(photo credit: AP [file])
The commander of UNIFIL troops in southern Lebanon has offered Israel and Lebanon a plan for IDF withdrawal from the border village of Ghajar, Israel Radio reported Wednesday morning.
UNIFIL spokeswoman Yasmina Bouziane said that both countries had been presented with the plan, and that both responded positively to it.
The Jerusalem Post could not confirm the report, though last month officials said no decisions had been made regarding withdrawal from the village.
On Monday, Israeli defense officials said Israel was in advanced talks with the UN on the plan, in which the IDF would be replaced by UNIFIL troops, and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) would not be able to enter the village. Israel suspects LAF have been filled with Hizbullah supporters.
Israel has occupied the northern section of the split town since the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, the Alawite village of some 3,000 people was split in two, with the international border - the Blue Line - running through the middle. All of the residents of Ghajar have Israeli citizenship.
During the Second Lebanon War, the IDF deployed in northern Ghajar, and has remained there to protect Israeli citizens on Lebanese soil. Ever since, the UN has called on Israel to withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar, claiming that the IDF's presence is a blatant violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
On Monday, the Lebanese daily An Nahar reported that UNIFIL had informed the LAF that Israel was preparing to withdraw from Ghajar by November 21. According to the report, UNIFIL sent a letter to the LAF command in which it asked the authorities to ensure quiet along the border to prevent Israel from reversing its decision.
Sources in the IDF Northern Command said that a date had yet to be set for the withdrawal. Last week, senior Foreign Ministry officials toured Ghajar to learn about the issues involved in an Israeli withdrawal ahead of a possible agreement.
'There are negotiations but the deal has yet to be finalized,' a senior defense official said. 'We need to be sure that Ghajar will not be taken over by Hizbullah.'
Israel's primary concern is that Hizbullah will infiltrate Ghajar and try to carry out cross-border attacks like it did in late 2005 when it tried to kidnap soldiers deployed on the Israeli side of the town.
Last Thursday, Hizbullah's military commander in Southern Lebanon threatened to use force to 'liberate' the Ghajar.
During a speech in the southern Lebanese village of Abasiyah, Sheikh Nabil Kaouk said Israel only understood the language of force and that Hizbullah believed it had an obligation to complete the liberation of all Lebanese land. He said Lebanon could only 'retake' its lands using armed struggle, since diplomacy had hit a dead end.
Brenda Gazzar contributed to this report.