UN Envoy Heads for Syria to Hear Demands for Further Israeli Withdrawal

Published May 31st, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen left Beirut Wednesday for talks in Damascus about Syrian-Lebanese demands for a further Israeli troop pullout in a disputed area between the three states, a delegation member said. 

Roed-Larsen was to meet with Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara about the dispute over the Shebaa farms, in which Israel rejects the Syrian-Lebanese claim that the area belongs to Lebanon and requires Israel's withdrawal, he said. 

Israel withdrew from south Lebanon on May 24, under UN resolution 425, and then pulled back from two positions in the Shebaa farms area, which is adjacent to the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war. 

But Israel refuses any further withdrawals, saying they should be discussed in its negotiations with Syria, which are currently frozen. 

Before the United Nations Interim forces in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) deploy in the area previously occupied by Israel in southern Lebanon, the United Nations has to certify that Israel has returned to the international borders. 

UNIFIL can then pull out themselves after the Lebanese government reasserts its control over south Lebanon.  

UN cartographers have been working at the Lebanese-Israeli borders from both sides of the frontiers since May 26. 

On Wednesday morning, the UN cartographers met for the third time with Lebanese experts, after having sat down on Tuesday evening with Israeli experts in northern Israel, a UN source said. 

Lebanese sources have said that throughout the years, Israel had seized patches of Lebanese territory at 16 different locations along the two countries' borders. 

But UN sources said the issue would not cause problems because Israel had no intention of continuing to occupy the zones. 

The issue of the Shabaa hamlets was more problematic from the point of view of international law, a member of Roed-Larsen's delegation told AFP. 

UN officials said the Shabaa Farms are not within the operational field of the UNIFIL in line with resolutions 425 and 426 adopted in 1978 by the Security Council after Israel's first invasion of southern Lebanon. 

The territory falls under the control of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights. 

Therefore, Roed-Larsen has stressed the need for a written Lebanese-Syrian document to legally permit the Security Council to switch the territory from the UNDOF zone to the area under UNIFIL control. 

No document having the value of an international treaty on the Lebanese-Syrian borders has ever been presented at the United Nations.  

A Lebanese source said a joint written statement by Lebanon and Syria would be enough to clear up the controversy. 

However experts told AFP that such a document should be ratified by the Lebanese and Syrian parliaments to acquire international value. 

The Shabaa hamlets are a mountainous region at the joint borders between Lebanon, Syria and Israel. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations said late Tuesday it was up to Beirut to decide how it re-establishes its sovereignty after Lebanese Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss said his government was not required by law to deploy its troops in the south. 

Israel has called on Lebanon to send its troops there to ensure Syrian-backed guerrillas do not resume attacks on Israel. Roed-Larsen earlier echoed that appeal -- BEIRUT (AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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