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Lebanon's refusal to sign an agreement brokered by UNIFIL is delaying the final withdrawal of IDF troops from the town of Ghajar, which straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border, senior defense officials told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
According to the officials, Israel, UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) reached an agreement several weeks ago that arranged security in the northern side of the village of Ghajar - located in Lebanon - and was to allow for the final withdrawal of IDF troops from the village.
Days before the deal was supposed to be signed, however, the LAF pulled out of the agreement.
Since the cease-fire that ended last summer's war went into effect, UNIFIL and the Lebanese government have repeatedly called for an Israeli withdrawal, claiming that the IDF presence in the Alawite Muslim village was a severe violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. Some 400 families, all holders of Israeli blue identity cards, live in the northern section of the village.
Ghajar has posed a major security dilemma for the country since Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, and based on a 1974 map, a UN team determined that the international border between Israel and Lebanon ran directly through the middle of the town.
At the time, Israel agreed with the demarcation because it wanted UN and international recognition that it had withdrawn from Lebanon.
If the agreement is accepted by the Lebanese government, the IDF will completely withdraw from the northern part of the town and be replaced there by UNIFIL, which would for the first time take up positions inside the village. The LAF would then take up positions north of the northern part of Ghajar but would not maintain a physical presence inside the town.
UNIFIL does not usually maintain positions inside southern Lebanese villages and if the agreement is signed it would be the first time that the peacekeeping force erects posts inside an urban area. The agreement is also supposed to normalize the way Israel provides social services to residents of the northern part of the village.
In addition to resolving Ghajar, the IDF is also working together with UNIFIL and the LAF to, for the first time, mark the Lebanese-Israeli border. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, the Blue Line international border was set by the UN, but it was never marked and while Israel erected a fence, it does not run along the actual border.
UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano decided to mark the border after taking up his post in February, due to growing tension and the possibility of clashes due to misunderstandings of where the border runs. In total, Graziano plans to place 300 blue- and white-striped barrels at different contentious points along the border.
Israel has given its consent to mark the border despite concerns that Hizbullah will use the final marking as an excuse to legitimize its attacks against Israel. Since the border was never marked on the ground, it currently exists as a line on a map that could be interpreted differently.
"There are technical issues since the terrain is hilly and rocky and questions come up as to whether the border marking should be planted below the line on the map or above it," an official explained. "If it is put below the line then Hizbullah could potentially claim that the Lebanese government forfeited land to Israel and then it will have created legitimacy for continuing its attacks."