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UN hopeful on Lebanon-Israel border deal

UN hopeful on Lebanon-Israel border deal

The U.N. peacekeeping chief said Monday after touring Lebanon's border with Israel he's hopeful an understanding would be reached soon to facilitate the Israeli army's withdrawal from parts of an Arab village they have held since the 2006 war with Hezbollah.
A U.N.-demarcated withdrawal line put the northern part of the village of Ghajar in Lebanon, but Israel has kept control. An Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar would remove a major source of tension between the two sides.
The comments by the U.N. peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, came a day after Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to seek Cabinet approval of the withdrawal plan before flying to Washington in two weeks.
Le Roy said peacekeepers of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon are talking to the Israelis on a withdrawal arrangement, but no date has been given yet. He said he intends 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 U.N. resolution that ended the 34-day Israel-Hezbollah 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.
He did not disclose the proposal, but Haaretz said the plan envisages hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers stationed in and around Ghajar to provide security after the Israeli withdrawal.
The reports of Israel's planned withdrawal was met with caution in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said in a statement that any Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory is welcome but Lebanon will wait to see when it is implemented.
"Ghajar remains occupied until the unconditional pullout of Israeli forces," the statement said.
The timing fueled speculation that Israel's intention is to help Saniora's parliamentary majority as it contests a crucial election next month against Hezbollah-led factions, a claim rejected by the prime minister's office.
Saniora instead said the Israeli withdrawal is "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.
Haartez said the withdrawal plan would include stationing a small contingent of peacekeepers in the northern part of the village along with a Lebanese army liaison officer, while a UNIFIL liaison officer will be based on Ghajar's southern Israeli side.
A second larger UNIFIL force would be stationed outside Ghajar's northern entrance, the newspaper said.
Under the plan, Israeli law would still apply in northern Ghajar, and all the village's residents will retain Israeli citizenship, the paper said.
Israel took Ghajar when it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Mideast 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 Israeli forces 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 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to press Israel for a withdrawal from the northern part of Ghajar.


Updated : 2020-12-02 18:21 GMT+08:00