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Shebaa Farms occupies a pivotal spot in Mideast conflict

Any lasting Israeli-Hezbollah cease fire will have to address the fraught question of who owns 14 abandoned orchards, pastures and mini-farms on the Syrian-Lebanese border with Israel known as Shebaa Farms.

Israel captured the 10 square-mile strip of sand and dust-tinted scrub brush from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967.

When Israel pulled its troops from southern Lebanon in 2000, it left some in Shebaa Farms on the theory that Hezbollah no longer had an excuse to attack them as occupying forces because Shebaa Farms belonged to Syria.

Israel proved wrong about Hezbollah, which has attacked the area more than 30 times since 2000—and killed seven Israeli troops—2000 on grounds that Shebaa Farms belongs to Lebanon.

And Syria agrees with Hezbollah.

While even Israelis say Shebaa Farms' strategic value is minimal, no one in the region is giving away any bargaining chips these days.

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(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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