Steinitz meets American official over gas row with Lebanon

Energy Minister meets Acting Assistant Secretary of State to discuss oil and gas dispute with Lebanon.

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Steinitz and Satterfield
Steinitz and Satterfield
Energy Minister's spokesperson

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) met on Sunday with a senior United States official seeking to defuse an escalating oil and gas dispute with Lebanon, his office said.

A statement from Steinitz’s spokesman said the minister held talks with Acting Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield about conflicting claims to energy reserves off the coasts of Lebanon and Israel.

Last week Lebanon signed its first contract to drill for oil and gas off its coast with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek, including in a block disputed by Israel.

Israel says one of two blocks in the eastern Mediterranean where Lebanon wants to drill for oil belongs to it, and had denounced any exploration by Beirut as "provocative".

On Friday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared that Lebanon was strong enough to withstand U.S. and Israeli pressure and to put Israeli gas rigs out of action.

Sunday's statement quoted Steinitz as telling Satterfield that "a diplomatic solution is preferable for both sides".

It added that the two agreed to meet again during the coming week.

Satterfield also held talks on the issue with top officials in Lebanon.

Israel has major gas fields off its northern coast and is building valuable infrastructure to get the fuel out of the ground and onto land, all within range of Hezbollah rockets.

The Tamar field, which began production in 2013, has estimated reserves of up to 238 billion cubic meters (8.4 trillion cubic feet).

The Leviathan field, discovered in 2010 and set to begin production in 2019, is estimated to hold 18.9 trillion cubic feet (535 billion cubic meters) of natural gas, along with 34.1 million barrels of condensate.

Tensions between Israel and Lebanon have also mounted as Israel pursues the construction of a wall along the border.

Lebanon says part of the wall follows the UN-demarcated "Blue Line" drawn up after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and insists some sections will cut into its territory.

Israel dismissed the claim and says the work is being carried out on Israeli territory.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun in November accused Israel of “squatting in the southern borders” and of “violating Lebanon's sovereignty”.

Earlier that month, he warned that if a war with Israel were to occur, all the citizens of his country are willing to battle Israel.

AFP contributed to this report.