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Syria, Lebanon Agree to Demarcate Border

Syria and Lebanon have agreed to take formal steps to define their common border, a day after pledging to establish full diplomatic relations for the first time.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his visiting Lebanese counterpart, Michel Suleiman, announced the agreement in a joint statement Thursday. The two also agreed during a second day of talks in Damascus to do more to control their borders.

The border between Syria and Lebanon has been poorly marked in some areas since the two countries gained independence from France more than 60 years ago.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told a news conference Thursday that the borders of the disputed Shebaa Farms area will not be included in the demarcation negotiations. He said the region cannot be demarcated while it remains under "Israeli occupation."

Israel captured the Shebaa Farms when it seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. The United Nations considers the Shebaa Farms to be occupied Syrian territory, but Beirut claims sovereignty over the area with the approval of Damascus.

Relations between Syria and Lebanon have been strained since the assassination in 2005 of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon a few months later. Syria has been widely blamed for the killing but denies involvement.

Syria and Lebanon have never had formal diplomatic ties, but announced in July they would open embassies in their respective countries. The two countries agreed Wednesday to exchange ambassadors for the first time.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the exchange of ambassadors could prove to be a very good first step, if Syria also respects Lebanon's sovereignty in other ways.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.