'Israel might withdraw from northern Ghajar'

Report Israel to withdr

Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal met late last week with UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano to discuss the terms of a possible Israeli withdrawal from the northern part of Ghajar, Channel 2 reported on Sunday. The village, on the border between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, has for decades been cited as an obstacle preventing peace between the Jewish state and its neighbors to the north. According to the UN, the village had been Syrian territory before it was conquered by Israel in 1967. In 1981, most of its residents received Israeli citizenship. Both Syria and Lebanon, however, maintain that Ghajar - along with the nearby Shaba Farms - is Lebanese territory illegally occupied by Israel. This, they say, is yet another obstacle to peace. UN experts charged with demarcating the border determined in 2000 that the Israeli-Lebanese border ran horizontally through the middle of the village. Since the Second Lebanon War, the IDF has maintained a presence in the northern section, even though this violates Security Council Resolution 1701 that put an end to the 2006 war. According to the Channel 2 report, Gal and Graziano agreed to conduct further discussions on the matter in the coming days in order to cement the pullout. If carried out, the withdrawal would leave the northern part of Ghajar in the hands of UNIFIL - the UN's interim peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. In May, UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy revealed after touring the border area that UNIFIL commanders were talking to Israel regarding a withdrawal arrangement. Although no timeline was discussed at the time, Israeli leaders, among them Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, expressed support for the pullout. It is unclear whether such a move on Israel's behalf would strengthen Lebanon's Western-backed moderates or rather Hizbullah, which controls the southern part of the country. Also on Sunday, Channel 10 reported that Hizbullah intelligence mastermind Mehdi Kanso, who took part in the abduction of IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, was seen scouting the Israeli-Lebanese border area several weeks ago, possibly in preparation for an attack. The report cited footage which showed Kanso carrying professional photography equipment near the border and driving a Land Rover similar to the one used in the capture of IDF soldiers Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sueid in the year 2000. According to the report, Kanso was allowed into the border area with the equipment after telling UNIFIL troops that he was a reporter for Hizbullah's television station, Al-Manar. He is wanted in Israel not only for planning the abduction of Regev and Goldwasser, but also for transporting the captured soldiers from Israel to Lebanon. AP contributed to this report.