Hizbullah training Palestinians to down civilian airliners

Monday, March 22, 2004

TEL AVIV Hizbullah has been training Palestinian insurgents to destroy low-flying Israeli civilian aircraft over the West Bank.

Israeli security sources said Hizbullah has been instructing Palestinian groups on ways to intercept slow-moving and low-flying passenger jets with the use of rocket-propelled grenades and Kassam-class short-range missiles. The sources said Hizbullah has also been trying to smuggle SAM-7 short-range, man-portable surface-to-air missiles to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

So far, the sources said, neither the Palestinian Authority nor Palestinian insurgency groups was believed to have deployed SAM-7s in the West Bank. But the sources said Hamas has succeeded in establishing an infrastructure for the Kassam and RPGs in workshops in the area.

"Much of the terror in the Palestinian arena today comes from Lebanon and Damascus," Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said, according to Middle East Newsline.

"In Damascus, it arises from the orders of the Palestinian terrorist organizations. In Lebanon, Hizbullah has constructed an infrastructure that conducts terror in the Palestinian sphere with Iranian backing, which gives each terrorist in Nablus $20,000 to $40,000 per attack. This is a lot of money. They also give training, encouragement, smuggle munitions, provide experts and advanced Iranian-made munitions in the Palestinian arena."

The sources said Hizbullah has been training Palestinian insurgents to use Kassams, mortars and RPGs to knock out planes taking off from or landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, located just inside the pre-1967 Israeli border.

The Israeli Maariv daily reported that Israeli authorities have prevented nine Palestinian attempts to shoot down civilian flights around Ben-Gurion. In a report on Feb. 20, the daily did not elaborate.

In 2003, Israel sought to construct a security fence through the West Bank that would prevent Palestinians from reaching within five kilometers of the airport. The Israeli aim was to neutralize any SAM-7 attacks on civilian aircraft entering Israel.

But a U.S. security delegation examined Ben-Gurion and deemed that the insurgency anti-aircraft threat was minimal.

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