Israel, UNIFIL to hold talks on Ghajar

Israel, UNIFIL to hold t

Lebanon's adamant refusal to reach any, even tacit understanding with Israel, over security arrangements in the north is what is holding up an Israeli withdrawal from the northern part of Ghajar, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Foreign Ministry director-general Yossi Gal and his team are scheduled to hold a second round of talks with UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano and his staff Thursday. The first round of talks on the Ghajar issue was held in early December. The government has reportedly approved a plan to turn over control of the northern half of the village, which straddles the Lebanese border, to UNIFIL. Under the plan 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. The Lebanese government, apparently under pressure from Hizbullah, is not willing to provide any kind of commitments that would allow this plan to be put into practice, The Post has learned, "fearful" that this would be seen as giving Israel legitimacy. The talks, therefore, are solely between Israel and UNIFIL, with Lebanon unwilling to participate even indirectly - something that Israeli officials maintain is holding up an IDF pull-back. The negotiations with UNIFIL are over what security arrangements and commitments UNIFIL - not the Lebanese - will provide. 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. UN, European and American officials have long urged Israel to move out of northern Ghajar to bolster the moderates in Lebanon, also arguing that an Israeli withdrawal would be in line with commitments it made as part of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War. 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. Maj.-Gen. Graziano is to be replaced January 28 by Spanish Maj.-Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas. Israeli officials denied that Graziano's departure date was a deadline for "closing" the Ghajar deal, saying Israel would continue talking to UNIFIL about the issue until it gets the commitments it can live with.