Israeli PM vows to begin production in contested gas field

JERUSALEM – Israel’s prime minister on Monday vowed to start production at a disputed natural gas field in the Mediterranean “as soon as possible”, threatening to increase tensions with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah .

Yair Lapid’s statement in a statement from his office comes at a sensitive time in a lengthy effort by a US mediator to resolve disputes over countries’ maritime borders. US officials say they are making progress, but need more time to reach a resolution.

Lapid said reaching an agreement with Lebanon was “both possible and necessary”, an agreement that he said would benefit both countries and “strengthen stability in the region”.

But he said that production from the Karish gas field is not related to the talks and “will start immediately, as soon as possible.”

Israel set up a gas rig at Karish in June, saying the area is part of a United Nations-recognized exclusive economic zone. Lebanon insists Karish is in disputed waters.

In July, the Israeli army shot down three unarmed Hezbollah drones fly over the Karish fields. Leader of Hezbollah give a warning with Israel over the maritime dispute, saying that “any arm” reaching out to steal Lebanon’s wealth “will be severed.”

The Hezbollah is armed with powerful weapons, which joined a month-long war against Israel in 2006, has repeatedly said it will use its weapons to defend Lebanon’s economic rights. However, Hezbollah officials said they would endorse an agreement reached between the Lebanese and Israeli governments. Israel considers Hezbollah to be one of its greatest threats.

The two countries, officially at war since Israel’s founding in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to expand offshore oil and gas production as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

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