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Israeli press review: Israel seeks Lebanon maritime deal to pre-empt Hezbollah attack

Meanwhile, residents of southern Israel lash out at government security measures and troops are redeployed amid rising Gaza tensions
A tugboat pulls an Energean production storage and offloading vessel through the Suez Canal en route to the Karish offshore field in the Mediterranean, on 3 June 2022 (AFP)
A tugboat pulls an Energean production storage and offloading vessel through the Suez Canal en route to the disputed Karish offshore field, on 3 June 2022 (AFP)

Maritime deal to pre-empt Hezbollah attack 

Israel and Lebanon aim to complete talks over their maritime border before natural gas starts being extracted from the Karish field next month, in a bid by Israel to invalidate Hezbollah's claim that it is breaching Lebanon's sovereignty, Haaretz reported.

Israeli officials involved in the US-mediated talks told the Israeli newspaper that a signed agreement by September would make it highly unlikely that the Lebanese movement would attack the natural gas field in the Mediterranean Sea.

US envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut on Sunday to push talks to resolve the bitter maritime border dispute between the two countries.

Tensions escalated in early June, after Israel moved a production vessel to the Karish offshore field, which is partly claimed by Lebanon. The move prompted Beirut to call for the resumption of US-mediated negotiations on the demarcation dispute.

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Lebanon and Israel have no diplomatic relations and are separated by a UN-patrolled border.

Lebanon initially demanded 860 sq km of territory in the disputed maritime area, but then asked for an additional 1,430 sq km, including part of the Karish field. Israel claims that the field lies in its waters and is not part of the disputed area subject to negotiations.

Hezbollah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah, warned earlier this month that if Lebanon was prevented from extracting oil and gas from its waters, "nobody" would be able to do so, adding that Israeli offshore fields were "under threat" from the group's missiles.

Haaretz said US officials who spoke on the matter with their Israeli counterparts in recent days had sought to understand whether Israel would retaliate after such an attack by Hezbollah, and were told that it would depend on its outcome.

Troops redeployed amid rising tensions in Gaza

Israel's army bombed multiple locations in the besieged Gaza Strip on Friday afternoon, according to Palestinian media.

The army announced a "special situation" in the area and said it was targeting the Islamic Jihad movement.

Haaretz had reported on Thursday that Israel had moved some of its soldiers away from areas near Gaza and increased its surveillance of the Strip, including deploying attack drones, amid concerns about retaliatory attacks following the arrest of an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank earlier this week.

Earlier on Friday, the Israeli army blocked roads and halted rail services near the fence separating Gaza from Israel, for a fourth consecutive day.

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In some towns and communities closer to the fence, residents were asked to stay at home during the day. 

About 5,000 Israelis have been impacted by the restrictions applied on Tuesday, the newspaper said.

Haaretz had quoted Prime Minister Yair Lapid as saying on Thursday that "[Israel] will not shy away from using force to restore normal life in the south of the country".

Islamic Jihad leader Bassam al-Saadi was detained on Monday during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, during which 17-year-old Palestinian Dirar al-Kafrayni was shot dead by Israeli forces.

Saadi's son-in-law, Ashraf al-Jada, was also arrested in the raid. Saadi's wife sustained injuries during the arrest and was taken to hospital for treatment. Security camera footage of Saadi's arrest showed Israeli soldiers dragging the 62-year-old along the ground.

Haaretz said there was growing criticism within the country's defence establishment of the restrictions imposed on Israelis living in the area and the disruption to thousands of families' lives.

“Interfering with the daily lives of thousands of families in the south because of an arrest in the West Bank is something that Islamic Jihad could not even have dreamt of achieving,” one official told the newspaper.

South lashes out at security measures

Residents of southern Israel have lashed out at security measures in areas near Gaza following the arrest of Islamic Jihad leader Bassam al-Saadi on Monday, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“It is true that a leader was arrested, but half the country is paralysed,” said Shlomi Elkayam, owner of a toy store in Sderot, describing the mood in the city to Nissim Mashal and Guy Peleg on 103FM on Thursday.

The Israeli army blocked roads and halted rail services near the fence separating Gaza from Israel on Friday, for the fourth consecutive day. Later on Friday, Israel bombed multiple locations in the besieged Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian media.

“Would you close Tel Aviv like this, too? Desolate and empty - the streets have a feeling of Yom Kippur," said Elkayam. "There aren’t many cars on the road, there is no pedestrian traffic. There are also many closed towns that require a military escort to leave.”

The shop owner said the situation had caused a sharp fall in custom at his store.

“I have a 75 percent drop in income these days,” he said. “These are very critical days. In August, kids finish school, so these are days that should be busy - it’s like a carnival for us. These children will now go to Beersheba, because it’s safer there, to Ashkelon, because it’s safer."

Israeli press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

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