July 8, 2009 / 7:11 PM / in 11 years

U.N. envoy sees Lebanon border village row over soon

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon said on Wednesday he hoped for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Lebanese part of the divided border village of Ghajar within the next few months.

An Israeli tank patrols the Shebaa Farms area, wedged between Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights July 8, 2009. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

The move could bolster the Lebanese government and improve the atmosphere for Arab-Israeli peace talks.

Ghajar, which has a population of about 2,000, straddles Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, but Israel currently occupies both parts.

“I would very much hope that we can see progress in the next quarter, that I could come back here in October or November ... and we could record a successful result,” Michael Williams said after briefing the U.N. Security Council.

“By a successful result I would mean the complete withdrawal of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) from the northern part of the village of Ghajar,” Williams told reporters.

U.N. inspectors who delineated the southern border of Lebanon after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 assigned the northern part of Ghajar to Lebanon and the southern part to the Golan Heights. Israel annexed the heights in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.

Israeli forces reoccupied the northern part of Ghajar during their 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

An Israeli government official said in May Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favored a withdrawal from the Lebanese part of Ghajar. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper has reported that the United States was pressing Netanyahu for a pullout.

Williams said the Ghajar issue would be “one of the main areas of work in the coming months.” With new governments in Israel and Lebanon, “the atmosphere, we trust, may be more propitious to a settlement,” he added.

But Williams said he believed another contentious border issue — that of the Shebaa Farms — was much less soluble in the short term.

Israel considers the 27 square km (10 square mile) area part of the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war.

Syria and Lebanon say the land is part of south Lebanon. But Syria has said the boundaries can only be delineated when Israel withdraws.

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