Monday, June 12, 2017

Aoun urges Cyprus cooperation in oil, gas fields - THE DAILY STAR

President Michel Aoun welcomes Cypriot counterpart Nicos
Anastasiades at Baabda Palace. 
Jun. 12, 2017 | 03:03 PM

BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Monday lauded bilateral cooperation between Lebanon and Cyprus, calling for increased coordination in offshore oil and gas exploration.

"I encourage the governments of the two countries to raise the level of cooperation in the fields of oil and gas," Aoun said in a joint news conference with his Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades.

Lebanon and Israel are locked in a dispute over a maritime zone that is believed to contain large quantities of natural gas. Lebanon is demanding the demarcation of the area with the help of the U.N. and other concerned parties.

Technically and legally, the United Nations does not have the mandate to demarcate disputed borders between countries.

However, Lebanese officials insist that the U.N. has an interest in taking steps to avoid an open conflict between Lebanon and Israel.

The disputed maritime border zone with Israel that comprises 870 kilometers of water off Lebanon’s southern coast.

Aoun hoped that talks would serve "the best interest of both countries."

"What's happened in the region has increased the importance of us working together," Anastasiades said.

"We are aware of Lebanon’s generosity hosting over 1.1 million refugees, and we are aware of its impact," he said.

"I assure you ... Cyprus will assist Lebanon in taking on these challenges through bilateral relations and through the EU."

The Lebanese government estimates that around 1.5 million Syrian refugees live in unofficial camps around the country in deteriorating economic conditions – which Lebanon was already suffering prior to the refugee crisis.

Aoun praised the aid offered by Cyprus to the Lebanese Army.

Defense Minister Yaacoub Sarraf announced over the weekend that Cyprus had agreed a 15 million euro ($17 million) military aid package for the Lebanese Army.

During an official trip to Cyprus, Sarraf and Cypriot officials discussed enhancing bilateral ties and military cooperation between the two countries.

The defense minister and his Cypriot counterpart [Christoforos Fokaides] also signed an annual cooperation agreement between the two countries’ militaries.

Cyprus’ military aid was the latest assistance package received by the Lebanese Army in recent months.

The aid to the Army comes as the military keeps up its targeting of militants along Lebanon’s northeastern border with Syria.

The Army has been pounding militant hideouts in Arsal and Ras Baalbeck belonging to Daesh (ISIS) and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, on an almost daily basis.

On May 31, Italy also delivered aid to the Army and promised to maintain counterterrorism training programs with Italian security forces.

"There's a main goal, which is to keep Lebanon's security a top priority on the agenda of European Union countries," Aoun added.

The president also expressed Lebanon's support to U.N.-backed Cyprus reunification talks, stressing the importance of unified Cypriot lands and the need for a settlement and stability.

Aoun will later host a state lunch in Anastasiades honor.

Anastasiades, who landed in Beirut on Sunday, will also meet with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in the evening.