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Syria accepts U.N. ruling on Shebaa Farms, envoy says

Damascus says it still wants Israel out of disputed region

May 31, 2000
Web posted at: 11:43 p.m. EDT (2343 GMT)

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The top U.N. envoy in Lebanon said Syria accepted a U.N. ruling on a disputed border area on Wednesday, but Damascus later repeated calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the region.

The disputed area, called Shebaa Farms, is at the foot of Mount Hermon on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The United Nations recognizes Syrian ownership of Shebaa land, which was captured by Israel in 1967. Lebanon also claims the land.

The United Nations insists the Shebaa issue should be dealt with in negotiations between Israel and Syria and that the U.N. could consider Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon last week complete without a handover of the Shebaa Farms.

U.N special envoy Terje Roed Larsen told reporters he had received support for the U.N. position in talks with Syrian leaders in Damascus on Wednesday.

Larsen said Syria was "in full agreement on every matter," including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report defining the lines of withdrawal, leaving the 18 Shebaa Farms still under Israeli occupation.

VideoCNN's Jerrold Kessel speaks to border town residents about the pullout.
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VideoBeirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler looks at the once-disputed land.
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Israeli withdrawal
Mideast peace

"It's very important that Syria supports this report because Syria is a very significant actor in the region, and it's very valuable that Syria is behind the report," he said.

But after the talks, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa moved quickly to correct any impression that Syria was happy with the Israeli occupation of Shebaa.

"Mr. Larsen raised the Shebaa Farms issue during the talks, saying it was not under the mandate of the UNIFIL forces (U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon) in south Lebanon, but related to the end of UNDOF (U.N. Disengagement Observer Force) in the occupied Syrian Golan," al-Sharaa said.

"We explained to him our position that in both cases the Shebaa Farms should not remain under Israeli occupation," al-Sharaa said in a statement to the official news agency SANA.

"It should be either returned to Lebanon, as Syria informed the U.N., or Israel withdraws from it in accordance with U.N. Resolution 242, which calls for withdrawal from the Golan without delay."

It was not clear whether al-Sharaa's comments meant this was a condition for confirming that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon had been completed or for a separate Syrian-Israeli accord.

Beirut Bureau Chief Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this report.

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