Ayalon says Lebanon responsible for group; Hizbullah warns Israel against attacking Lebanon.
By HERB KEINON
No decision on policy toward Ghajar is expected for a number of weeks, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, ending widespread speculation Israel would soon announce it would withdraw from the northern half of the town that straddles the Lebanese border, and turn it over to UNIFIL.
According to Ayalon, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and a staff set up in the ministry to draw up recommendations have not yet completed their work, and this decision is still "weeks ahead."
Senior diplomatic officials said a planned security cabinet meeting on the matter this week was postponed because of a feeling that Hizbullah was drawing the wrong conclusions from reports that Jerusalem was considering withdrawing. According to this official, Hizbullah was viewing this as a sign of "weakness," and it was both strengthening Hizbullah's hand in the internal Lebanese political debate, and leading the organization to become more bellicose along the border. Israel does not want Hizbullah to claim credit for driving it out of Ghajar.
Ghajar has some 2,000 residents. When the IDF pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, the UN determined that the border ran through the middle of the town. 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. UN, European and American officials have been urging Israel to move out of northern Ghajar, to bolster the moderates in Lebanon, and an Israeli withdrawal would be in line with commitments it made as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
Lieberman visited the town last week, amid reports that he favored building a physical barrier on the international border that divides the community in half, and turning the northern part over to UNIFIL control. Those living on the Lebanese side of the border would have the option of moving to the Israeli half, or coming under Lebanese sovereignty.
During his visit, however, Lieberman said that no Israeli policy decision on the matter had yet been made.
Ayalon also warned Hizbullah on Sunday against taking any measures against Israeli diplomats - or, for that matter, any Israelis abroad - saying that Jerusalem would hold both Hizbullah and Lebanon both responsible and accountable.
Ayalon's comments came in response to reports in the Egyptian press over the weekend that Egyptian security forces uncovered a Hizbullah-linked plot to assassinate Israeli Ambassador Shalom Cohen.
Lebanon would also bear the consequences, "because Hizbullah is not acting in a void," Ayalon said. "They are not on the moon, they are in Lebanon."
He pointed out that Hizbullah was in the last Lebanese government, and was in negotiations to enter the next one as well. As such, Lebanon "may also bear the consequences of Hizbullah's actions."
Later Sunday, a Hizbullah official warned that Israel would be dealt a serious blow should it attack Lebanon. Executive council chairman Hashem Safieddine said that any attack by Israel would lead the group to respond in a way that would make the Second Lebanon War "look like a joke." He added that his organization was not interested in war, but maintained constant vigilance.
Ayalon responded that Israel was not interested in inflaming the situation in the North or starting a war along the border. "But if they if they force one upon us, then the next round will be much different than the last one," he said.
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