Cabinet Okays Withdrawal From Divided Town of Ghajar

The security cabinet yesterday adopted the defense establishment's recommendation to withdraw Israel Defense Forces soldiers from the Lebanese side of Ghajar, a village that has been divided by the international border into Israeli and Lebanese parts. In place of the IDF troops, United Nations peacekeepers would be deployed.

The announcement made at the conclusion of the meeting stressed that the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Lebanese part of Ghajar would be temporary and would last until the end of the mapping project currently being conducted by UN experts.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that discussions on this issue have been ongoing for some time and are not linked to the current crisis that is taking place in Lebanon.

During the cabinet meeting yesterday, a proposal was also discussed to allow Ghajar residents living on the Lebanese side of the border, who are holders of Israeli (blue) identity cards, to cross into Israel.

Meanwhile, the tense standoff in Lebanon between the government of Fouad Siniora and a coalition of Hezbollah and pro-Syrian demonstrators, was the focus of much of the discussion in yesterday's cabinet meeting.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that he had ordered the various branches of intelligence to remain vigilant with respect to developments in Beirut, in light of the fragility of the general situation in Lebanon and the implications that an outbreak of violence there could have on Israel.

Peretz also informed the cabinet that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a report to the Security Council last week which noted that since September, 13 arms depots were uncovered in southern Lebanon, and the smuggling of weapons from Syria to Lebanon is continuing unabated.

He added that the Israel Air Force overflights of Lebanon will continue, but they are carried out in moderation and based on need.

Many of the ministers present agreed yesterday that Israel must prepare for a possible overthrow of the government in Lebanon.

Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yishai said that events there require Israel to make special preparations. "We must prepare for the possibility of an overthrow [of government] in Lebanon. We must not be indifferent to the situation in Lebanon, even though the situation is not in our control," he said.

Transport Minister Meir Sheetrit warned that if the Siniora government falls, that would signal that the long arm of Iran had reached and taken over in Lebanon.