. Talks between the two countries recently resumed, but only after Israel deployed a floating production ship to Karish in June, causing tensions to flare.
Israeli army drone
Threats of war were reiterated between the pro-Iranian Hezbollah and Israel. A month after the arrival of the gas platform in Karish, Hezbollah launched three drones towards the gas field, which were immediately intercepted by the Israeli army.
On Friday morning, a spokesperson for the Israeli army, Avichay Adraee, wrote on Twitter that "a drone fell in the coastal area near the northern border, following a failure." The aircraft was recovered by Israeli forces and "an investigation into the incident will be opened.
"Activities with this type of drone will be stopped until the investigation is completed," Adraee added. Hezbollah did not comment on the incident.