Lebanon and Israel said on Thursday that they would hold direct negotiations to resolve a long-standing maritime border dispute, the latest in a series of U.S.-brokered breakthroughs in the region.

Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz welcomed the news and said: “Our goal is to end the dispute over the demarcation of economic water between Israel and Lebanon in order to help develop natural resources for the benefit of all peoples in the region.”

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Lebanon’s Parliament speaker Nabih Berri announced the talks during a press conference in Beirut.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and each claim about 330 square miles of the Mediterranean Sea as within their own exclusive economic zones. Both countries hope to explore and develop new gas fields in the area.

The U.S. welcomed the decision, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling it a “historic agreement” and “the result of nearly three years of intense diplomatic engagement.”

The maritime boundary discussions are slated to start soon in Naqoura in southern Lebanon under the United Nations flag, Pompeo said in a statement.

Lebanon is currently in the midst of its most severe economic crisis in its modern history and would doubtless welcome access to new economic resources.

Another diplomatic feat in the region, comes after the U.S. brokered agreements to normalize relations between Israel and two Gulf countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

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The agreements — called the Abraham Accords — which were signed last month, were Israel’s first agreements to normalize relations with Gulf states. Israel has historic normalization agreements with two other Arab countries — Egypt and Jordan.

Israel invaded Lebanon during the latter’s 1975-1990 civil war to fight Palestinian militants who launched attacks across the border. It occupied a strip of territory in southern Lebanon until 2000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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