Israel: No decision on divided town until election
Israel is suspending discussion of a possible withdrawal from the Lebanese side of a divided border town, fearing the Hezbollah guerrilla group will take control, an Israeli official said Wednesday, AP reported.
The official said Israel will wait until after Lebanon's June 7 elections, which Hezbollah is contesting.
Israel fears Hezbollah could gain strength in the election and wants guarantees the Lebanese government will control Ghajar's northern section if Israel withdraws.
He said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his defense minister and military chief, decided to put the matter on hold this week. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the government's recent discussions of a possible Ghajar pullback have not been made public.
An Israeli government spokesman would not confirm the decision.
Ghajar sits on the Israel-Lebanon frontier in an area where the boundaries between Syria, Israel and Lebanon are in dispute. The village was captured by Israel from Syria in 1967.
In 2000, after Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, U.N. surveyors put the Israel-Lebanon border in the middle of the village, leaving Israel in control of the southern half.
Israel reoccupied the northern part in its 2006 war against Hezbollah and has remained there after leaving other occupied areas, citing security concerns. Following the war, Israel pledged to withdraw from the northern part of Ghajar but gave no timeline for doing so.
The villagers say they do not want the town to be divided, and would like, for now, to remain under Israeli control. They hope the village will eventually be returned to Syria as part of a future peace deal.
Ghajar's residents are members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Islam whose adherents include Syria's president and many members of its ruling elite.