Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh described the agreement on the Shebaa Farms that was reached by Lebanese leaders as “an excellent step.” Salloukh told Asharq al-Awsat that the ownership of the farms is decided through a Lebanese-Syrian agreement “while the UN’s role is just to document the agreement.”
Salloukh said that there are “many signs” that Syria will agree to the demand of “determining” the borders, “determining” considered more accurate than demarcation as demarcation takes place between two countries that dispute ownership under UN supervision whereas Lebanon and Syria do not have a problem in this respect as the latter recognizes that these farms are Lebanese. The Lebanese minister emphasized the need for peaceful meetings with Syria to agree on a straightforward procedure to ascertain the Lebanese ownership of the farms. He did not exclude talks on how to complete the demarcation of the borders in other areas over which the two countries have been experiencing problems for the past 50 years. He said that ad hoc committee was set up at the time to look into these problems, reiterating the need to carry all this “in a calm atmosphere as the Syrians are brothers that we cannot abandon and they cannot abandon us.”
Minister Salloukh said that he is optimistic about the results of the national dialogue and said that he hopes that it will help normalize relations with Syria, noting that Syria’s interaction with the new international investigator of the Hariri probe “is a positive and new sign.”
Minister Salloukh said that the second step would be to confirm the Lebanese ownership of Shebaa Farms by holding a meeting between the two countries and signing official records concerning the borders that would be sent to the United Nations. Parliamentarians in both Lebanon and Syria would ratify the records if necessary.
Minister Salloukh said that during his meetings with ambassadors of western countries, he sensed a misunderstanding of the Shebaa Farms issue. They believe that the area is made up of a group of farms whereas in fact, it consists of small villages where the inhabitants spend the winter and plant various agricultural products. Salloukh added that the Lebanese state does not accept any questioning of Lebanese ownership of the farms and that it is important to register Lebanese ownership with the United Nations. Salloukh then gave details of evidence that supports this viewpoint about Lebanese ownership, including real estate documents, stressing that the Lebanese state does not issue such documents for areas that are outside its sovereignty, even if their owners are Lebanese. Other evidence that the minister submitted comprised of a map that dates back to 1862, before the establishment of greater Lebanon, showing that the Shebaa Farms were part of the villages of the Hasbaya province. Further proof indicates that Israel used to issue permits to the Lebanese farmers to farm their lands during the occupation from 1982 until 2000, noting that Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. “How then can it allow the Lebanese to exploit land it considers as Israeli land?”
The strongest piece of evidence from Salloukh’s perspective deals with the international stand on the Shebaa Farms. This states that any problems that arise in the area are to be settled by the international forces in southern Lebanon, the UNIFIL founded under resolution 425 while the international force in the Golan Heights, the UNDOF, did not look into a single case and this, according to the Lebanese minister, shows that the international community recognizes the Lebanese ownership of the Shebaa Farms.
Minister Salloukh stressed that the UN role here is not to decide whether the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese but rather to confirm that they are Lebanese-owned and document this ownership as the ownership issue is decided in an agreement between the two countries.
What will happen after ownership is confirmed and the case is registered with the United Nations? Minister Salloukh said that Lebanon would use all means to end the occupation. If Israel withdraws, so be it. Otherwise, the resistance will play a role in liberating the entire land.
Salloukh rejected reports that the Israelis took the Shebaa Farms from the Syrian forces, stressing that there are no Syrian forces in the area. However, he admitted that there was a Syrian security post that was set up in the area at the request of the inhabitants after the Lebanese government at the time failed to send a force to control the borders and prevent the smuggling of Jews from Syria and Lebanon into Palestine through the Shebaa Farms. He said that only four Syrian soldiers operated this post and that the contract leasing this post signed by the Lebanese owner of the land, Mustafa Ahmad Hamdan could be produced.
Though most people know that the Shebaa Farms are still being occupied by Israel, there are other Lebanese areas that are also under occupation including the Kafr Shuba hills that are close to Shebaa where the Israelis have taken up positions because it is a strategic point. However, the withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms would most certainly be followed by withdrawal from these hills. There are also the peaks of Mount Hermon where Israel has exploited the Lebanese part by establishing ski resorts. The decision on whether they are owned by Lebanon also depends on an agreement with Syria.