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Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Thursday, 19 June 2008 13:36 UK

Lebanon spurns Israeli overture

Israeli guard post on Lebanese-Israel border
The heavily guarded Israeli border is still an occasional front line in battle

Lebanon's prime minister-designate has again rejected the idea of bilateral negotiations with Israel.

Fouad Siniora's office said Israel's withdrawal from occupied territory, as required by UN resolutions, was the key to peace, not a negotiation process.

The statement came a day after an Israeli official repeated his country's interest in holding talks with Lebanon.

Lebanon says Israel occupies part of its southern border territory, though Israel says it was originally Syrian.

The United Nations has backed Israel's interpretation that the Shebaa Farms area is part of the Syrian Golan Heights - occupied by Israel since 1967 - although Syria disputes this.

The Israeli expression of interest came amid growing speculation that Lebanon's Hezbollah movement may be close to reaching a deal with Israel on the release of two Israeli soldiers captured in 2006.

Israeli officials said all issues of the dispute, including the Shebaa Farms, could be included in negotiations.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said, with negotiations current on-going with Syria and the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, "there is no reason why Israel should not" negotiate with Lebanon.

Mr Siniora's office said Lebanon remained committed to a joint Arab initiative offering Israel peace in return for a full withdrawal from all the territory it occupied in the 1967 war.




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