50,000 HEZBOLLAH FIGHTERS HAVE MOVED IN ALONG LEBANON'S SOUTHERN BORDER
FEB 16 2008
The Lebanese newspaper A-Safir reported
Saturday that the Lebanon-based guerilla group Hezbollah has deployed 50,000
"activists" along the southern border with Israel and declared a state of high
alert in southern Lebanon.
According to the report, the organization has also evacuated all buildings in the area designated for social or political purposes in recent days, in preparation for a confrontation with Israel in the wake of the assassination of Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyah.
Mughniyah, the organization's deputy secretary general, was killed in a blast in an upscale Damascus neighborhood late Tuesday. On Thursday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah blamed Israel for the assassination and vowed to retaliate. Israel denied any involvement in the incident.
Meanwhile Saturday, another Lebanese newspaper reported that Lebanese officials believe a serious military confrontation with Israel will erupt in the near future.
According to a report in the Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper Al-Akhbar this possibility has been raised in intensive discussions being held between Hezbollah officials and Iranian and Syrian officials. The various militant Palestinian organizations have also declared a state of high alert, the report added.
Al-Akhbar also reported that Syrian investigators probing the assassination suspect that "official security organizations operating in Arab nations" may have been involved in the killing, and that some of the suspects arrested in the course of the investigation were not civilians.
The report also said the investigation revealed that Mughniyah had been killed from a blast originating from a car bomb nearby, and not from a bomb planted in the vehicle he was occupying, as originally believed. The investigation revealed that the car bomb had been detonated remotely as Mughniyah walked past.
Lebanese security officials have identified the owners of the vehicle that exploded, Al-Akhbar reported. The reason why Mughniyah was in Damascus at the time of his death is still unclear.
"The investigations are being kept in full confidentiality due to considerations regarding the Mughniyah's location when he succumbed to an ambush," the Lebanese newspaper said.
Syria says will launch investigation on its own
Syria alone will investigate Tuesday's killing of Mughniyah in Damascus, contradicting earlier reports of a planned joint investigative committee with Iran and Hezbollah, government officials told the state-controlled Syrian news agency SANA on Saturday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki agreed with Syrian officials during a visit to Damascus on Thursday to set up a joint team to investigate the killing, Mottaki's deputy Alireza Sheik-Attar said on Friday.
Attar, speaking during Friday prayers, said that the team would investigate the circumstances surrounding the car bombing in Damascus, in order to "discover the identities of those who carried out this filthy crime."
Also Friday, Al-Akhbar reported that Hezbollah investigators would also launch a probe into the incident. According to the report, there has been progress in the investigation.
The newspaper also reported "hysteria in Tel Aviv," referring to the travel advisory issued to Israeli citizens traveling abroad by the Counter-Terrorism Bureau.
On Friday, a Lebanese source said that a joint Syrian-Iranian investigation into the assassination was well under way, and suspects have been arrested in the Syrian capital.
The suspects arrested in connection to the killing have been mostly Palestinians residing in Syria, the Lebanese source said.
Hezbollah and its main backer Iran have accused Israel of killing Mughniyah, who was also among the United States' most wanted men. Israel has denied any involvement.
The source added that Hezbollah has appointed a successor to Mughniyah. "A successor to Imad Mughniyah has been appointed, which is natural," said the source, who requested anonymity. "That's how Hezbollah works, they move quickly to choose successors of fallen leaders."
The source said the appointment was made hours after the announcement of Mughniyah's death in a car bomb in Damascus on Tuesday. He did not identify the successor, but said he was not one of the two names being circulated in the Israeli media.
Iranian FM meets with Hamas, Islamic Jihad in Damascus
Mottaki held separate Friday meetings at the Iranian Embassy with Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal and Islamic Jihad chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, said the Iranian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Later in the day, Mottaki held a one-hour meeting with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa to discuss the Mughniyah assassination.
"We discussed the terrorist crime that led to the martyrdom of one of the most senior commanders in the Lebanese Islamic Resistance (Hezbollah), martyr Imad Mughniyah," Mottaki told reporters after his meeting with al-Sharaa.
Mottaki also discussed Mughniyah's death with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday, accusing Israel of retaliating for its "losses" in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The Iranian foreign minister said he "imagined it could exact a heavy price by assassinating one leader of the Lebanese resistance."
Mottaki flew to Damascus on Thursday from Lebanon, where he attended Mughniyah's funeral and offered condolences to the man's family and associates. Underlining Iran's close ties to Shiite Hezbollah, Mottaki sat between Mughniyah's father and a senior Hezbollah official.
Moallem: Perpetrators to be found soon
On Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said investigations were underway into who was behind the car bomb that killed Mughniyah. He added that he expected the perpetrators to be found soon.
"Syrian security forces are continuing investigations into this terrorist crime and we hope you will hear results soon," Moallem said at a joint press conference with Mottaki. "We as a state will show with full proof the party involved in this crime and who stands behind them."
Moallem said those who killed Mughniyah "assassinated any attempt to revive the peace process," hinting for the first time that Israel might be involved.
Meshal said Thursday that Mughniyah's death would not deter the militant Palestinian group from continuing its resistance against Israel.
"We accept the challenge and we are not afraid at all," said Meshal at a wake for Mughniyah at a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus.
During Friday prayers in Baghdad, Sheik Suhail al-Eqabi read worshippers a statement that was issued Thursday by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr regarding Mughniyah's death: "The dirty hands have stretched out to get [Mughniyah] and he was sent to paradise where he became a martyr of world Islamic resistance."
Al-Sadr on Thursday declared a three-day mourning period for the death of Mughniyah.
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