Suleiman says new documents prove Shebaa Farms is Lebanese

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, reported dpa.

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."

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