Israel Closes Occupied Village Fearing Hizbollah Kidnappings
The Israeli army has declared the occupied village of Ghajar on the border with Lebanon a closed military zone, fearing that Israelis who visit the area could become targets of kidnapping attempts by Hizbollah.
The directive, which went into effect last Thursday, does not apply to residents of the village who hold Israeli citizenship, reported Haaretz.
Ghajar, formerly a Syrian village, was occupied by Israel in 1967. Its residents are Alawites and most now hold Israeli citizenship, said the paper.
Tensions mounted in the area some two weeks ago, after the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vacated a position north of the village, citing budgetary constraints. The UN decision came despite reservations expressed by Israel, which warned that Hizbollah would try to exploit the new situation so as to upset the occupiers' "status quo" in the area.
About a year ago, Israel and Lebanon reached an agreement, mediated by the UN, that each country would maintain control over half of the village (Israel in the southern section and Lebanon in the northern), without a fence being erected to divide the two parts. Since the evacuation of the UNIFIL post, Lebanese citizens, including Hizbollah activists, have approached the northern part of the village and raised the flags of the organization. Israeli military sources have defined the Hizbollah actions as a "provocation."
Hizbollah keeps as prisoners of war three Israeli soldiers, captured in the occupied Shabaa Farms, and a fourth it calls a Mossad agent who was on a mission in Lebanon.
The group, which spearheaded resistance against 22 years of Israeli occupation of a zone in south Lebanon, wants to use the captives as bargaining chips to secure the release of hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)