Lebanon will "cooperate unstintingly" with the United Nations after Israel completes its withdrawal from the south despite disagreement over the ownership of the Shebaa farms area on the border of Lebanon, Syria and Israel, Prime Minister Selim Hoss said Tuesday.
"It is normal that Lebanon should cooperate with the UN forces to liberate our land while retaining the right to demand the return of the Shebaa farms later," he said in a statement to the press.
"We believe in international law and shall cooperate unstintingly with the international force to ensure that Israel withdraw right back to the internationally recognized frontier established by the French and British mandatory powers in 1923 and the (Lebanese-Israeli) armistice line of 1949," he said.
He added that there was no doubt that the Shebaa farms are Lebanese and "we shall not give them up and shall continue to demand them back."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered an eagerly awaited report to the UN Security Council Monday, in which he recommended upping the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from their current strength of 4,500 to 7,935.
Annan's report apparently agreed with Israel that the disputed Shebaa farms are not covered by UN Security Council Resolution 425 of 1978, which called for Israel to "withdraw forthwith its forces from all Lebanese territory," and respect Lebanon's territorial integrity.
The report said the hamlets "are in a zone occupied by Israel in 1967, and therefore come under (UN Security Council) Resolutions 242 and 338," which called for Israel to withdraw from territory seized in the war of June 1967.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy called Tuesday on the Lebanese government to take control of southern Lebanon and send in the army as Israel's forces pull out.
"The Lebanese government must assume its responsibilities, because if not it would show that other elements dictate its behavior and would therefore be responsible," he said in a reference to Hizbollah movement.
"The Lebanese government must be responsible for those who have surrendered to its forces," he said, meaning the militiamen of the South Lebanon Army, paid and trained by Israel.
Levy issued a "warning not a threat" to Syria "not to play with fire".
"We want peace and will not accept any excuse for attacks against Israel after the withdrawal of our troops.
"I think Syria has agreed to contribute to cooling down the situation," he said.
Israel, which began withdrawing from south Lebanon Monday, has said it will launch a massive response to any cross-border attack from its northern neighbor.
Levy said "all of Israel's efforts concerning the withdrawal from Lebanon have been coordinated with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan because we would like international support for our right to self defense and do not want to remain hostage to south Lebanon."
"We contacted the United States, the Europeans, the Russians and the Asian countries and all of them understand our point of view.
"The UN Interim Force in Lebanon's job is to guarantee the peace and prevent a deterioration, but we must ensure our own security against Hizbollah."
He reminded reporters that the security cabinet had given Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is also the defense minister, full power to decide on his own how to respond to possible attacks on Israel.
Levy said, "We may be attacked while pulling out of Lebanon, and Israel will strike with all its might the interests of those who help organizations that are hostile to us."
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers retreated from Lebanon on Monday night ahead of schedule, with their grip on the region shaken by the collapse of their militia allies – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)