Ghajar Residents: Lieberman Will Never Divide Us

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman yesterday visited the disputed Ghajar village, which straddles Israel's border with Lebanon, a day after he suggested dividing it, and said it was "too early" to make any permanent decisions.

Ghajar residents slammed the notion of severing he village and expressed fear that those doomed to remain on the Lebanese side would become refugees.

Haaretz reported that Lieberman intends to propose building a fence in the middle of Ghajar.

"Over our dead bodies will they cut the village in half," a senior Ghajar official said after a closed meeting between Lieberman and the village elders.

"You can't put a wall in the middle of the village, and you can't separate me from my father," he said.

Ghajar spokesman Najib Khatib said the village's residents were vehemently opposed to its division. "We have never been Lebanese and don't want to become refugees in Lebanon."

Lieberman played down the reports of his proposal for a fence, saying it was too soon to make any permanent decisions ."We are touring the area and trying to reach the best decisions," Lieberman said. "Everyone in the media is quick to jump to conclusions, but we must first learn all the facts."

He said the government's decision would take into account Israel's security as well as the concerns of the more than 2,000 villagers, who all hold Israeli citizenship.

Haaretz reported that Lieberman proposes a permanent solution to the Ghajar dispute by putting up a fence in the middle of the village, on the international border. A government source said residents in the northern part would be able to relocate to the southern part in Israeli territory and those who remain in the north would become Lebanese citizens.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who accompanied Lieberman, said residents had no wish to fall under Lebanese sovereignty. "Village dignitaries said they were very happy with the current situation and don't want to live under Lebanese sovereignty under any circumstance. They stressed they were of Syrian origin," Ayalon said.

Head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, Aharon Valensi, who also accompanied Lieberman, said the residents of Upper Galilee support the struggle of Ghajar's residents, and that it would not be right, from either a humanitarian or security point of view, to cut the village in two.