World News

Lebanon sees need for Israeli withdrawal not talks

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon poured cold water on Wednesday on Israel’s hope that Beirut would follow Damascus in opening peace talks with Israel, saying the Jewish state had to withdraw from what Beirut considers its occupied land.

Lebanon’s response came after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet on Tuesday he hoped Lebanon would consider opening talks on peace with the Jewish state.

Israel and arch-foe Syria have been holding indirect talks under Turkish auspices and further meetings in Turkey are expected later this week.

The caretaker Lebanese government said Israel had to withdraw from the disputed Shebaa Farms region in accordance with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The region, a small area in the foothills of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is considered Lebanese by the Lebanese government but the United Nations says it is Syrian land. Israel annexed the area in the 1967 Middle East war, a move not recognised by the international community.

“With regards to bilateral issues hanging between Lebanon and Israel, they are dictated by international resolutions concerning Israel, specifically (U.N. Security Council) resolutions 425 and 1701 and these are not subject to political negotiation,” the government’s media office said in a statement.

“Lebanon seeks to enforce these two decisions completely especially with concerns to the end of the occupation of the Shebaa Farms....”

The statement said once Israel withdrew from Lebanese land, Lebanon got back its prisoners and received maps of landmines and cluster bombs which were used in previous wars, “a truce agreement between Lebanon and Israel will be in effect”.

Israel fought a 34-day war with pro-Iranian Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon in 2006. After that conflict Israeli leaders made peace overtures towards Lebanon’s Western-backed government but no diplomatic breakthrough ensued.

Under a Qatari-mediated deal last month, Hezbollah, which has vowed to keep its weapons until Israel withdraws from all Lebanese land, has guaranteed veto power in a yet to be formed national unity government.

Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Samia Nakhoul