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US, UN Welcome Israeli Ghajar Withdrawal Plan

A resident walks in the village of Ghajar on the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, 17 Nov 2010

The United States and United Nations have welcomed Israel's decision to withdraw troops from part of a village that was divided a decade ago between Israel and Lebanon.

Israel's security cabinet approved the plan Wednesday. It calls for Israeli troops to pull out from the northern part of Ghajar and hand over control of the area to UNIFIL, the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.

The U.S. State Department said it encourages Israel and the U.N. to implement the plan quickly in order to protect the rights of civilians in the area.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon said Mr. Ban "commends all sides" for their commitment to a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution that called for the withdrawal. The U.N. also said it will work closely with all parties to permanently resolve the status of Ghajar.

Israeli government officials say the withdrawal could take place in the coming weeks, following consultations with UNIFIL.

News of the pullout upset some Ghajar residents, who voiced concern that Israel's withdrawal could further divide the village or threaten security in the tense border region. Israel and Lebanon are still officially at war.

Israel first captured Ghajar from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. But after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, the U.N. split control control of the town, giving the north to Lebanon and the south to Israel. In the 2006 conflict with Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, Israel re-occupied the northern section, and has retained control of the area.

A United Nations Security Council resolution that ended the conflict calls for Israel to remove its troops. The village has 2,200 residents and more than 1,500 of them live in the northern part. Most of the villagers hold dual Syrian and Israeli citizenship.

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