New Flashpoint On Israel's Border

July 7, 2008 - 8:09 PM

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Tensions were mounting along Israel's northern border on Monday as fears grew that the militant Hizballah group intended to use a village straddling the Israeli-Lebanese border as a new launch pad for cross-border attacks.

United Nations peacekeepers recently opened a dirt road to the village from the Lebanese side, paving the way for a greater Hizballah presence there.

The move comes the wake of a scandal surrounding the U.N.'s disclosure that it had hidden from Israel the existence of video tapes taken by its forces of equipment during a Hizballah kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers last year.

Yarden Vatikay, a media advisor to Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said since U.N. troops pulled back their positions, Hizballah had established posts in the northern part of the village and was harassing the residents.

"Hizballah is looking for trouble," he said. "It is looking for a quarrel with Israel [and] the opportunity to conduct attacks."

Funded by Iran and backed by Syria, Hizballah waged an 18-year terrorist campaign against Israeli troops stationed in a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, at times launching attacks across the border at civilians in northern Israel.

Since Israel pulled out of the zone in mid-2000, it has sporadically continued cross-border attacks, killing three Israeli soldiers and abducting three others under the noses of U.N. peacekeepers over the past year.

Vatikay accused the U.N. of failing to fulfill its most fundamental task in the area - to facilitated the deployment of the Lebanese Army right down to the border.

The village of Ghajar was captured by Israel from Syria as a result of the 1967 Six Day War. Its Arab residents were given Israeli identity cards and have received Israeli services for the last 34 years.

When Israel withdrew from the security zone last year, the U.N. drew the international boundary through the middle of the village, leaving half of it in Israel and half inside Lebanon.

Residents asked that no fence be constructed through the heart of their town, arguing that they were Syrian citizens and had never been Lebanese.

Israel agreed to leave that section of the border open - the rest of the border is fenced - provided the U.N. would guard it.

With the U.N. pullback, the status quo has now changed.

Israel wants the situation to return to what it was previously, "to avoid any tension and friction," a Foreign Ministry source said.

Timur Goksel, the U.N. force spokesman in Lebanon, argued that the U.N. never had an outpost at Ghajar. He admitted, however, that the situation on the ground had definitely changed.

Previously, a dirt road into the village from the Lebanese side had been blocked by shipping containers, which served as temporary sleeping quarters for U.N. troops while a base was being built for them two miles away, he said.

Two weeks ago, the U.N. finished the base and moved the containers, thus opening the road to Ghajar for traffic.

Goksel said the U.N. was trying to control the situation.

The villagers themselves tried to build a fence at the Lebanese end of Ghajar to keep out infiltrators, but a group of dozens of Hizballah members arrived at the weekend, demanding that no fence be built as that that part of the village was in Lebanese territory.

A Ghajar community official said in a radio interview on Monday that the residents were Syrians. They had asked to remain under Israeli sovereignty until a peace agreement could be made between Israel and Syria.

Syria, the main powerbroker in Lebanon, has meanwhile moved 100 truckloads of military equipment into Beirut, according to a report in the a-Nahar newspaper on Monday.

The move came only weeks after Damascus made a symbolic troop withdrawal from the capital. There are more than 30,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon.

In recent weeks, more than 200 Christian Lebanese who advocate a Syrian withdrawal from their country have been arrested by the pro-Syrian government. Dozens of them are on trial.

Syria invaded Lebanon during the country's 1975-1990 civil war but refused to leave later despite a U.N. resolution demanding all foreign troops leave the country.

Israel's departure from the south of the country last year put pressure on Syria to leave. Damascus has never recognized the sovereignty of Lebanon.
A Ghajar community official said in a radio interview on Monday that the residents were Syrians. They had asked to remain under Israeli sovereignty until a peace agreement could be made between Israel and Syria.

Syria, the main powerbroker in Lebanon, has meanwhile moved 100 truckloads of military equipment into Beirut, according to a report in the a-Nahar newspaper on Monday.

The move came only weeks after Damascus made a symbolic troop withdrawal from the capital. There are more than 30,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon.

In recent weeks more than 200 Christian Lebanese who advocate a Syrian withdrawal from their country have been arrested by the pro-Syrian government. Dozens of them are on trial.

Syria invaded Lebanon during the country's 1975-1990 civil war but refused to leave later despite a U.N. resolution demanding all foreign troops leave the country.

Israel's departure from the south of the country last year, put pressure on Syria to leave. Damascus has never recognized the sovereignty of Lebanon.