UNITED NATIONS,(Reuters) – Lebanon’s prime minister challenged Syria on Friday to delineate borders between the two counties but Damascus said Israel first had to withdraw from the disputed Shebaa Farms area.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told the U.N. Security Council that Lebanon would ask Secretary-General Kofi Annan to “confirm the specific steps required by the U.N. to recognize Lebanese sovereignty over the territory of the Shebaa Farms.”
The United Nations has said the Shebaa Farms are part of the Syrian Golan Heights but that Lebanon and Syria could change the border themselves, which they have not.
“We still await a positive response from Syria,” Siniora told the 15-member council.
In response, Syria’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Milad Atieh, said that although his country agreed the territory was Lebanese, Syria was not willing to discuss Shebaa Farms yet.
“This can only occur after freeing this area from foreign occupation,” Atieh said.
“We cannot go by parachute and demarcate while it is under Israeli occupation,” he told reporters later.
At issue is a small strip of territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war. All maps studied by the United Nations show the area is part of Syria but Lebanon’s Hizbollah guerrillas base their need for arms on defending it.
Hizbollah, whose attacks helped end Israel’s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, has made no move to disband and join the Lebanese army. Hizbollah is supported by both Iran and Syria and tangles regularly with Israelis across the Shebaa border.
The Security Council in September 2004 called for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and for Lebanon to disarm militia so the Beirut government could control the entire country.
Siniora told the council that Hizbollah’s role “in defending Lebanon is a matter of national debate.”
But he said that reconciling Hizbollah’s armed existence and the government’s obligation “to have a monopoly over arms and to exercise its full authority throughout the country is a major challenge to be addressed in the period ahead.”
Syria’s Atieh also said that his country would consider diplomatic relations with Beirut but that “agreements and current institutions by far go beyond the question of exchange of ambassadors.”
Lebanon and Syria have not had embassies on each other’s territory since Western powers carved the two states out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in 1920.
Damascus, which entered Lebanon in 1976 to quell a civil war, pulled its troops out a year ago after the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 22 others, which many blamed on Syria but which it denies. The murders resulted in mass anti-Syrian demonstrations.
The United Nations has sent a team to investigate the murder of Hariri and Siniora asked the council to extend the term of the prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, past its mid-summer deadline. Brammertz is on leave as deputy prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.