French rule out speedy solution to Shebaa Farms - report
France, in contrast to the US, does not foresee an imminent breakthrough in resolving the issue of claims to the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms in southern Lebanon, according to reports Friday.
The Lebanese daily As Safir quoted French sources as ruling out any "diplomatic" breakthrough in the dispute, reported dpa.
The sources confirmed that no agreement had yet been reached between the international community, Israel or Syria on a suggestion to place the area under UN guardianship.
"This issue is not a priority, and we should not exaggerate the importance of it," As Safir quoted one French source as saying. The source added that a settlement to the Shebaa Farms dispute "is not the key to peace and would not achieve a great breakthrough."
The source said that if Lebanon and Syria were serious about settling the Farms issue "then all they should do is submit a map to the UN" that acknowledges Shebaa is Lebanese.
Shebaa, a tiny enclave located in the border triangle of Lebanon, Israel and Syria, has been controlled by Israel since its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.
But in contrast to the French position, the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat meanwhile cited a senior US official as saying that Washington hoped for a "speedy settlement" of the issue.
Lebanon's newly-elected president Michel Suleiman said last month that Beirut would present new documents to the UN proving that the Shebaa Farms area is Lebanese, a move that could initiate diplomatic efforts aimed at finding a solution to the issue.
Suleiman made the remark to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who visited Lebanon in June.
Sources said that the Shebaa Farms issue was also discussed during talks between Suleiman and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who visited Lebanon last Month.
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.
UN Resolution 1701 which brought an end to a devastating 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 had called for the UN secretary general to make a proposal for the delineation of the disputed Shebaa Farms area.
The UN 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.
According to a well-informed UN source in Lebanon, UN mapping experts earlier this year determined that the farms are Lebanese territory and that international law requires Israel's withdrawal.
A Lebanese government source said 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.