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Shebaa Farms: key to stability?

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The Shebaa Farms is likely to come into sharper focus following the imminent prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah, in which the last Lebanese detainees held in Israeli jails will be exchanged for two Israeli soldiers, whose condition is unknown, captured by the Shiite group two years ago. A successful conclusion of the prisoner swap will leave the Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms as the last outstanding major dispute between Lebanon and Israel and, therefore, justification for Hezbollah to remain armed.

Until recently, Israel was reluctant to yield the Shebaa Farms, calculating that Hezbollah might find a new reason to keep its weapons. The United States sympathized with Israel's stance and made little effort to push the agenda.

But Israel, which is engaged in indirect peace talks with Syria, shifted position last month, saying it was now willing to pull out its troops and turn the Farms over to the jurisdiction of the United Nations. The move was given further impetus when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in mid-June that "the time has come to deal with the Shebaa Farms issue."

Israeli troops seized the Farms and the Kfar Shuba hills – known collectively as the Shebaa Farms – during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war when the adjacent Golan Heights of Syria was captured and occupied. The residents of the 14 farms that make up the 12 square-mile territory were expelled from their homes and today live on the Lebanese side of the line.

"The Israelis shelled and shot at us in the [1967] war until we reached a point where we couldn't take it anymore and left. We had no choice. That was the last time I saw my land where I had lived my entire life," says Afif Daher, who is 84 and who owned 70 dunums (17.3 acres or 83,700 square yards) of land at Zebdine farm.

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