UN's Le Roy hopeful on Ghajar withdrawal deal

Peacekeeping chief says he'll press for early resolution on visit to Israel in next few days.

ghajar 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
ghajar 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said Monday after touring Lebanon's border with Israel that he's hopeful an understanding will be reached soon to facilitate the IDF's withdrawal from parts of the Ghajar border village which have been held by Israel since the 2006 war with Hizbullah. A UN-demarcated withdrawal line put the northern part of the village of Ghajar in Lebanon, but the IDF has kept control. Le Roy said peacekeepers of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were talking to Israel on a withdrawal arrangement, but no date had been given yet. He said he intended to press officials on an early resolution when he travels to Israel in the next few days. Israel must withdraw from the territory under a UN resolution that ended the 34-day Israel-Hizbullah war, he added. "We are hopeful that we will soon reach an understanding on the UNIFIL proposal that will facilitate Israel's withdrawal from the area," Le Roy said. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said in a statement that any Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory was welcome, but Lebanon would wait to see when it would be implemented. "Ghajar remains occupied until the unconditional pullout of Israeli forces," the statement said. Saniora dismissed the idea that an Israeli withdrawal would be aimed at help helping his parliamentary majority as it contests a crucial election next month against Hizbullah-led factions. Saniora instead said a pullout would be "an expression of its anger and confusion" in the light of the recent arrests and breakup in Lebanon of several rings that authorities said were spying for Israel. Israel took Ghajar when it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. Its residents are Arabs who were later given Israeli citizenship. The village was divided between an Israeli-controlled part and a Lebanese section by the United Nations following the withdrawal of IDF troops from south Lebanon in 2000. Israel took over the whole village in the 2006 war and has balked at withdrawing earlier. Israeli officials have said a pullout and a free access to Ghajar would pose a security risk. Last week, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman urged visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to press Israel for a withdrawal from the northern part of Ghajar.