Lebanon: Israel's plan to withdraw troops a 'ploy'

Israeli plans to withdraw troops from part of a divided village on the Lebanese border are a ploy to divert attention from spy networks uncovered in Lebanon, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said on Monday.

“This shrewd propaganda by the Israeli press reflects Israeli anger and embarrassment in the face of several Israeli spy networks uncovered by Lebanese security throughout Lebanon,” Siniora said in a statement.

His comments followed reports in the Israeli press that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to announce this week that Israel wants to withdraw its troops from the northern part of the divided border village of Ghajar.

Israel’s Security Cabinet is expected to discuss the issue on Wednesday.

Following the end of Israel’s war on Hezbollah in Lebanon in August 2006, Israel has kept a military presence in the northern part of the village and has built a security fence to prevent Shi’ite guerrillas from entering.

After the war, Israel said it would keep its troops in northern Ghajar until security arrangements were agreed with UN and Lebanese forces, but such accords have not yet been struck.

The village, at the foot of Mount Hermon straddling the Lebanese-Syrian border, is perched on a cliff overlooking the precious Wazzani spring, which has been a source of continuous disputes between Israel and Lebanon.

Siniora said Israeli media reports that the withdrawal was a bid to boost his own government ahead of the June legislative elections were but a ploy to divide the Lebanese.

“No one will be fooled by these claims,” he said, adding that since the 2006 war Lebanon has been demanding that Israel withdraw from Ghajar unconditionally in line with UN Resolution 1701.

Ghajar is inhabited mainly by Alawites, most of whom have obtained Israeli citizenship even though they consider themselves Syrian.

The village is an extension of the Syrian Golan Heights plateau, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed in 1981.

According to a UN-drawn “blue line” marking the border between Israel and Lebanon drawn after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in May 2000, the northern part of the village lies on Lebanese soil while the rest is part of occupied Syrian territory.—AFP

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