BEIRUT (AP) - The U.S. ambassador to Lebanon on Saturday delivered a maritime border demarcation proposal to President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday, as negotiations with Israel progress.
Lebanon and Israel have been officially at war since Israel's creation in 1948 and both countries claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea.
Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser for energy security at the U.S. State Department who has been mediating between the two neighbors, last visited Beirut in September, where he expressed optimism after meeting with Lebanon's president, caretaker prime minister and parliament speaker.
Aoun's office in a statement said U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea delivered a proposal from Hochstein during a meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda.
President Aoun in an interview with local media last week said that the negotiations could soon come to a close "where we will obtain our right to extract oil and gas."
Lebanon and Israel both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to unleash offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history, plunging three-quarters of its population into poverty.
A Lebanese official who attended the talks last month told The Associated Press that the proposal put forward by the U.S. envoy gives Lebanon the right to the Qana field, located partially in Israel's domain. A part of it stretches deep into a disputed area. The official added that the main point now is how to draw the demarcation line in a way that stretches south of Qana.
Israel set up a gas rig at its designated location at the Karish field. Israel says the field is part of its U.N.-recognized exclusive economic zone, while Lebanon insists Karish is in a disputed area.
In July, the Israeli military shot down three unarmed drones belonging to Lebanon's Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah flying over the Karish field. Hezbollah's leader has issued warnings to Israel over the maritime dispute, saying that "any arm" that reaches out to steal Lebanon's wealth "will be cut off."
The heavily armed group, which has fought several wars with Israel, has repeatedly said in the past that it would use its weapons to protect Lebanon's economic rights. Hezbollah officials have however said they would endorse a deal reached between Lebanon's government and Israel.