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Lebanon receives US 'offer' over Israel maritime border deal

Lebanese President Michel Aoun receives an "offer" on the maritime border dispute with Israel from US ambassador Dorothy Shea. ©AFP

Beirut (AFP) - Lebanon said Saturday it received a letter from US envoy Amos Hochstein containing an "offer" on a maritime border deal with Israel that could settle competing claims over offshore gas fields.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with US ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea "who delivered a written offer from the US mediator", the premier's office said, without elaborating.

President Michel Aoun also met with Shea "who handed him a written letter...containing proposals regarding the demarcation of the southern maritime border," Aoun's office said.

Aoun contacted Mikati and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who also received the draft proposal, to discuss how to deliver Lebanon's response "as quickly as possible", his office added.

Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah, who had repeatedly threatened Israel with attacks if it proceeds with extraction in disputed areas before a deal is reached, welcomed Saturday's developments as "a very important step." 

"The importance of what happened is that there is now a written text," he said in a televised speech.

"The coming days will be crucial," Nasrallah added, as Lebanese authorities prepare their response to an offer that could "open up wide horizons for the Lebanese people."

Lebanon and Israel have no diplomatic relations and their land border is patrolled by the United Nations. 

They reopened negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, but the process was stalled by Lebanon's demand that the map used by the United Nations in the talks be modified.

The US-mediated negotiations resumed in early June after Israel moved a production vessel near the Karish offshore field, which is partly claimed by Lebanon.

Saturday's announcement followed a flurry of statements by Lebanese officials, including Aoun and Mikati, expressing optimism that a deal with Israel was close.

"The Lebanese response will be made as soon as possible, in preparation for the next step," an official at the president's office told AFP on Saturday on condition of anonymity.

Last month, Aoun told UN special coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka that "negotiations to demarcate the southern maritime border are in their final stages".

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