Beirut – Lebanon’s newly-elected President Michel Suleiman has said Lebanon will present new documents to the United Nations proving that the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area is Lebanese, a move that could initiate diplomatic efforts aimed at finding a solution to the issue. According to Lebanese radio reports, Suleiman made the announcement to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who was visiting Lebanon Monday.  Media reports on Tuesday said the president stressed to Miliband Lebanon’s right to regain its sovereignty over the Shebaa farms zone, a tiny enclave, located where the borders of Lebanon, Israel and Syria meet.  It has been controlled by Israel since its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

On Monday, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted Lebanese security sources as saying that the Shebaa Farms issue was also discussed during talks between Suleiman and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who visited Lebanon last Saturday.  The sources said that in Suleiman’s view an Israeli withdrawal from the area "would pave the way for a defence strategy agreement among the Lebanese and a settlement of the (Hezbollah) arms issue."  An-Nahar daily on Tuesday quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the British Foreign Secretary promised Lebanese leaders during his visit to Beirut that he would discuss the Shebaa issue with UN chief Ban Ki-moon in London next week.  The sources said that Miliband would talk with Ban on ways to convince Israel to withdraw from the farms area after Suleiman revealed that Lebanon had new documents proving the ownership of Shebaa.  Miliband asked Suleiman to send copies of the documents to the British government, according to the sources.  "As a member of the UN Security Council, we are fully committed to playing our part and to urge others to do so in ensuring that all of Resolution 1701 is put into practice, including the Shebaa Farms issue," Miliband said Monday.  Resolution 1701 brought an end to a devastating 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and called for the UN secretary general to make a proposal for the delineation of the disputed Shebaa Farms area. 

The United Nations has said in the past that Shebaa is Syrian territory, captured by Israel in the 1967 war: Syria and Lebanon maintain that it is Lebanese land.  Earlier this year, UN mapping experts have determined that the farms are Lebanese territory and that international law requires Israel’s withdrawal, according to a well-informed UN source in Lebanon. According to a Lebanese government source, the UN suggested earlier this year, that the Shebaa Farms be placed under UN jurisdiction once agreement is reached with Jerusalem. The UN’s former Lebanon envoy Geir Pederson is said to have informed Israeli officials that "that the UN believes that there is merit in the Lebanese claims of sovereignty over Shebaa Farms."

However, the comments angered Israeli officials who have said that regaining the area would strengthen the position of Hezbollah, which insists that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese territory and has fought against Israeli forces there.

Israeli daily Haaretz at the time quoted Pedersen, during a meeting with senior Israeli Defence Ministry official Amos Gilad, as saying that the evidence boosted the Lebanese claims that Shebaa is Lebanese.

"It may be advisable for Israel to agree to separate negotiations with the government of Lebanon on Shebaa Farms to resolve the issue," the newspaper quoted Pedersen as saying.

Gilad turned down the proposal, saying: "We will not agree to resolving this issue separately. Every agreement with Lebanon will be part of a single package."

Olmert signals readiness for talks with Lebanon

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BEIRUT: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday suggested holding peace talks with Lebanon, following last month’s announcement of Israel’s indirect, Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria. "I would have been glad if – after the announcement of the talks with Syria – the Lebanese government would announce its willingness to open direct bilateral talks with Israel," a senior official quoted Olmert as saying in a cabinet meeting.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Olmert spoke in a closed meeting, said the premier "wasn’t asking for talks with Lebanon" but was voicing his hope that conditions would emerge to enable negotiations to be held.

Hizbullah refused to comment on Olmert’s remarks, pending the release of an official reaction, the reistance group’s media office said.

Meanwhile, sources close to Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora said Lebanese-Israeli peace talks were not an option at the current time.

The sources said Lebanon would only make peace in accordance with the Arab peace initiative, which was launched during an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002.

The initiative offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for its withdrawal from the territories it occupied during the 1967 war. The initiative also stressed the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

The sources added that efforts aimed at urging Israel to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms were not related to any form of peace settlement between Lebanon and Israel.

Israel and Syria last month announced they were holding indirect negotiations brokered by Turkey, eight years after their last attempt at peacemaking broke down.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has reportedly told British MPs Lebanon should engage in indirect peace talks with Israel.

Assad’s advice was slammed by Democratic Gathering bloc head MP Walid Jumblatt, who said on Monday that "Lebanon will not fall in this trap."

Jumblatt said that Lebanon would not take any steps in this direction before Syria signed a peace deal with Israel. Assad recently said, however, that Syria and Israel would not engage in direct talks this year. – Agencies, The Daily Star

BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon rejected on Wednesday a call by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for peace talks and demanded that Israel withdraw from disputed territory along their international borders

"There are pending bilateral issues between Lebanon and Israel which are governed by international resolutions which Israel must respect… and which cannot be the object of political negotiations," a government statement said.

"Israel… must respect Lebanon’s sovereignty over its territory and its water, release prisoners and provide maps on mines and cluster bombs" strewn in Lebanon during past conflicts, it said.

On Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister suggested holding peace talks with Lebanon, following last month’s announcement of indirect, Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria.

"I see many advantages in this," a senior Israeli official quoted Olmert as saying in a cabinet meeting.

In May 2000, Israel withdrew from south Lebanon after a 22-year occupation in line with UN Security Council Resolution 425 but the Jewish state still held onto the Shebaa Farms on the borders with Lebanon and Syria.

Israel captured the 25-square-kilometre (10-square-mile) area of land on the Israel-Lebanon-Syria border as part of the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it along with the rest of the strategic plateau.

The UN considers the Shebaa Farms as Syrian but Beirut, with the approval of Damascus, claims sovereignty over the territory and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah justifies its continuing armed struggle against Israel on the basis of liberating it.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who for the past 15 months received strong US backing in his standoff with the Hezbollah-led opposition, reiterated the government claim to the territory in a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice late on Wednesday, his office said.

The prime minister asked Rice to "put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms and place the territory under UN administration pending a demarcation of the border between Syria and Lebanon," it said.

Security Council Resolution 1701 which put an end to an indecisive 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 also demanded an Israeli pullout from the Shebaa Farms.

Lebanon and Israel have officially remained at a state of war since 1948, when the Jewish state was established, despite having signed an armistice agreement in 1949.

Siniora pledged two years ago that Lebanon would be "the last Arab country to sign" a peace treaty with Israel.