Monday, 19 July 2010

Eighteen cooperation agreements, memos of understanding, executive programs and protocols were signed on Sunday 18th July between Syria and Lebanon at the end of the Syrian-Lebanese Follow-up and Coordination Commission meeting held in Damascus.

On his fourth visit to Syria since taking office in 2009, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged closer bilateral ties as did his Syrian counterpart Niji Otari.

A top issue between the two countries remains the border demarcation. After diplomatic relations were re-established in 2008, Syria agreed to establish a joint committee with Lebanon to demarcate the border, two years after United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 recommended that Syria address the issue.

Since then, however, progress has stalled, with Damascus claiming it was busy finishing the border demarcation with Jordan and that the continued presence of Israelis in the Sheb’aa Farms area complicated any demarcation.

Confusion over the Lebanon-Syria border has existed since the two countries achieved independence from France after the Second World War. No official agreement on the 365km long border has ever been reached, and the internationally recognised border is still that from the French Mandate in 1920.
Although a joint border committee was established in the 1950s and presented its conclusions in 1964, neither country took the findings to the United Nations to have new international maps established.

Syrian military and civilian presence has been a prolonged issue in Lebanon: a year after civil war broke out in Lebanon in 1975, Syrian troops entered the country. While their presence was initially part of an Arab peacekeeping force it eventually became a 29 year occupation.

Civil conflict continued far beyond the Taif Accord which officially ended the conflict in 1989 and during the occupation, Palestinian militias such as Hezbollah, established themselves in Lebanon, with Syrian approval.

In September 2004, the UN issued Security Council Resolution 1559, which called on the Government of Lebanon to exert control over all Lebanese territory, and reiterating previous resolutions, and declared its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon. It also called for the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon.

On 14th February 2005, Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri – who was the father of the current Prime Minister Saad Hariri - was assassinated, prompting protests in Beirut calling for Syria to withdraw. By late April 2005, Damascus announced that all of its troops had been withdrawn from Lebanese territory, which the UN confirmed in late May.

After the July-August 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 1701, which called upon the Government of Lebanon to secure its borders and recommended that Syria address the issue with Lebanon.

There are still 17 non-delineated sectors along the common border winding through valleys or rivers and despite Syrian insistence that it has withdrawn, large sections of Lebanese territory is likely still under de facto Syrian military and civilian control.

Following Noble Energy’s extensive offshore gas discoveries in Israeli waters there is considerable interest from the IOCs in the prospects for further discoveries in both Lebanese and Syrian waters. Noble’s Tamar field may contain 6 trillion cubic feet of gas, while the Leviathan block may contain 16 trillion cubic feet. Given that the terminus of the land boundary determines the precise direction of the maritime boundary, the formal settlement of the land border is an essential pre-requisite before the maritime area can be delineated.

Sources: SANA, All Lebanon, Bloomberg

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