BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Thursday that Lebanon was in the process of putting the final touches on an agreement to establish an economic zone with Syria after an agreement was reached with Cyprus on the issue.
The prime minister added that once the agreement with Damascus is reached, the complete law draft would be sent to Parliament for ratification.
“If we reach an agreement that embraces Lebanon, Syria and Cyprus, it will be very beneficial to the three countries. Our goal is to move forward with the project,” Hariri said in a joint news conference with President Dimitris Christofias during a visit to Cyprus to promote bilateral ties.
An economic zone between Lebanon and Cyprus, if established in the near future, would come at a vital time after the recent discovery of an oil field between the Lebanese-Cypriot and Israeli maritime borders.
Last month, Lebanese MPs passed a law authorizing exploration and drilling of offshore oil and gas fields, fueling tensions with Israel over maritime borders, while Cyprus signed a memorandum of cooperation with Israel for surveying and mapping in joint research energy projects.
Cyprus, an EU member state, has been divided since 1974 when Turkey seized and occupied its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia seeking to unite the island with Greece.
Turkey has voiced its disapproval of Cyprus’ oil and gas search. In 2008, Nicosia protested to the United Nations and European Union over what it called Turkish harassment of ships conducting exploration surveys in Cyprus’s EEZ.
“Lebanon’s support, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, was of particular importance to Cyprus to resolve our problem,” Christofias said.
Likewise, Hariri sought Cypriot support in urging the European Union to play a leading role in the Middle East peace process, saying the regional situation stands at a crossroad and was going to head either toward peace or a regional war.
Hariri said Israel’s new citizenship law which he described as “racist” would make ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians “unbearable.”
The Israeli Cabinet passed a bill earlier this month that would require non-Jewish immigrants to pledge allegiance to the “Jewish and democratic” state of Israel in order to receive citizenship.
Hariri added that the law encourages extremism and urged the EU to persuade Israel not to apply it.
“I stressed to the president the pivotal role that Cyprus can play as a member of the EU and with borders on the Middle East, a country that understands the region and the sensitivity of the situation,” said the Lebanese premier.
The move is widely seen as undermining the rights of Israel’s Arabs who make up a fifth of Israel’s 7.5 million people.