Risking Israeli dispute, Lebanon signs deal with 3 oil firms

The signing ceremony was held Friday afternoon in Beirut and was attended by President Michel Aoun and officials from the three oil companies Italy's Eni, France's Total and Russia's Novatek.

"We have achieved a big dream and Lebanon has entered a new era today," Aoun said at the ceremony.

Lebanon has a debt of $80 billion or 145 percent of its gross domestic product making it one of the world's highest.

The agreement came two months after Lebanon's government approved the licenses for the international consortium to move forward with offshore oil and gas development. The three companies have bid for two of Lebanon's 10 offshore blocks, to determine whether oil and gas reserves exist.

Lebanon's Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said the country will start exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas next year.

A major find in Lebanon's southernmost waters could raise the possibility of a dispute with Israel, which is developing a number of offshore gas deposits, with one large field, Tamar, already producing gas, and the larger Leviathan field set to go online next year.

There are over 800 square kilometers (300 square miles) of waters claimed by the two countries. The dispute is over parts of Lebanon's block 9 that is on the border with Israel.

"Israel cannot stop the activities on the Lebanese side because Lebanon can then stop the activities on the Israeli sides," Bassil told The Associated Press when asked if the drilling will cause more tensions with Israel.

He added that the o....

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