BEIRUT, Lebanon – Israeli troops were to begin withdrawing Tuesday from the Lebanese part of the divided border village of Ghajar, the U.N. peacekeeping force said.
When completed, the Israeli troop withdrawal from Ghajar would put Israeli forces behind the U.N.-demarcated Blue Line bordering the two countries for the first time since the summer war between the Jewish state and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Israeli forces withdrew from other areas they occupied during the war in early October but remained in Ghajar, a village that is half in Israel and half in Lebanon.
Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini made the announcement after a meeting with Lebanese and Israeli officers at the U.N. peacekeeping headquarters in the southern Lebanese town of Naqoura.
"It was agreed that the Israeli Defense Forces will withdraw their forces from most of the surrounding area of Ghajar village today," the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, called UNIFIL, said in a statement.
Israeli Defense Forces will continue to be present in the northern part of the Lebanese section of the village for now, but Pellegrini said he hoped "we will reach an agreement very soon for full IDF withdrawal from Lebanese territory ... including the northern part of Ghajar village," the statement said.
It was not immediately clear whether the Israeli withdrawal was under way on the ground, and there was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
The U.N. statement said UNIFIL would carry out "intensive patrolling" and set up temporary checkpoints in the area to confirm that the Israeli forces were no longer present there.
An Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar would remove a major point of contention in the implementation of the U.N. resolution that halted the monthlong fighting between Hezbollah and Israel on Aug. 14.
It also would remove a major source of tension on the volatile border. Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Sallouk has called the dispute over Ghajar a "time bomb."
Israel took Ghajar when it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. The village was divided between an Israeli-controlled part and a Lebanese section by the United Nations following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000.
Israel sealed off the village from Lebanon during this summer's war. Israeli officials have said withdrawing and freeing access to Ghajar would pose a security risk since the village is partly on Israeli-held land.