Posted by Joshua on Monday, November 5th, 2007
Hizbullah is declaring that it is back and ready to hurt Israel if Iran is attacked. On the local level, this comes a week before Lebanese presidential elections are supposed to be completed. Both Washington and France have weighed in on the elections, in support of the March 14 parliamentary majority. Rice insisted that March 14 should not compromise with the Lebanese opposition. Hizbullah is letting the West understand that it will not be cowed. If there is no compromise, there will be no stability in Lebanon.
Hezbollah: Maneuvers held near border in 'response to enemy'
By Haaretz Service and The Associated Press
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – Hezbollah has staged military maneuvers near Israel's border in southern Lebanon to counter last week's Israeli war games, the group said Monday.
The pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar reported thousands of unarmed fighters took part, but the Lebanese government downplayed the drills as likely just a simulation.
Al-Akhbar first broke the story, which was later confirmed by a senior Hezbollah official who would not give further details.
Al-Akhbar said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah personally supervised the maneuvers, which it said were carried out in the last three days without weapons or uniforms, billing it as the biggest ever staged on Israel's border by the Shiite Muslim militant group.
Monday's report marked the first time Hezbollah, with its highly secretive military wing, revealed such exercises through a close newspaper. The maneuvers could pose a major challenge to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended last year's war with the Jewish state.
Hezbollah officials initially declined to comment, but later Monday, a senior member confirmed the maneuvers, saying they were intended to counter Israeli activity. «In response to what the enemy is doing, this maneuver by the Islamic resistance (Hezbollah) was part of its … work and its commitment to always defend Lebanon, its sovereignty and its people,» said Sheik Hassan Izzedine, a senior Hezbollah official in southern Lebanon. He spoke on local al-Jadeed television.
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, speaking to Associated Press Television News at government headquarters, noted earlier Monday that Hezbollah has not formally confirmed the maneuvers. He said authorities checked with military and police units as well as U.N. peacekeepers and «they confirmed nothing on the ground really happened.
«It was, let's say, a simulation probably, in an operation room, on the desk, probably they did such a thing,» he said. «This has been confirmed by all the sources.
The maneuvers came a few days after Israel held major military exercises in the north of the country near the Lebanese border. The Israeli action was interpreted by some Lebanese media as preparation by the Jewish state for a possible new war with Hezbollah.
Al-Akhbar said the Hezbollah maneuvers were carried out south of the Litani River in southern Lebanon and aimed at «deterring the enemy from carrying out any adventure in Lebanon.» The zone has been controlled by a U.N. peacekeeping force and the Lebanese army since last year's war.
There was no immediate comment from officials of the U.N. peacekeeping force, which has 13,500 soldiers who patrol a buffer zone near the border with Israel with the help of 15,000 Lebanese troops.
But As-Safir newspaper quoted Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziano, the commander of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon as warning Lebanese leaders he met in Beirut last week that the tension in the south and a deepening political crisis in the country might prompt European countries «to withdraw from UNIFIL within less than four months. Italy, France, Spain and Germany form the bulk of the reinforced U.N. force that deployed in southern Lebanon after last year's war.
Commenting on the reported Hezbollah maneuvers, a Lebanese security official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity in line with government regulations, said Lebanese forces in south Lebanon «did not register any armed presence south of the Litani.
The official said troops are under orders to prevent any armed presence in accordance with a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended last year's fighting, but pointed out «that civilians have the right to freely move in their villages» and if they do not carry weapons, they are not breaking the law.
Al-Akhbar said Hezbollah's maneuvers were carried out all along the border with Israel «in extreme secrecy without any show of arms. The newspaper quoted Nasrallah as telling the participants that the maneuvers were intended «for foe and friend to make them understand that the resistance (Hezbollah) is fully ready to confront any kinds of Israeli threats.
Nasrallah said last week his guerrilla group has grown stronger since last summer's war as Israel has weakened. He said his guerrillas did not want war but «will not allow anyone to attack our villages, people and country.
The Lebanese army command has in the last few days issued statements noting increased Israeli overflights in southern Lebanon in violation of the cease-fire resolution. Since the fighting with Israel ended, Nasrallah has boasted that his guerrillas have replenished their rocket arsenal and were ready to fight Israel if attacked. The Hezbollah leader has said his group possesses more than 33,000 rockets.
Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a new report that said Israel claims that Hezbollah has rearmed with new long-range rockets capable of hitting Tel Aviv. Ban's report said Israel claims Hezbollah has tripled its shore-to-sea C-802 missiles and has established an air defense unit armed with ground-to-air missiles