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ISRAEL, LEBANON: Israel to pull back to the Blue Line, again

November 18, 2010 |  7:07 am

Israel's security Cabinet decided Wednesday to accept -- in principle -- the arrangement proposed by the U.N. and UNIFIL for withdrawing Israeli troops from the Lebanese part of the village of Ghajar. The details still have to be fine-tuned and brought before the Cabinet once more, but implementation will bring Israel closer to compliance with U.N. Security Council resolution 1701that ended the war in 2006.

Ghajar, the smallish village in question, is used to changing hands. They themselves never go anywhere, it's just the landlords that keep changing. Located between Syria, Israel and Lebanon, Ghajar is sort of in all three at the same time, which is a bit of a problem.

Mostly for the village, really.

So, Britain and France tried to figure it out as they divvied up the neighborhood in the last few decades of European colonialism but maps and versions differ. Whatever the ownership on paper, it was from Syria that Israel took the village in 1967 and it is to Syria the residents, Israeli citizens since 1981, say they wish to return -- and in one piece -- when peace comes, one day.

When Israel ended its decades-long presence in South Lebanon in 2000, Ghajar residents say they were surprised to learn -- and from the newspaper -- that the newly demarcated line placed the northern part in Lebanon.

Israel redeployed in keeping with the Blue Line but the unilateral move left a blind spot and the village a convenient hole in the fence for infiltration of all sorts that peaked in 2005 when Hezbollah launched an attack against Israeli troops inside the village. The next big blow-up with Hezbollah was the war in 2006, when Israel moved back into the northern side and stayed there.

Israel's one-sided moves often backfire, many observe. But keen on holding others to their 1701 word, there's a limit to how long Israel can be in constant violation of the resolution itself while complaining of others. A three-way solution agreed to by Israel, the United Nations and Lebanon could have been reached long ago but was torpedoed by  Hezbollah factors in the Lebanese government, said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a recent press conference with his German counterpart, explaining why Israel decided not to wait for the Lebanese any longer.

Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara is among many politicians -- local and international -- to whom the villagers have appealed to keep the village united, in whatever country. He believes Hezbollah will continue to trip up any move that could resolve limbo situations and calm the air. Hezbollah need places like Ghajar and the Shabaa farms to remain in dispute. It's "their alibi for badgering Israel," Kara told Babylon and Beyond on Wednesday. Without Ghajar and similarly contested places, Hezbollah has no case for dragging Lebanese citizens into clashes with Israel, says Kara, who believes the status quo will continue.

Israel will probably remain watchful for any moves the Shiite militia might make on the area that is supposed to be controlled by UNIFIL and the Lebanese army, but it also has its eye on the bigger picture. Making farewell rounds as his term nears its end, Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi recently warned of a "real possibility that Hezbollah will take over Lebanon" if fingered by the international tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Video: The Media Line report from Ghajar, via Youtube.

Photo: Locals walk outside their home Wednesday in the village of Ghajar on Israeli-Lebanese border. Israel's Cabinet approved a plan to withdraw from the northern half of the village, which was recaptured during the 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Credit: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images