London, Asharq Al-Awsat — In his first official trip to the British capital as Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Al Siniora affirmed that the purpose of his visit to London is to seek Britain’s support for Israel to withdraw from the occupied Shebaa Farms in Lebanon. Siniora stated that the “nightmare” of the Israeli occupation prevents the state from regaining its role as the real protector of the Lebanese people and the restoration of stability and political security to the country. Al Siniora added that he would also ask Britain to help Lebanon legalize its ownership of the Shebaa Farms and train the Lebanese security forces. He added that Lebanon seeks to end the Israeli occupation through diplomatic means and other means if necessary and said that resistance of the occupation is a legitimate right of the Lebanese people and “that not only a segment of the Lebanese people monopolize this right.”
Al Siniora’s remarks came as part of a dialogue he held with the editorial staff of Asharq Al-Awsat on his visit to its offices in London. Al Siniora stated that the Shebaa Farms that measure 42 square km is Lebanese and part of the Hasbaya region and that Lebanon has exercised its sovereignty over it for a long time but that Syria had always intruded. Syria would enter the area and sometimes set up police posts there. Israel occupied the Shebaa Farms in 1967 under the pretext that there were Syrian security posts there. Al Siniora said that the Israeli occupation of the area took place in stages and Israel swallowed it up “in doses.”
Al-Siniora recalled that the Lebanese dialogue conference has confirmed the Lebanese ownership of the Shebaa Farms, and that Syria recognized verbally that the Farms belong to Lebanon whilst the United Nations continues to consider them Syrian territory under international resolution 242. Al Siniora said that he had asked UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, during his recent visit to New York, to have the United Nations help Lebanon legalize its ownership of the Shebaa Farms.
In response to a question on the demarcation of the borders with Syria in the Shebaa Farms region and the confirmation of Lebanon’s ownership of the farms, Al Siniora said that the Syrians believe, “the burden of proof lies on the accuser.” He added that they would have nothing to do with the controversial issue of the identity of the Shebaa Farms. “We asked for outlining the borders and the Syrians said this would be useless. When we called for the demarcation of the borders in the area, the Syrians asked how they could be demarcated while Israel still occupies the area.” Al Siniora said that the Syrian stand to postpone the demarcation of the borders between the two countries until the Golan Heights area is liberated means maintaining the Israeli occupation, keeping weapons in the hands of a Lebanese group, and that the state cannot be the only holder of weapons.
Asked about his expected visit to Damascus, Al Siniora explained that he still waiting but “not begging” for the visit to take place, stressing Lebanon’s eagerness to establish relations with Syria based on trust and equality, as it is time that the Lebanese become accustomed to governing themselves and for Syria to get used to the idea that Lebanon is a free and sovereign country. He said that a free and independent Lebanon could serve itself, Syria, and the Arabs more efficiently than a subservient Lebanon.
On the cooperation between his government and President Emile Lahoud, Al Siniora said, “Had there been a president who respects the constitution and adopts genuine political and economic concepts, Lebanon would have been in a better position.” However, Siniora was careful in emphasizing that as long as Lahoud remains president, the government would respect the constitution and deal with him accordingly.
Al Siniora stated that the Lebanese national dialogue conference has made significant achievements as before the conference, any talk about the demarcation of the borders with Syria, Hezbollah’s weapons, and exchange of diplomatic relations with Syria would not be discussed openly whilst the conference managed to submit these issues for dialogue in a civilized manner.