Israel denies Ghajar withdrawal reports

Unconfirmed media reports indicate Israel informed the US of its readiness to withdraw from area on Lebanon border.

Shaba Farms IDF 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
Shaba Farms IDF 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli officials say no decisions have been made regarding withdrawing from the northern side of the village of Ghajar, despite unconfirmed media reports indicating Israel has recently expressed a willingness to withdraw. "No new decisions have yet been taken," government spokesman Mark Regev said on Tuesday. "Anything more you would say is mere speculation." Both Haaretz and the London-based a-Sharq al-Awsat quoted unnamed Lebanese and Israeli sources this week as saying that Israel had informed the United States of its readiness to withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar, which straddles the Israel-Lebanon border. But the US State Department said Tuesday that it was unaware of any such communication. "As far as we know, no official statement has been received" from the Israeli government, a state department official told The Jerusalem Post. Israel has been willing to withdraw from the northern part of the village of Ghajar in the past under certain conditions, but despite assurances from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), these conditions have not yet been met, according to Israeli diplomatic officials. Lebanon, however, had recently agreed to sign off on a new UNIFIL proposal to resolve the issue, the officials said, and had demonstrated a new will to take these conditions seriously. UNIFIL submitted a proposal to both Lebanese and Israeli officials a few weeks ago "to facilitate the idea of withdrawal" from the northern part of Ghajar, in accordance with UN Resolution 1701, which obliges Israel to withdraw from all Lebanese territories, UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane told the Post. In addition, she added, UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano had recently conducted bilateral discussions on this proposal separately with Israeli and Lebanese interlocutors, which will continue. Bouziane declined to comment specifically on the proposal, which is still under discussion, but added: "We are encouraged with the initial reaction and we are hopeful that we can reach an understanding on both sides soon so we can implement the proposal on the ground." A Hizbullah parliamentarian told the Post that he was waiting to see an official government announcement concerning a potential Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar. "We consider that any withdrawal from Lebanese land is a victory for the Lebanese people and the resistance [Hizbullah] just as it is a victory for the whole Lebanese homeland, and this would be yet another achievement added to the achievements of the resistance in Lebanon." When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, the village of some 3,000 people was split in two, with the international border running through the middle. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF deployed in the northern side of Ghajar and has remained there since. UNIFIL and the Lebanese government have called repeatedly for an Israeli withdrawal since the end of the war. Since the northern part of Ghajar is occupied and is not disputed land like the Shaba Farms, resolving the issue will have no bearing on the Shaba Farms issue, said former UNIFIL adviser Timur Goksel to reporters on Tuesday. "It has also been an embarrassment for UNIFIL, which appears in the public eye to be protecting the Israeli occupation of Lebanese land," he said. For the Lebanese, resolving the Ghajar issue will bring some closure to the 2006 Lebanon war and "remove a burden from the Lebanese government's back." Herb Keinon contributed to this report.