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Lebanon takes plea on disputed border area to UK

Written by: Staff

LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) Lebanon's Prime Minister has tried to convince Britain to help pressure Israel to withdraw from the disputed Shebaa Farms border area, a tiny strip of land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.

Fouad Siniora, a member of the anti-Syrian majority coalition government, said he asked British Prime Minister Tony Blair for help in getting the United Nations to recognise this area as Lebanese rather than Syrian.

Blair's office said only that the leaders spoke about a number of regional issues and that any peace in the Middle East must come through a negotiated solution.

The United States steered clear of the issue when Siniora made his case to U.S. President George W. Bush in April.

Washington said the issue was between Lebanon and Syria only.

''I have asked Mr. Blair to help Lebanon ... to pressure Israel to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms,'' Siniora told the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London yesterday.

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. The United Nations has urged Beirut and Damascus to amend the border themselves.

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.

An Israeli embassy spokesman in London told Reuters that Israel has complied with U.N. resolutions on the subject.

''Israel went by the indications of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) and therefore we feel committed to the borders the UN marked out,'' the spokesman said yesterday.

Relations between Lebanon and Syria have been severely strained since the February 14, 2005 killing of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, which many in Lebanon blamed on Syria. Damascus has repeatedly denied involvement.

Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 to quell a civil war but pulled its troops out after the murder.

Reuters PDS VP0430

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