Hizbullah conducts 2-hour rocket barrage near Syria, Lebanon

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

TEL AVIV Hizbullah launched an intensive rocket barrage against Israel while, simultaneously, Lebanon and Syria commanders were meeting in Beirut to discuss military cooperation against the Jewish state.

Hizbullah carried out a two-hour rocket and mortar attack against Israeli military positions along the border with Lebanon and Syria on Monday, Middle East Newsline reported. Several of the 107 mm rockets and 35 mm mortars landed on or near two Israeli military positions and one soldier was injured in the first Hizbullah rocket strike since August.

Israeli officials said the Hizbullah attack was carried out under Syria's orders and was expected. They pointed out that during the border shelling Syrian Chief of Staff Gen. Hassan Turkmani met Lebanese military commanders in Beirut to discuss military cooperation against Israel.

On Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Hizbullah was expected to follow up its rocket strike with what he termed a major terrorist attack in Israel. Mofaz did not elaborate.

Israel's military responded with artillery fire and combat air strikes and a Hizbullah rocket launcher was destroyed. Later, Hizbullah issued three separate versions to explain the attack, including that the Iranian-sponsored group struck to mark the Islamic fast month of Ramadan.

"It's very difficult to determine intentions by the other side," Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Israeli Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said, "particularly when we are talking about a dictatorial regime such as Syria."

United Nations monitors deployed along the Israeli-Lebanese border said Hizbullah fired mortars and missiles towards Israeli positions in the Shebaa plateau. The UN said Israel responded with artillery and aerial bombing.

The Lebanese-Syrian Military Committee released a statement that pledged cooperation between Beirut and Damascus against Israel. The statement said the Lebanese and Syrian militaries would defend against Israeli aggression and were studying the tactics of the Israeli military.

"A unified formula was reached on this issue," the statement said. Western diplomatic sources said Lebanon's military has been ransacked by Syrian forces in the Beirut area and no longer maintains a credible army, navy or air force. The Lebanese military has not been allowed to deploy near the Israeli border, an area dominated by Hizbullah.

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