Syria, Lebanon Pledge to Respect UN as Barak Offers Peace
Syria and Lebanon have pledged to respect the United Nations' role in southern Lebanon, as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak held out the hand of peace to Beirut.
In Lisbon late Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara signaled that his country was opposed to any military escalation at Lebanon's border with Israel, telling AFP that Damascus "supports the UN and its role" in Lebanon.
Al-Shara made the comment on the sidelines of an informal ministerial meeting of Euromed, in response to a question on the possible deployment of UN peacekeepers following the withdrawal of Israeli troops.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has recommended the UN Security Council boost the number of peacekeepers in Lebanon from 4,513 to 7,935 to help calm the situation.
Beirut vowed Thursday to swiftly restore its authority in the areas vacated by Israeli troops earlier this week.
Meanwhile Barak, while holding out the hand of peace, warned that both Beirut and Damascus would be held responsible for any attacks against Israel and would have to face the consequences.
"Israel extends her hand in peace with the hope of a better and joint future, better for the children of both peoples," Barak said. "Let us exploit this hour. Let us speak peace. Israel was not Lebanon's enemy."
He said the two countries had a "chance to turn the page" -- but it depended on Beirut and Damascus, one of the main sponsors of Hizbollah, which has 35,000 troops in Lebanon and acts as power broker.
In Beirut, UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen confirmed early Friday that he had received assurances during a meeting with Lebanese officials that Beirut would comply with a UN decision on the delineation of the disputed land border.
His meetings had included Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Salim Hoss.
His comments followed a pledge Thursday by Hoss that the government would swiftly restore its authority in southern Lebanon.
"We pledge to work for security and stability in this region, so that it may return to prosperity," Hoss told huge crowds in Khiam, site of a notorious jail run by Israel's proxy militia.
"All the services of the state will swiftly resume in this part of the homeland and will be placed at the service of the people," he promised.
As Hoss spoke 100 Lebanese paramilitary police returned to Christian villages where some residents suffered reprisals after Israel's pullout overnight Tuesday.
But effectively the Hizbollah fighters who forced Israel out of south Lebanon were still in control there, leading nationwide celebrations on a specially created public holiday at the end of more than two decades of Israeli occupation.
Along the newly accessible border with the longtime enemy, an ecstatic crowd partied, waving flags of Hizbollah and even giving interviews to Israeli camera crews across the barbed wire partition.
In nearby Kiryat Shmona, where the Israeli parliament staged a special meeting in solidarity with border residents, Barak held out the prospect of peace but also of renewed bloodshed.
Hizbollah officials have said the group will continue the fight for disputed farmland but without specifying how, and Syria refrained Thursday from encouraging them to recourse to arms.
"The resistance takes its own decisions, it is not controlled by anyone else. It is Lebanese and knows what Lebanon's interests are, and acts according to those interests," the head of Syria's official news agency Fayez al-Sayegh told AFP.
Syria has its own dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights, occupied along with Shabaa in 1967, and a member of the Damascus parliament, Medhat Saleh, told AFP that with negotiations blocked it could set up its own Type-type fighters in a bid to drive the Israelis out.
Hizbollah’s other mentor, Iran, was also on the scene in the shape of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, who was welcomed by cheering crowds when he visited the border.
Meanwhile, some 400 members of the Israeli-allied South Lebanon Army (SLA) who surrendered after Israel's withdrawal have been referred to a Lebanese military court on charges of collaborating with the enemy.
UN: SHABAA FARMS IN LEBANON NOT PART OF UNIFIL ZONE
The United Nations reiterated on Thursday that a disputed collection of Israeli-occupied farms lay outside the area where it intended to verify the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon.
The Shabaa farms, as they are known, lie beyond the eastern extremity of the zone where the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been based since March 1978.
UNIFIL was established by Security Council Resolution 425 to verify the withdrawal of Israeli forces which had invaded southern Lebanon that month.
The mandate of UNIFIL also includes assisting the government of Lebanon to restore its authority throughout the country.
Lebanon says the Shabaa farms are on its territory.
In a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on May 11, Lebanese Prime Minister Selim el-Hoss said that "Israel's withdrawal from them will constitute an integral part of its implementation of resolution 425."
He added that unless Israel left the farms, "this withdrawal will be incomplete and will have the character of a redeployment of the Israeli occupation forces."
Israel, which occupied the first of the farms in 1967, says they are in Syria and that it will withdraw from them only in the framework of an agreement negotiated with Syria.
The disputed area covers about 250 square kilometers (100 square miles) and contains the equivalent of some 14 farms, and has four important water sources that feed into the Jordan basin and the Sea of Galilee.
Israel has set up a military spy station as well as an artillery position on the land.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara told Annan on May 16 that Syria endorsed the Lebanese claim to the farms – (AFP).
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