Hundreds of Hizbullah enroute to northern Iraq

Friday, March 28, 2003

TEL AVIV Hizbullah has joined the war against Iraq.

Israeli intelligence sources said hundreds of combatants from the Iranian-backed Hizbullah have crossed into Syria and plan to continue on to Iraq to fight coalition forces. The sources said the Hizbullah members have left with their personal weapons and are expected to arrive in northern Iraq by early next week.

The Hizbullah expedition was organized by the movement's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, who ordered his fighters to deploy in the Shi'ite areas of Iraq. Nasrallah has sought to lead Iraq's Shi'ite majority amid the U.S.-led war in that country, according to Middle East Newsline.

The intelligence sources said the Hizbullah deployment in Iraq appears to be symbolic rather than operational. Israel's Channel 2 television reported on Thursday night that 2,500 Hizbullah members are heading for Iraq.

For its part, Lebanon has placed its military and security forces on full alert amid high-level consultations with Syria. Last week, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri met Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

The two leaders were said to have agreed to increase security and military measures along the southern border with Israel. Lebanon's military ordered anti-aircraft batteries to shoot at any intruding aircraft and increase ground patrols along the Israeli border.

Last week, Western diplomatic sources said the children of senior government officials and ministers were fleeing Baghdad for Jordan and Lebanon. The sources said Jordan closed its border at the urging of the United States. Lebanon, however, kept the border with Syria open and admitted Iraqi nationals.

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