Hizbollah mobilises forces in South Lebanon

Hizbollah mobilises thousands of militants in southern Lebanon in response to week-long Israeli defence exercises due to kick off on Sunday.

Powered by automated translation

Hizbollah mobilised thousands of militants in southern Lebanon today in response to week-long Israeli defence exercises due to kick off on Sunday, an official from the Shiite militia group said. "The Hizbollah fighters have (been instructed) to be completely ready to confront Israeli manoeuvres on Sunday," Nabil Qaouk said. "Thousands of our fighters will not go to the polls (for municipal elections on Sunday) and will be prepared from today" for any eventuality, he added.

"In the event of any new attack on Lebanon, the Israelis will not find anywhere in Palestine to hide," he said. Israel and Hizbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 that destroyed much of southern Lebanon, largely a Hizbollah stronghold. Israel attacked Lebanon after Hizbollah guerrillas captured two soldiers in a cross-border raid. Israel estimates that Hizbollah has since stockpiled more than 40,000 rockets, some of which could reach major Israeli population centres.

And last month, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of providing Scud missiles to Hizbollah, charges that Damascus has denied. Dubbed "Turning Point 4," the defence exercises are designed to prepare emergency responses to rocket strikes on Israel, with sirens due to ring out across the country on Wednesday and Israelis head for shelters. Israel's deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai emphasised last week that the exercises had been planned long in advance, and had no bearing on the Jewish state's present relations with its northern neighbours.

Mr Vilnai also said that, as in previous years, Israel has made contact through intermediaries with its northern neighbours, notably Syria, to reassure them of its non-belligerent intentions. * AFP