TEL AVIV - A UN cartographer has determined for the first time that the Israeli-held Shebaa Farms, long the centre of a territorial dispute, belong to Lebanon, a senior Israeli official said on Wednesday.
The United Nations has asked Israel to hand control of the flashpoint territory to the world body, the official said on condition of anonymity, adding however that this had been rejected by the Jewish state.
A UN source in Jerusalem however said its cartographer has not finished his work and that it had not asked the Israeli government to hand over control of the land that the United Nations has up until now viewed as Syrian.
"The UN cartographer continues his work and will be visiting the area shortly," the source said.
Israel captured the 25-square-kilometre (10-square-mile) area of land on the Israel-Lebanon-Syria border as part of the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it along with the rest of the strategic plateau.
Lebanon today claims sovereignty over the territory and Syria backs Lebanon’s claim.
"In his findings that this area belonged to Lebanon, he must have ignored a lot of facts," the Israeli official said. "This territory has always been considered Syrian."
The tiny piece of land has been the reason for the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah's ongoing battle against the Jewish state after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
Hezbollah wants all of Lebanon’s land liberated, but Israel claims that the remaining land it occupies is Syrian not Lebanese, despite Syria’s instance that it is Lebanese.
Israel launched its 34-day war on Lebanon last year because Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006 in its continuous attempt to liberate the Shebaa Farms from Israeli occupation.
Critics of Israel say all parties (including Israel) agree that the farms are not Israeli and therefore should not remain under Israeli control, whether they belonged to Syria or Lebanon.