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Wednesday, November 4, 1998 Published at 02:00 GMT

World: Middle East

Lebanon accuses Israel of land-grab

Israel has occupied Southern Lebanon for more than 20 years

By Christopher Hack in Beirut

The Lebanese Government has asked the United Nations and the European Union to intervene to prevent Israel allegedly stealing soil from land in South Lebanon which it occupies.

The country's foreign minister has accused Israel of scooping up hundreds of tonnes of fertile top soil from the occupied zone and taking it across the border into northern Galilee.

Israel has occupied parts of South Lebanon for more than 20 years in order it says to protect its northern border from guerrilla attacks.

In that time, Lebanese authorities have accused it of arbitrary detentions and the forced eviction of Lebanese citizens from the occupation zone.

Basin turned to a mud patch

Beirut newspapers have published pictures of the two-kilometre-wide al-Marj basin, which was once fertile and green but now looks like a huge mud patch, criss-crossed with bulldozer tracks.

They say the work began two weeks ago.

Lebanese authorities say the soil is being carried about a kilometre across the border where it is being used to form new farming areas on a rocky Israeli hillside near the village of Metuala.

Israel, which earlier in the year offered to withdraw from Lebanon in exchange for security guarantees, is yet to respond to the allegations.

But the reports have incensed Lebanese politicians who are calling it robbery and say it underlines the economic gains Israel is making from its continued occupation.

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