Lebanese Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil vowed on Friday there would be full exploration in offshore energy Block 9, part of which lies in waters disputed by neighboring Israel.
Lebanon said on Friday it had signed its first offshore oil and gas exploration and production contracts for two energy blocks, including the disputed Block 9. A consortium of France's Total, Italy's Eni and Russia's Novatek signed the agreements for the two blocks, which are among five that Lebanon put up for tender in the country's much-delayed first licensing round.
Israel and Lebanon have exchanged threats and condemnation over the tender, amid rising tensions over territorial and marine boundaries between them.
"Today, we announce that we have started our petroleum path ... after signing the agreements and launching the exploration activities," Lebanese Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said at a ceremony in Beirut.
The first well will be drilled in Block 4 in 2019, said Stephane Michel, Total's president for exploration and production in the Middle East and North Africa.
The second well will be drilled in Block 9 more than 25 km (15 miles) from the border, he said at the ceremony. "There is no reason not to proceed in this way," Michel added.
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Part of the tensions stems from the border wall Israel is building between the countries. While Israel assures the wall will be built on the Israeli territory as recognized by the UN, Lebanon believes it to be an "aggression" and claims it intrudes into Lebanese territory.
Lebanon, which views Israel as an enemy state, has an unresolved maritime border dispute with its neighbor over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles).
The two countries also have an unresolved maritime border dispute over a triangular area of sea of around 860 square meters. The zone extends along the edge of three out of five energy blocks that Lebanon put to tender early last year. Israel claims that one of the blocks - Block 9 - juts into its waters, while Lebanon says the block is entirely inside Lebanese waters.
Lebanese and Israeli officials said David Satterfield, acting assistant U.S. secretary of state, was in Israel last week and in Lebanon this week on a mediation mission. U.S. officials confirmed his travels without detailing his agenda. Satterfield assured "there is no call for concern, and there is no direction towards escalation," a senior Lebanese government official told Reuters. An Israeli official said that at least two European countries were acting as mediators in the dispute, as well as the United States.