Israel reports rocket buildup by Hizbullah in Lebanon

Special to World
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

TEL AVIV Hizbullah has deployed rockets across from the Lebanese border with Israel.

Israeli military sources said the Iranian-backed organization has recently brought a range of rockets from the Bekaa Valley to the Shebaa Plateau. The plateau, captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war, is also claimed by Lebanon.

"We see the Hizbullah bring mules to the area and on both sides are boxes that appear to contain missiles," a senior Israeli officer said. "There are also boxes with explosives."

The officer said Hizbullah brought the rockets and missiles to the Shebaa Plateau after they were dismantled. He said the forces did not detect rocket batteries in the immediate area.

Israeli forces along the Lebanese border have been placed on maximum alert. The sources said the Israeli forces are expected to be the first target of Hizbullah once the United States begins its war against Iraq.

On early Wednesday, Hizbullah fired anti-aircraft artillery toward the northern Israeli border. Nobody was reported to have been injured. At the same time, the Beirut-based A-Safir daily reported that Hizbullah has declared an alert along the Israeli-Lebanese border and brought Katyusha rockets to the area.

The sources said Hizbullah, despite its reinforcement along the Israeli border, has maintained a low signature. They said Hizbullah members are in civilian uniforms and are often disguised as shepherds sent to the border to gather intelligence on Israeli units.

Over the last few months, Israel has sent several messages to Syria that warned of a massive retaliation should Hizbullah launch an offensive against the Jewish state. Last month, Syria withdrew thousands of troops from Lebanon in what appeared to be an effort to avoid being a target in any eruption of hostilities between Hizbullah and Israel.

In a related development, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has decided to suspend plans to increase military reserve duty to 43 days. Mofaz, acting upon a recommendation by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, maintained the maximum period for reserve duty at 36 days. The government's intention to increase reserve duty has sparked protests.

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