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CNN Live Saturday

Interview With Lebanese Ambassador Farid Abboud

Aired April 13, 2002 - 13:31   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Lebanese ambassador to the United States, Farid Abboud, joins us from our CNN Washington bureau.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. As much as the attention is focused on what's happening on the West Bank, there's also a great deal of attention being focused at what's happening along the Israeli border with your country Lebanon. Katusha rockets continuing to come into northern Israel from Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. How concerned should everyone be that escalation along your border with Israel could occur?

FARID ABBOUD, LEBANESE AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: No, Katusha rockets are not falling on northern Israel. They are falling on a small area called the Shebaa Farms, which Lebanon considers Lebanese territory and which is still occupied by the Israeli forces who have not withdrawn from it. And the military activity is entirely located and concentrated on this area, which is a very small area.

As far as the rest of the blue line, which is the line separating Israel from Lebanon, the withdrawal line, there is no military activity and there were some attempts by fringe groups, Palestinians who have tried to infiltrate and lob one or two Katushas and they have been arrested by the Lebanese army, and they have been stopped. And the rest of the line is totally safe.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, has the Lebanese army returned throughout southern Lebanon to try to patrol, to try to control the situation down there?

ABBOUD: The security in south Lebanon is quite well taken care of by security forces and the Lebanese army and intelligence forces by the government of Lebanon, and the situation is very stable. I mean even by the assurances given by the United Nations troops there.

The only military activity going on is in the Shebaa Farms, which we claim as ours and even the Israelis say it is occupied territories, but they say, well it's not for Lebanon. It is Syrian. That is the only difference of opinion. But apart from that, everybody accepts (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: And just to give our viewers -- Mr. Ambassador, just to give our viewers some perspective, that area of the so-called Shebaa Farm, that's a tiny, tiny little area that's under dispute right now. How big of an area is it? ABBOUD: I think it's a very small area, a few square miles. It's uninhabited and it has some pasture and some military positions in it, and the attacks are all directed against military positions. There are no civilians there.

BLITZER: The United Nations' position is that that is not Lebanese territory, that it's the Syrian territory, is that right?

ABBOUD: Yes, that is what the United position -- United Nations position is. Of course, we disagree with that. We have provided the U.N. and others with documents proving that this area is actually Lebanese territory, but of course there is disagreement on this one.

BLITZER: Even if there is a disagreement, that doesn't justify Hezbollah mortar attacks against Israeli positions within that Shebaa Farms area, does it?

ABBOUD: You know, the Lebanese -- as long as there are people occupying Lebanese territories, there will be people from Lebanon who will do their best to render their stay as unpleasant and as dangerous as possible. We've done that in the past when the Israelis were occupying part of our country, and we waged a successful guerrilla warfare against the military units there, and they ended up withdrawing.

So this is a continuation of the same process. When there is an occupied area, there are people to resist this occupation, but it is limited. We have no intention of escalating or expanding the confrontation, and it can be limited if Mr. Sharon does not choose to, you know, go out of his way to, you know, expand it and escalate.

BLITZER: The Lebanese Ambassador to the United States, Farid Abboud, once again, Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us, and we want to continue this conversation and get some additional perspective from the former supreme allied commander, the former NATO commander, the retired General Wesley Clark. General Clark, Ambassador Abboud was hopeful that this would not escalate.

But I have to tell you, as I told you the past hour, top Israeli officials are very concerned that this situation along the Israeli- Lebanese border could in fact escalate, and could involve in fact Israeli-Syrian confrontation unless cooler heads prevail. How serious is this potential problem?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I don't think it's a problem that's going to be life threatening to the State of Israel, because Israel has sufficient military forces to defeat any combination of powers that might attack it. And were the Syrians to do something significant, they'd lose their armed forces or any part of them that were anywhere near being engaged with Israel.

So on the other hand, we certainly don't want to see the fighting there expand, and I'm really surprised by the ambassador from Lebanon, who has not only justified the shelling in the Shebaa Farms, but taken responsibility for it. He's opening his country up to the perennial Israeli tactic of holding the responsible parties responsible. And, in this case, the Lebanese government is claiming responsibility, I guess. That's the gist of what he's saying. So, I think that he's inviting a situation in which Israel will have no choice but to apply greater force.

BLITZER: But as you know, the Lebanese government is still hardly in complete control of that area in the southern part of Lebanon. Syria-backed and Iranian-backed Hezbollah forces are still pretty prevalent and they can cause a lot of turmoil, a lot of potential damage that the central government of Lebanon may not be able physically to control.

CLARK: You're right, Wolf, and this is why I was quite surprised that he seemed so willing to take the responsibility for it. And, it seems to me though that there's probably a lot of liaison and a lot of support and a lot of tacit approval underway up there north of that border, both from the Syrians and the Lebanese, who are supporting this.

And so, I think that Israel is going to have to respond to this by continuing to strike with bombs and missiles and so forth against these positions that are bringing fire to bear across their northern border.

BLITZER: General Clark, thanks as usual for joining us. We'll have you back later in our special coverage, as well.