Sources: UN Has Determined That Shaba Farms Area Is 20-40 Square Kilometers

United Nations cartographer Miklos Pinter has determined that the Shaba Farms, an area on the slopes of Mount Hermon claimed by Lebanon and under Israeli control, spans 20 to 40 square kilometers, according to diplomatic sources.

The area of Mount Hermon that is under Israeli control extends to 70 square kilometers, and the entire Golan Heights is 1,250 square kilometers.

Pinter's report will not be released ahead of the upcoming UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Lebanon and an extension of the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. The United Nations has decided there is no reason to raise the issue in the absence of an agreement on a diplomatic process to resolve the dispute and transfer control of the territory. As Haaretz reported last week, Israel has warned the United Nations against releasing the Shaba Farms map, fearing it could reignite the conflict and give Hezbollah an excuse to renew hostilities.

Pinter is due to visit the Shaba Farms area before submitting his final report on the matter. His current findings are based on material submitted by the Lebanese government as well as his familiarity with the area from the period when he coordinated the mapping of the Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000.

The Shaba Farms was pastureland of the Lebanese village Shaba, in a region that had been part of the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon. The border between Syria and Lebanon, set in a 1923 agreement between the British and French mandatory powers, was not made completely clear. After the Israel Defense Forces withdrew from Lebanon, the Lebanese said Shaba Farms was part of their sovereign territory, and Hezbollah said its struggle with Israel was intended, in part, for "the liberation of the occupied land." Lebanon's claim was accepted by the Arab League, and forms part of the Arab peace initiative.

Israel convinced the United Nations in 2000 that the Shaba Farms are part of the Golan Heights and do not belong to Lebanon, and that the future of that area will be determined in Israeli-Syrian negotiations over the Golan. But the controversy has not abated, and after the Second Lebanon War last summer, the United Nations decided to map the area as a basis for determining who should have sovereignty over it.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected an American proposal during the war to transfer the Shaba Farms to the United Nations, saying that doing so would be rewarding terrorism. After the war, Olmert told UN representatives that he would agree to resolve the dispute as part of a package deal including the resolution of the situation along the Lebanese border. He even spoke about a state ceremony for the land transfer if the United Nations were to conclude that it belongs to Lebanon. However, the diplomatic sources said that over the past few months, Israeli interest in resolving the dispute has waned as Lebanon has become immersed in its own internal struggles.