UN Lebanon envoy meets with Netanyahu, Barak

UN envoy makes unannounc

UN diplomat Terje Rod-Larsen held unpublicized meetings over the weekend with top government leaders, adding fuel to speculation that an Israeli withdrawal from the northern part of Ghajar on the Lebanese border is imminent, perhaps as early as this week. Rod-Larsen, the UN secretary-general's special representative for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and the disarmament of Hizbullah, met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He reportedly arrived in the country on Friday and also met twice with President Shimon Peres. Rod-Larsen's visit comes just days after Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal met with UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano to discuss the terms of a possible Israeli withdrawal. The Prime Minister's Office would provide no details of the meeting with Rod-Larsen, other than to confirm that it took place. The government has reportedly approved a plan to turn over control of the northern half of the village 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. 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. 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, 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. It is not yet clear what safeguards will be put into place to protect the residents of the northern part of the town, who have Israeli citizenship.