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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Israel on high alert for mass-casualty strikes

TEL AVIV — Israel's military has been placed on high alert following an airline bomb scare and reports of other threats.

Officials said the intelligence community has warned of an imminent attack by either Al Qaida or Hizbullah against Israel. They said the Islamic insurgency could be planning the hijacking of an Israeli passenger jet that would then be crashed into an Israeli residential area.

"There is an assessment that something very bad will take place over the next few weeks, perhaps over the Jewish holidays," an official said.

On Sept. 24, the Israeli military was ordered on high alert following a bomb scare involving an El Al passenger jet, Middle East Newsline reported. Security officials received information that a bomb had been placed on plane scheduled to arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport from Paris that evening.

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"Following information received by the Israel Defense Forces about a bomb planted on an El Al passenger plane arriving in Israel today from Paris, senior members of the IDF General Staff manned central positions, which enabled them to track events as they unfolded," an Israeli military statement said on Sept. 24. "Additionally, the Israel Air Force and the Home Front Command were placed on high alert, as is customary in such instances."

Israel Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighters escorted the El Al jet once it entered Israeli air space. The passenger plane landed at 8 p.m. and was searched by a bomb disposal unit.

"The bomb threat was found to be baseless," the military said.

Hours earlier, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened a Cabinet committee to discuss reports of imminent threats against Israeli interests abroad. The National Security Council has warned of Al Qaida and Hizbullah plots to abduct or kill Israelis.

"Government bodies are making every effort to map the threats and warn against them," a Cabinet statement said. "However, it is the responsibility — first and foremost — of every citizen who travels abroad to keep far away from dangerous areas and to take obligatory precautions."

Officials said Hizbullah was coordinating with Al Qaida and Hamas to abduct Israeli tourists in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. They said the abduction plot was one of several Hizbullah options designed to avenge the assassination of operations chief Imad Mughniyeh in February 2008.

Another threat was said to stem from Palestinian insurgents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Sept. 19, four Palestinians infiltrated a major Israel Air Force base in the Negev desert without being detected.

Officials acknowledged that the Palestinians, later identified as residents of the Hebron area who sought employment, bypassed chain link fences, video cameras and patrols to enter the Nevatim air base. Israeli officers and airmen saw the Palestinians wander through air and weapons hangers, but failed to inform security forces.

In the end, an Israeli contractor reported the Palestinians to the base commander. The Palestinians were arrested by police. "This incident will be investigated in depth by the air force, and lessons will be learned to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future," a military spokesman said.



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