No agreement yet on Ghajar withdrawal

No agreement yet on Ghaj

Israel presented UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen Claudio Graziano on Thursday with its vision of arrangements in and around the northern border town of Ghajar following a possible IDF pull-back from its northern half, with diplomatic sources saying the negotiations over a pullback are very much in their early stages. Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal met on Thursday with Graziano for a second round of talks on the fate of the Alawite town that straddles the Lebanese border. UNIFIL, during the first round of talks last month, presented Israel with its ideas on how things should work. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement following the meeting saying that Israel was committed to continuing to work toward reaching an agreement on Ghajar that would preserve Israel's security interests, the well-being of the residents, and the fabric of life in the town. Few details of the emerging agreement were made public, but it was clear that the discussions were centering on how UNIFIL forces would be deployed in and around Ghajar to prevent Hizbullah from infiltrating men or arms into Israel through it. The government has reportedly approved a plan to turn over control of the northern half of the village to UNIFIL. No physical barrier would be built between the northern and southern parts of the village, but rather UNIFIL would patrol both the northern half and the perimeter. Ghajar has about 2,000 residents, with around 70 percent living in its northern half. When the IDF pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, the UN determined that the international border between Israel and Lebanon ran through the middle. Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel has maintained a military presence in the northern part of the town and built a security fence around it. Diplomatic officials said that reaching an understanding over the issue was made more complicated because Lebanon refuses to have any dealings, even indirectly, with Israel, and all the negotiations are being conducted with UNIFIL. In a related development, IDF sources confirmed that a pit filled with bombs had been discovered by UNIFIL troops late last month. UNIFIL did not hide the discovery and even issued a press release the next day. The IDF sources said it was likely that the bombs were planted along the border near Metulla since the Second Lebanon War and that their discovery was another demonstration of how Hizbullah was violating UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Meanwhile, UNIFIL and the Lebanese army will begin joint exercises on Friday along the border with Israel. The drill is aimed at increasing cooperation between the two forces. Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.