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Prominent US Senator Calls for Resolution of Shebaa Farms Dispute

A prominent member of the United States Senate says resolving the Shebaa Farms dispute is key to efforts to bring peace to Lebanon.

Senator Diane Feinstein says there will not be peace in Lebanon until the dispute over Shebaa Farms is resolved.

"Shebaa Farms is just a rocky, very small area up in the north of Israel," said Diane Feinstein.

Shebaa Farms lies at a strategic spot - at the junction of Israel, Syria and Lebanon. It has been occupied by Israel since it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. But the Lebanese say it is their land, and Hezbollah militants have turned the fate of this 10 square-kilometer enclave into a rallying cry and a pretext for attacks on Israeli soil.

Feinstein - a California Democrat - says an agreement on the fate of Shebaa Farms is crucial. She spoke on CNN's Late Edition program.

"I think deciding that really does take away one of the main organizing tools of Hezbollah, which has made the claim that parts of Lebanon are occupied, and one of those parts is Shebaa Farms," she said.

The enclave has historically been considered Syrian, and the U.N. says it will consider that to be the case until Syria formally cedes control to Lebanon.

That rationale came into play in 2000, when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon. The U.N. declared the withdrawal complete, even though Shebaa Farms remained under Israeli occupation.

U.N. officials have stressed they want to resolve the matter, but acknowledge the United Nations is not a boundary making authority. And while Syria has indicated it is willing to turn the territory over to the Lebanese, no formal action has been taken, leaving Hezbollah with a potent issue.

Earlier, Lebanese Justice Minister Charles Rizk told CNN an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms is envisioned as part of a permanent end to hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.

"And this ceasefire would be based on some points and one of these points is the evacuation of Shebaa Farms," said Charles Rizk.

Under questioning, Rizk stressed his government wants to solve the problem created by an armed Hezbollah. But he stressed the rise of the militant group is a consequence of other factors, including Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.