Deal near for IDF to leave Ghajar

UNIFIL leads talks regarding disputed village, split by the int'l border.

ghajar AP 298 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ghajar AP 298 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel and the Lebanese government are close to reaching a deal according to which the IDF will completely withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar, just over the Lebanese border, Israeli defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. 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. During last summer's war, the IDF deployed in northern Ghajar, and has remained there to protect Israeli citizens on Lebanese soil. Ever since the war, the United Nations 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. According to Milos Strugar, a civil affairs official with UNIFIL, there has been progress in the talks between the IDF and the Lebanese Armed Forces, mediated by the peacekeeping force. He said the sides were in the process of finalizing temporary security arrangements for the northern part of Ghajar, under which Israel will be able to withdraw south of the Blue Line. A similar agreement was reached several months ago but was rejected by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government. "This issue was always on the table and is the focus for UNIFIL in discussions with the LAF and IDF," Strugar said. "We hope to reach an agreement soon, so this will facilitate an Israeli withdrawal." On Wednesday, the IDF met with LAF and UNIFIL officers at UN headquarters in Nakoura for talks regarding the withdrawal from Ghajar and the ongoing UN project of remarking the Blue Line. The talks were led by UNIFIL force commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano and on the Israeli side by Northern Command Liaison Office head Lt.-Col. Sorrel Hershkowitz. Graziano, officials said, was spearheading the border project and has told his Israeli counterparts he plans to finish remarking the border in the coming months. While Strugar refused to divulge details of the proposed agreement, Israeli defense officials said the IDF would withdraw and be replaced by the LAF. UNIFIL, which according to the officials was not willing to set up a post inside the village, would observe from north of the village to ensure that Hizbullah does not infiltrate. Ghajar spokesman Hattib Nageb said it would be a mistake to turn the northern part of the village over to the LAF. "Ghajar is a Syrian village and not Lebanese," he said. "It was occupied by Israel in 1967 from Syria as part of the Golan Heights and we stayed here because of our land... "The idea to pass the northern part of the village to the LAF is twisted because it will turn us into refugees of a country that doesn't want us." Nageb said the villagers preferred to reach a settlement that would allow them to return to Syria. Since the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, he said, the lives of the villagers had become a "nightmare." The villagers recently met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and asked her to allow them to send a delegation to Syria to negotiate their return, Nageb added.