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Hizbullah operatives moving into villages near Israeli border

TEL AVIV — Israel's military surveillance has detected Hizbullah movements that point to an expanded presence along Lebanon's border with the Jewish state.   

Military sources said reconnaissance units have been detecting Hizbullah positions in Lebanese villages near the Israeli border. The sources said the operatives, dressed in civilian clothes, have been renting houses or stores for the storage of equipment and housing of fighters.

"Hizbullah has intensified its deployment along the Israeli border," a military source said. "What was secret a year ago is a lot less secret today."

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The Hizbullah effort was deemed a violation of the United Nations Security Council-arranged ceasefire that ended the Lebanon war in 2006. Under the council resolution, Hizbullah was banned from maintaining a presence south of Lebanon's Litani River.

The Hizbullah weapons were said to include air defense systems, such as the SA-8 and SA-18. The sources said Hizbullah has also stockpiled rockets with a range of more than 200 kilometers.

Over the last year, the sources said, Hizbullah has been smuggling rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and other weapons into villages near the Israeli border. They said Hizbullah, which deployed both fulltime and reserve units, began operations in Shi'ite villages and moved to Christian and Sunni communities.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Hizbullah has accumulated more than 40,000 missiles and rockets. Barak said he expected Hizbullah to use these weapons in any conflict with Israel.

"If there is a conflict on our northern border, we will use all necessary force," Barak said.

The Hizbullah effort in Sunni villages has been quietly discouraged by the government in Beirut. In mid-August, residents of Marwahin fought Hizbullah operatives who tried to bring weapons into the village, about two kilometers from the Israeli border community of Zirit.

The Israel Army, which closely monitors the border with ground and air surveillance, photographed a gun battle between Hizbullah and Sunni villagers. Lebanese Army troops were summoned and stopped the fighting.

In the Israel Army video, released on Aug. 25, Marwahin residents were seen attacking Hizbullah operatives, who fled to an unmarked vehicle. Lebanese soldiers blocked the Sunni residents from reaching the Hizbullah sport utility vehicle.

Military sources said the clash was a rare demonstration of opposition by Lebanese to the Hizbullah deployment near the Israeli border. They said in most cases Hizbullah efforts to purchase or rent homes in border villages did not encounter resistance.

"It is clear that Hizbullah wants to return the Israeli-Lebanese border to the same state that existed on the eve of the [2006] war," the source said. "The difference is we are more aware of their activities."

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