Israel will hand over Ghajar to the UN

Officials say move designed to remove a point of contention with the Lebanese.

Fatah gunmen 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Fatah gunmen 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The security cabinet decided on Sunday that UNIFIL, not the IDF, will bear responsibility for safeguarding the 2,000 Israeli citizens living in the northern part of the Alawite town of Ghajar, just over the Lebanese border. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, the village of some 3,000 people was split in two, with the international border, the Blue Line, running right through the middle. This caused enormous security headaches for Israel, as there were continuous attempts by Hizbullah to infiltrate through the village. During this summer's war, the IDF deployed in northern Ghajar, and it has remained there ever since, protecting Israeli citizens on Lebanese soil. Since the cease-fire with Hizbullah went into effect on August 14, UNIFIL and the Lebanese government have repeatedly called for Israel to withdraw, claiming the IDF presence there was a serious violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. The conventional wisdom among those dealing with this issue in Jerusalem is that it is clear that at some point the Israeli citizens of Ghajar will have to move to the southern half of the village and be duly compensated - a type of "disengagement" that will take at least 24 months to properly legislate and organize. In the meantime, a temporary solution was needed, and Sunday's security cabinet decision was intended to fill that gap. Under the plan, which was negotiated with the Lebanese through UNIFIL, UNIFIL will be responsible for northern part of the town. All 450 families in Ghajar, two-thirds of whom live in the northern part of the village, will retain their Israeli citizenship. A fence will be built around the northern part of town, and entry into it will be supervised by UNIFIL personnel, with a Lebanese army presence also on the scene, to keep Hizbullah out. UNIFIL will also be responsible for security inside the northern part of Ghajar. The Israel Police will patrol the southern section, and life will go on there as it has been up until now. Israel will continue to provide services for both halves of the village. A fence already exists around Ghajar's southern perimeter. It is manned by the IDF to prevent unwanted elements from moving south from Ghajar into Israel. Israelis wanting to enter the northern section will have to coordinate this with UNIFIL. The agreement is designed to remove a point of contention with the Lebanese, government officials said. "This is the first step toward solving the issue," one official said. The IDF and the National Security Council drew up the plan.