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The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"The Hezbollah are claiming victory"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 21:42 GMT 22:42 UK
Syria 'accepts' Israeli withdrawal
Terje Roed-Larsen
Roed-Larsen returns from Damascus with a deal
The United Nations special envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, has said Syria accepts that Israel has fully withdrawn from Lebanon.

Mr Larsen was speaking in the Syrian capital, Damascus, after meeting Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa as part of efforts to guarantee security in southern Lebanon.

Syria has accepted a UN report that Israel does not need to withdraw from the disputed Shebaa Farms area to comply with the recognised international borders, Mr Roed-Larsen said.

"The UN defines the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon. It does not include Shebaa Farm," he said.
Shebaa Farms military outpost
Israel says it took Shebaa Farms from Syria in 1967

But Mr al-Sharaa later clarified Syria's position saying Israel must leave the Shebaa Farms - if not now, then later as part of a withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights.

Our correspondent in the region says it appears that Damascus is no longer using the return of the Shebaa Farms as a condition for accepting Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon. Beirut is likely to concur since Syria essentially sets foreign policy in Lebanon.

The Syrian-backed militia in Lebanon, Hezbollah, has said it will continue fighting unless Israel leaves Shebaa, but our correpondent says the latest development suggests the chances of violence have been reduced. Change of tone

On the eve of Mr Roed-Larsen's visit, Syria took a swipe at his mission with state-run Damascus radio saying Israel had not fully withdrawn from its former zone of occupation.


Israeli and UN soldier
Work on the ground included precise measurements
Last week Mr al-Sharaa insisted at a news conference in Lisbon that Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon had to include the Shebaa Farms, an area adjacent to the Israeli occupied Golan Heights.

However, the UN had concluded that the Shebaa Farms were Syrian territory occupied by Israel in 1967 and so did not belong to Lebanon.

The UN decided they should be the subject of separate talks between Israel and Syria.

Israel pulled out of south Lebanon last week, effectively leaving the Lebanese guerrilla movement, Hezbollah, in control.

The BBC correspondent Barbara Plett said that the Shebaa Farms issue was widely viewed as a pretext for Syria and Lebanon to reject UN verification, leaving open the possibility for continued attacks.

Syrian support for the UN line now reduces the chances of violence in the border zone.

Verification

UN verification of the Israeli withdrawal is a key condition set by Lebanon before deploying its troops in the volatile region.


Sharaa and Patten
After meeting EU officials last week Mr Sharaa (left) said Syria was seeking peace with Israel
Mr Roed-Larsen said the UN would "be able in not too many days to certify" the Israeli withdrawal.

On Tuesday, he said security measures in the area had eased tension along the border with Israel.

The UN envoy met technical teams marking the line needed to confirm that the pullback was to internationally-recognised borders.

He said they were expected to finish the job on the Israeli side by Wednesday, and then do the ground work in Lebanon.

"There is work going on full swing on the ground," Mr Roed-Larsen said after his talks in Damascus.

As soon as it is finished, the UN is hoping that Lebanon will send in its army to regain control of the south.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Middle East
UN assesses Lebanon role
29 May 00 | Middle East
Palestinians reach across divide
29 May 00 | Middle East
No decision on Lebanese detainees
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