Israel Says 'Historic' Sea Border Deal Struck With Lebanon

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's prime minister said Tuesday that the country has reached a "historic agreement" with neighboring Lebanon over their shared maritime border after months of U.S.-brokered negotiations.

It's a rare agreement between two countries that are bitter enemies. But the deal still faces some obstacles, including some expected legal challenges in Israel. There was no immediate confirmation by Lebanon that a deal had been reached.

At stake are rights over exploiting undersea natural gas reserves in areas of the eastern Mediterranean that the two countries -- which do not have diplomatic relations -- claim.

Premier Yair Lapid called the deal an "historic achievement that will strengthen Israel's security, inject billions into Israel's economy, and ensure the stability of our northern border."

The agreement is expected to enable additional natural gas production in the Mediterranean. Lebanon hopes gas exploration will help lift its country out of its spiraling economic crisis.

Senior U.S. energy envoy Amos Hochstein, whom Washington has appointed a year ago to mediate talks, delivered a modified proposal of the maritime border deal to lead Lebanese negotiator, Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab late Monday night, according to local media and officials.

The final draft of the agreement will be brought before Israel's caretaker government for approval this week, less than weeks before the country goes to the polls for the fifth time in under four years.

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.

Bou Saab had delivered a draft proposal to President Michel Aoun, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri last Thursday. He told the press that the proposal was in its "final form."

Aoun's office in a statement said the latest version of the proposal "satisfies Lebanon, meets its demands, and preserves its rights to its natural resources," and will hold consultations with officials before making an announcement.