Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is interested in introducing changes to an agreement whereby Israel would leave the northern half of the town of Ghajar, which straddles the Lebanese border, effectively putting it under UNIFIL control, a government official said on Tuesday.
The official's comments come prior to Thursday's scheduled visit to Israel by Alain Le Roy, the UN's under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, who is expected to discuss the issue with Israeli officials. They also came amid press reports that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to announce an Israeli pullback in the town prior to his visit to the US in two weeks.
When the IDF pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, the UN determined that the border ran through the middle of Ghajar. Following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel maintained a military presence in the northern part of the town and built a security fence around it.
An Israeli withdrawal would be in line with commitments it made as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to the 2006 fighting.
Government sources said that UN, European and American officials had made it clear to Jerusalem that by signaling its intention to leave northern Ghajar, Israel would help Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the country's moderates in next month's election.
During the past few months, Israel has said it is willing to negotiate with the UN over a pullback in Ghajar, according to which the northern part of the town would come under the control of UN peacekeepers while Israeli law remained in effect and Israel continued to provide services to the area's 1,500 residents.
Another 500-700 residents live in the southern part of the town, which is on the Israeli side of the border.
The pullback is being discussed within the framework of the overall policy review being conducted by the Netanyahu government, and according to government sources, Lieberman is seeking changes, although nothing having to do with Israel's overall willingness to withdraw.
The issue may be discussed at Wednesday's security cabinet meeting.
Meanwhile, AFP reported on Tuesday that Le Roy would meet on Wednesday near the Rosh Hanikra border crossing for talks with IDF and Lebanese army officials to discuss a Ghajar pullback. Israeli officials have said the withdrawal would be just one of many UN peacekeeping issues on Le Roy's agenda.
Saniora has dismissed talk of a pullback as an attempt to divert attention from what he said were Israeli "spy networks" recently uncovered in Lebanon.
"This shrewd propaganda by the Israeli press reflects Israeli anger and embarrassment in the face of several Israeli spy networks uncovered by Lebanese security throughout Lebanon," said a statement issued by the prime minister's office on Monday.
Israeli government officials said Saniora's comments must be viewed within the context of not wanting to be seen as benefiting politically from an Israeli decision to redeploy in Ghajar.