Netanyahu: We Won't Allow Northern Ghajar to Fall Into Hands of Hezbollah

Government's intermediary in negotiations with Ghajar residents says village's turbulent history could make a withdrawal complicated endeavor.

Israel will not allow Hezbollah to take control of the northern portion of the divided border village of Ghajar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the visiting Italian foreign minister yesterday.

"We intend to withdraw from the northern part of the village and to put in place an administration there that won't leave a vacuum and allow Hezbollah to assert its control on the ground," Netanyahu told Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

Netanyahu thanked Frattini for Italy's contribution - and his personally - to securing an agreement over pulling out from the village, a withdrawal Netanyahu announced earlier this month.

Later this week, two UN officials will arrive in Israel to discuss the withdrawal: Michael C. Williams, the world body's special coordinator for Lebanon, and Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta, head of the UNIFIL monitoring force.

Fred Hoff, a deputy to U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell responsible for Syria and Lebanon, arrived in Israel. Hoff has worked with Israeli authorities over the past few months to facilitate the Ghajar withdrawal and yesterday met with high-level Foreign Ministry and defense officials to further that process. Hoff also spoke to Israeli officials about conditions in Lebanon ahead of the upcoming release of a United Nations tribunal's conclusions about the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hoff also met yesterday with Yossi Peled, who in last week's meeting of the inner cabinet was made the government's intermediary in negotiations with Ghajar residents. Peled said the village's turbulent history could make a withdrawal from Ghajar a complicated endeavor. Still, he said, he hoped quiet there would remain.