Lebanon News

Offshore wealth needs national protection plan

BEIRUT: The parliamentary Public Works, Transport, Energy and Water Committee called Tuesday on the government and Parliament to cooperate jointly to prevent Israel from plundering Lebanon’s natural sea resources and adopt a national strategy to protect the country’s right to offshore gas and oil reserves.

The committee’s appeal came a day after President Michel Sleiman warned Israel against taking any unilateral decisions to exploit Lebanon’s resources in the demarcation of disputed maritime borders, vowing that the country would defend its sea and land boundaries and rights by all legitimate means.

The committee’s move and Sleiman’s warning came as Lebanon is gearing up to confront Israel at the United Nations in a long-simmering dispute over offshore gas and oil reserves following the Israeli government’s approval Sunday of a map of its proposed maritime borders which Lebanon deemed an aggression and an infringement on its right to an exclusive economic zone.

The committee met in Parliament to discuss a strategy for the water sector and the issue of offshore oil and gas reserves in the face of Israeli measures to infringe on Lebanon’s rights.

“We discussed in this session the oil and gas issue, especially following the decisions taken by the Israeli enemy’s government and the statement by the enemy’s Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu]. We have pursued this matter carefully in the past two weeks, but we were forced today to discuss it again after this serious development arising from the Israeli aggression on us and on our oil wealth,” committee chairman MP Mohammad Qabbani told reporters after the meeting.

He called on the government and Parliament to hammer out “a united national strategy to protect our natural resources in our sea waters.”

“Our work to protect our rights and our natural resources, oil and gas in our sea waters, will involve a long struggle with the Israeli enemy, in addition to delicate negotiations with Cyprus,” Qabbani said. “It is a multifaceted struggle that includes legal, engineering and diplomatic aspects. It requires accurate specialization, experience and practice in these three fields.”

Qabbani emphasized that the confrontation with Israel over the oil and gas dispute did not require political and media attitudes, but drawing up a solid national strategy.

“We, in Parliament, propose the need for a united national confrontation in which the government and Parliament participate together in view of the gravity of the matter,” Qabbani said. He called for the formation of a joint committee from the government and Parliament comprising experts from relevant departments which can seek assistance from high-level experts in the Maritime Law and the rules of border demarcation.

Qabbani said his committee will seek assistance from high-level world experts in international law and maritime demarcation as a prelude to preparing a comprehensive Lebanese file to be used in the collective national confrontation against Israel.

Apparently referring to political divisions between March 8 and March 14 parties, Qabbani said, “We must not seek to score points against each other. There is an extremely dangerous and delicate issue. We all of us have to work as one team for this issue.”

Asked how can Lebanon’s sea resources be protected, Qabbani said: “We are doing our best to protect our wealth. This is a long issue and the struggle with the [Israeli] enemy is not easy. The matter will not end within a week or a month.”

A ministerial meeting will be held at the Grand Serail Wednesday to discuss Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone in the sea and decide on steps to confront Israel over the offshore oil and gas reserves, a government source told The Daily Star Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told The Daily Star Sunday that Lebanon would file a complaint with the U.N. against Israel, after the Jewish state approved a map of its proposed maritime borders, which Lebanon viewed as an “aggression” on its gas and oil rights. Israel will submit the map to the U.N. for an opinion. The Israeli map lays out maritime borders that conflict significantly with those proposed by Lebanon in its own submission to the U.N last summer.

Israel has been moving to develop several large offshore natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean, some shared with Cyprus, that it hopes could help it to become an energy exporter. But its development plans have stirred controversy with Lebanon, which argues the gas fields lie inside its territorial waters.

Lebanon’s proposal to the U.N. last year outlined the boundary of its exclusive economic zone in which oil and gas is contained. The zone is said to contain billions of cubic meters of fossil fuel.

Energy and Water Minister Jibran Bassil called for government action at the international level to demarcate Lebanon’s maritime borders. “Lebanon is required today to work in several directions, firstly toward the United Nations and launch a wide-scale diplomatic campaign, and secondly toward Cyprus in order to make it redraw its maritime border,” Bassil told Al-Mada radio station Tuesday. He said Lebanon has the right to use the “appropriate means” to obtain its water rights and oil wealth.

Meanwhile, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said after meeting Sleiman Tuesday that Lebanon has the right to benefit from its natural sea and land resources.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 13, 2011, on page 2.

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