Israel approves Lebanon border village pullout

Israel`s security cabinet backed plans to withdraw troops from disputed village on the Lebanon border.

Last Updated: Nov 17, 2010, 19:09 PM IST

Jerusalem: Israel`s security cabinet on Wednesday backed plans to withdraw troops from part of a disputed village on the Lebanese border and hand over control to a UN peacekeeping force, officials said.

"The ministerial committee on security decided today to accept the principles of a proposal by the United Nations and UNIFIL to withdraw IDF forces from the northern part of the village," cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser said in a statement.

The move will see Israel pulling out of the northern part of Ghajar village and redeploying its troops south of the UN "blue line" demarcating the border, he said, without mentioning a date.

Northern Ghajar is in Lebanon and the rest lies in the occupied Golan Heights, but Israel took over the Lebanese half during the 2006 war.

Following the decision, security control for northern Ghajar will be handed over to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), whose mandate is to keep peace in the border region.

Details of the withdrawal would be hammered out by the foreign ministry in coordination with the UNIFIL, the statement said, with the final arrangements to be signed off by the security cabinet before the move is carried out.

"Both the security of Israel`s citizens and the normal life of the residents of Ghajar, which remains undivided, will continue to be maintained while the new arrangements are being put in place," Hauser said.

UNIFIL has been pressing Israel to withdraw from northern Ghajar in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended a 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon`s Shiite movement Hezbollah.

"In taking these steps, Israel demonstrates its continued commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1701," Hauser added.

The withdrawal from Ghajar will be a unilateral move, with no coordination with Lebanon, despite UN efforts to try and secure their cooperation.

Israel`s plans to withdraw from the village were first made public last week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the issue with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York.

A statement from Netanyahu`s office said the idea of a troop withdrawal from northern Ghajar was first raised by UNIFIL in June 2008.

At the time, Israel was reluctant to hand over control there over concerns that it would give access to Hezbollah militia.

However, a fresh proposal, outlined on September 2 by UNIFIL commander General Alberto Asarta, caught Israel`s attention and formed the basis for Wednesday`s cabinet decision, it said, without giving further details.

The village, which has around 2,200 residents, lies on the borders of Lebanon, Syria and the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in 1981.

Most of the villagers took Israeli citizenship after the Golan Heights was annexed, and now hold dual Israeli and Syrian citizenship.

The majority are against re-partitioning the village, which would leave 1,700 people in the Lebanese part and 500 on the Israeli side. Syria has always demanded the full return of the strategic Golan in any peace deal.

Bureau Report