The first official diplomatic talks between Israel and Lebanon in decades kicked off on Wednesday as officials from the two countries – in a state of war for over 70 years – met in the South Lebanon coastal town of Nakoura to discuss their maritime border. Both parties attempted to downplay the event and lower expectations. Iran-backed Hizbullah, designated a terror organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel, insisted the negotiations were not a sign of peacemaking, while Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, that delegation’s leader, tweeted: “We are not talking about negotiations for peace and normalization, rather an attempt to solve a technical, economic dispute.” The discussions came about thanks to intense US pressure on Beirut, which, despite strong objections from Hizbullah, the most powerful political group in Lebanon, finally relented. If successful, the talks, mediated by American diplomats, will resolve overlapping maritime claims regarding potential gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean – and could offer the struggling Lebanese economy some relief.
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