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Israel picked up negotiations over the future of the northern town of Ghajar on Tuesday with the new UNIFIL commander, Spanish Maj.-Gen Alberto Asarta Cuevas, following three rounds of talks over the matter with his predecessor, Italian Lt.-Gen Claudio Graziano, who left his post last month. According to a statement put out by the ministry, the negotiations centered on “civilian issues” that will need to be dealt with if Israel turns over the northern half of the village to UNIFIL.

The Israeli government has reportedly approved in principle a plan to turn over control of the northern half of the Alawite village, which straddles the Lebanese border, to UNIFIL. No physical barrier would be built between the northern and southern parts of the village, but UNIFIL would patrol both the northern half and the perimeter.

Ghajar has about 2,000 residents, with around 70 percent living in its northern section. When the IDF pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, the UN determined that the international border between Israel and Lebanon ran through the middle of the community.

Since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israel has maintained a military presence in the northern part of the town and built a security fence around it.

Diplomatic officials said a myriad of questions on civilian issues needed to be addressed before Israel would withdraw from Ghajar, including who will be able to travel in and out of the northern sector, who will issue building permits, and who will collect taxes. The officials said that the negotiations remain a long way from conclusion.

Another round of talks is expected “soon.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, during talks in Brussels with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, reportedly proposed a trade whereby Israel’s withdrawal from northern Ghajar would put an end to all Lebanese territorial claims against Israel, meaning Beirut would drop all claims to the Shaba Farms area. (Jerusalem Post)

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