Lebanon-Israel border
Lebanon-Israel borderHadas Parush/Flash 90

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun on Thursday demanded that Israel halt all exploration in an offshore gas field on its southern border, as part of an ongoing dispute over their shared sea frontier, AFP reports.

The two countries, which are still technically at war, last year took part in indirect US-brokered talks to discuss demarcation to clear the way for offshore oil and gas exploration.

Those talks stalled after Lebanon demanded a larger area, including part of the Karish gas field, where Israel has given a Greek firm rights for exploration.

"Lebanon is within its rights to evolve its position," Aoun on Thursday told visiting US envoy David Hale, according to AFP.

He called for a "commitment to not carrying out any oil or gas activities and not starting any exploration in the Karish field and its adjacent waters" until the matter was settled, the presidency said.

Hale, for his part, said the US was ready to continue brokering Israel-Lebanon talks "on the basis on which we initiated these discussions". The comments appeared to reject the Lebanese move towards demanding a larger area.

The issue of the sea frontier is especially sensitive as crisis-hit Lebanon hopes to continue exploring for oil and gas in a part of the Mediterranean disputed by Israel.

In February 2018, Lebanon signed its first contract for offshore drilling for oil and gas in two blocks in the Mediterranean with a consortium comprising energy giants Total, ENI and Novatek.

Lebanon last April said initial drilling in Block 4 had shown traces of gas but no commercially viable reserves.

Exploration of the other, Block 9, has not started and is more controversial as ownership is disputed by Israel.