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Mohamad Ali El Husseini/New resistance group vows to take fight to Jewish state

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New resistance group vows to take fight to Jewish state

But rhetoric dismissed as 'posturing'

BEIRUT: A new resistance group based in Lebanon, which claims to have 3,000 members and advanced weapons to use against Israel, said on Sunday it had conducted its first training maneuvers in the south and east of the country. The Arab Islamic Resistance, an armed offshoot of the Islamic Arab Council, was set up by Mohammad Ali al-Husseini as a rival to Hizbullah. He said that it had carried out military exercises and first aid training at undisclosed locations.

In a statement, Husseini warned that his fighters will not "stand idly" while Israel continues its bloody military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He said that the group's patience had run out and it would "carry out its duty to defend the nation."

But Lebanese security sources have said they are not unduly concerned by the group's threats. Speaking to The Daily Star, a security official said that its emergence probably had more to do with upcoming elections than the situation in Gaza.

"Their real intention is to raise their profile in light of the June 7 elections," the official said. "They are trying to establish a stronghold among the Sunni people, especially in areas when they can exert this kind of influence, such as Tripoli, Sidon and in areas of Beirut."

He said the prospect of violence from the group was unlikely. "They are not going to start a revolution, they just want to establish their presence in the political arena," he said. "They are just posturing, it's all talk. They will not launch an attack on Israel or help Palestine in a combative sense."

Any attack on Israel from Lebanon is likely to draw an immediate military response from the Jewish state. Last Thursday, militants fired Katyusha rockets across the border, prompting Israel to fire artillery into southern Lebanon. Israeli military sources have said they will respond to further attacks in a similar way.

Husseini said last week's rocket attack was a "clear message" to Israel to stop its offensive on Gaza. "Next time rockets will be fired to kill," he said.

But analysts say that some of the group's claims, which include a statement announcing the invention of a new "Arabism rocket" that the group says it manufactures itself, do not ring true.

Timur Goksel, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut and a former adviser to UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, said it was unlikely that such a group could have been set up and trained in secret.

"I find it a bit incredible that they could have trained 3,000 men without anyone knowing about it. Lebanon is too small a country to train a force of that size," he said.

But he warned that despite the "flowery rhetoric" employed by the new group's leadership, there was some cause for concern. "There are some dangerous signs. It's not just Lebanese, but it's Arab. That's a very risky situation, because you can have people joining who don't have a stake in Lebanon."

The group's emergence comes at a time of heightened tension between Israel and Lebanon following the Jewish state's invasion of the Gaza Strip. The offensive has sparked fears of the conflict spreading to Lebanon's border with Israel, but apart from last week's rocket attack, the situation in southern Lebanon has remained calm.

Both UNFIL and the Lebanese Army have stepped up patrols in southern Lebanon to prevent militants in the area from carrying out attacks on Israel in revenge for ongoing violence in Gaza, and have called for "restraint" from both sides.

Andrew Wander

Daily Star

2009-01-13

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