Defense Official: Israel Has No Territorial Claims to Ghajar

Senior army officers meet to discuss UN proposal for Israeli withdrawal from divided Lebanon border village.

Senior defense officials met on Wednesday to discuss a United Nations proposal for Israel's withdrawal from the northern part of the village of Ghajar, which straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border.

An Israeli defense official said after the meeting that Israel has no territorial claims to Ghajar and was holding discussions with the UN's international force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on how to carry out a pullout without compromising security.

Israel, which occupied the northern half of Ghajar following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, has pledged to withdraw from as part of a cease-fire that ended the fighting, but has never given a timeline.

Senior army officers from Lebanon, Israel and the United Nations will meet in two weeks to coordinate the withdrawal.

The meeting at the Rosh Hanikra border crossing will be held on May 18. Representatives at the meeting will include Alan Le Roy, head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations; Major-General Claudio Graziono, commander of the UN peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) in Lebanon; officers from Israel Defense Forces Northern Command and their Lebanese counterparts.

The meeting is scheduled prior to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's departure for Washington, where he is slated to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama.

UN official Le Roy is expected to meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon Wednesday for talks about the UNIFIL's operations in southern Lebanon and the planned Ghajar withdrawal. The security cabinet is also expected to convene soon to approve the IDF's pullout from the northern part of Ghajar over the next few weeks, and discuss ways of strengthening moderate politicians in Lebanon ahead of the elections scheduled for June.

Ghajar is split by the international border between Lebanon and the Israeli-held Golan Heights, which was part of Syria before the Six-Day War. Its residents are Alawis, a Shiite sect of Islam to which the majority of Syria's ruling elite belong, who also have Israeli identity cards.

Since Israel's withdrawal from its self-proclaimed security zone in southern Lebanon in 2000, Jerusalem has been in talks with the UN to find a way to transfer its control over the northern part of the village back to Lebanon.