ghajar 311 AP.
(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Israel should unilaterally withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar, placing that part of the village in Lebanese hands, as mandated by the United Nations, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday at a Jerusalem press conference.
Lieberman was speaking in advance of Monday’s meeting on the matter between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon. On Saturday night, Israeli officials said Netanyahu planned to present Ban with a proposal to withdraw from the northern part of the village, which sits where the boundaries between Israel, Syria and Lebanon are in dispute.
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Israel captured the village of some 2,000 people from Syria in 1967. In 2000, after Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon, UN surveyors placed the border in the middle of the village, leaving Israel in control of the southern half. The IDF reoccupied the northern half in the 2006 war. After the fighting, Israel pledged to withdraw from that section, but has yet to do so.
Ghajar’s residents are members of Islam’s Alawite sect, whose followers include many members of Syria’s ruling elite. Most of the villagers have said they want the village to remain united, regardless of who controls it.
“It would have been possible to come to a tripartite agreement among Israel, the UN and Lebanon a while ago,” Lieberman said during Sunday’s press conference, where he accused Lebanon and Hizbullah of undermining the plan. “We [now] told the prime minister that maybe the time had come to reach an agreement with the UN and not to wait for Lebanon.”
He added that the Foreign Ministry had worked on the plan that Netanyahu will present to Ban.
Following his return to Israel, Netanyahu intends to seek approval for the plan from the Security Cabinet.
Ghajar falls under the purview of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, which monitors border activity between that country and Israel. UNIFIL political adviser Milos Strugar told The Jerusalem Post that according to UN resolution 1701, Israel was supposed to withdraw from all Lebanese territory, and had done so with the exception of the norther part of Ghajar.
“We [in UNIFIL] have been actively engaged with all the parties on how to facilitate the withdrawal,” Strugar said. “Recently, we forwarded some ideas for the withdrawal to Israel.”
Israeli officials have met several times with UNIFIL to discuss a possible handover. A senior Lebanese army officer refused to comment before the UN officially informs Lebanon about any plan.
An Israeli withdrawal could set the stage for more tension between Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Western- backed political bloc and its Shi’ite Hizbullah rivals, who have extended their political influence in Hariri’s shaky coalition government and maintain the country’s strongest military arsenal.
Hariri’s allies would likely use the pullout to argue that disputed land can be regained with the help of the international community and, by extension, the militia no longer needs its weapons. Hizbullah, which refuses to disarm, is already saying that any Israeli pullout would be due to its military strength, and on Sunday positioned itself to claim responsibility.
“If the withdrawal happens, it (Israel) won’t be doing it for free, but because of fear of the resistance and Lebanon’s strength through the resistance,” Hizbullah legislator Nawar Saheli told The Associated Press in Beirut.