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The New Arab Staff

Syrian regime allows Russian oil exploration in 'Lebanese waters'

Maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean are not clearly defined [Getty File Image]

Date of publication: 1 April, 2021

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Lebanese officials are yet to comment on the agreement, which could see the country lose hundreds of square kilometres of its maritime territory to Syria.
The Syrian regime has greenlit Russian oil exploration in offshore territories that reportedly include waters claimed by Lebanon

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad announced the exploration agreement with the Capitol Oil company earlier this week.

The four-year contract grants the Russian company exclusive rights to explore and develop oil assets in maritime Block No. 1, located off the coast of the southern Syrian city of Tartous.

The block demarcated in the agreement overlaps with waters claimed by Lebanon, however.

Confusion around the sovereignity over waters off the coast of northern Lebanon and southern Syria has persisted since the Assad regime withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2005.

There is an overlap of between 750 and 1,000 square kilometres claimed by both countries, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site reported.

Despite the fact Damascus may have agreed to Russian oil exploration in Lebanese waters, Beirut has not yet issued any official statement, complaint or request for mediation about the issue.

That contrasts with Lebanon's participation in US-mediated talks with Israel over a maritime dispute with Israel, which is located to its south.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that constitutes a major political force in the country, is a key ally of the Assad regime.

Read more:

How Russia swooped Syria's hydrocarbon share in the Eastern Mediterranean



Ihab Hamadeh, a representative of Hezbollah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc in the Lebanese parliament, has claimed concerns over a possible maritime dispute with Syria are nothing but "political intrigue".

"Any crisis lies in the Israeli enemy's aggression against our borders, our waters and our maritime oil rights. What is happening today is an attempt to ignore that issue... in service of the Israeli enemy," Hamadeh told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site.

On the other hand, two Lebanese politicians opposed to Hezbollah have accused Syria of violating Lebanon's rights.

Both former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi and current parliamentarian Rola Tabsh have questioned the caretaker government's silence over the potential dispute.

"We waited for the violation from the south, from the enemy, but it came from the north, from a brotherly country," Tabsh said.

There are fears Lebanon could lose hundreds of square metres from its maritime exclusive economic zone, said former parliamentary energy advisor Rabei Yaghi, marking a repeat of a controversial 2007 agreement between Cyprus and Lebanon.

Lebanon today claims that the 2007 agreement and a subsequent 2010 agreement between Cyprus and Israel deprived it of more than 800 square kilometres of its territorial waters.

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