In an effort to create better border security in the North, the IDF is recommending disengaging from the northern part of Ghajar and moving the residents to the southern part of the town that straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border, The Jerusalem Post has learned. During the war in Lebanon, the IDF took up positions in the northern Lebanese part of Ghajar to prevent Hizbullah infiltrations into Israel.
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Ghajar was the scene of a thwarted Hizbullah attempt to kidnap IDF soldiers last year. Since the cease-fire went into effect on August 14, 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.
But according to high-ranking defense officials involved in the ongoing negotiations over the village's fate with UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the IDF will not withdraw from the town and allow it to once again be split by the international border, also known as the Blue Line. Four hundred families, all holders of Israeli blue identity cards, live in the northern section of the village.
"We will not walk away from Ghajar until there is a diplomatic long-term agreement," one official said. "It is unclear how people thought things could function when the town was split between two countries that do not get along."
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 At the time, Israel agreed with the demarcation because it wanted UN and international recognition that it had withdrawn from Lebanon.
According to the official, since the northern part of the town was not part of Israel, residents that wanted to receive social and medical services had to travel to the southern part of the town.
According to the official, the main reason the IDF has remained in Ghajar was due to concerns that a humanitarian crisis could evolve there following the military's withdrawal.
"If someone wants to fix a fridge they have to bring it on a tractor to the southern part of the village," the official said. "Ambulances and doctors are also not allowed into the northern part of the town."
As a result, the IDF, which is conducting negotiations with the Lebanese on behalf of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, has raised three different options that would allow a withdrawal from the town.
The first option, presented to the government and opposed by the IDF, calls for a return to the reality of the past six years leading up to the war during which the town was split in half by the Blue Line. The second option, favored by the IDF but highly unlikely due to major diplomatic obstacles, is to build a fence along the outskirts of the northern part of the village and to reroute the border so the entire town is inside Israel.
The third, more likely option and the one favored by the IDF is to offer compensation to the northern residents of Ghajar under the Compensation Bill passed in the run-up to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. According to the plan, which is pending government approval, the residents would receive compensation for their homes and be provided with new housing units on the southern side of the village inside Israel.
According to defense officials, UNIFIL and the LAF have asked the IDF to immediately withdraw from the village in order to allow for the complete implementation of Resolution 1701 that calls on all parties to "respect the Blue Line."
UNIFIL officials said they were in the midst of negotiations with the IDF and LAF to find a "temporary security arrangement" for the northern part of the village. The three parties will meet in the coming days with the hope of reaching an interim agreement until the Israeli government decides what to do with the village.
"We want to put in place a temporary security situation in the village to prevent security events inside the village and to ensure the security of the civilians," said UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar.