NAQOURA, Lebanon (Reuters) – Long-time foes Lebanon and Israel launched unprecedented talks on Wednesday over their disputed sea border in a brief meeting which the lead Lebanese negotiator described as “the first step on a thousand-mile journey.”
The talks were mediated by the United States, which has pushed for years for negotiations to resolve the argument over potentially gas-rich Mediterranean waters.
Two Lebanese military helicopters were seen bringing the delegation to the meeting. The Lebanese team was led by a military officer, and the Israeli side by the director general of its energy ministry.
They broke up after barely an hour and agreed to meet again in two weeks.
Agreement to hold the talks was announced weeks after the United States stepped up pressure on allies of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, imposing sanctions on senior politician from its main Shi’ite ally, the Amal party.
Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, says the talks are not a sign of peace-making with its long-time enemy. Israel’s energy minister has also said expectations should be realistic.
“Our meeting today will launch the train of technical, indirect negotiations, and represents the first step on a thousand-mile journey for demarcating the southern borders,” the Lebanese army quoted the head of the delegation, Brigadier General Bassam Yassin, as saying.