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Al Qaeda takes aim at Israel

Zarqawi's group said a December rocket attack was just the beginning.

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It appears likely, many observers say, that the attacks were perpetrated by Palestinian militants who would like to link their agenda with Al Qaeda's.

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Although Shiite Hizbullah, backed by Iran, tends to have good relations with mainstream Sunni groups in Lebanon, it is very worried about the emergence and spread of militant Sunni ideology and has been keeping a close eye on its presence in Lebanon.

"There are some [operatives] in Lebanon," says Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hizbullah's deputy secretary-general in an interview with The Monitor. "We don't know how many and we don't know their plans or if they intend to do [military] operations here," he says.

"It's important to caution everyone not to make Lebanon an arena for settling scores," he adds. "It will be a dangerous development if that happens."

Hizbullah, which maintains tight control of the border district, is opposed to outside actors staging attacks into Israel in case it upsets the delicate balance. Still, Hizbullah admits it is difficult to fully control the border region to prevent other militants from launching their own operations.

"I have read articles saying that attacks can only happen [in the border district] with Hizbullah's knowledge. This is not true," says Mr. Qassem, who says his organization is still investigating the Al Qaeda claim.

"Small groups can infiltrate in and out very quickly. Weapons are available everywhere. It's not complex. These are not large groups of people. Just two or three who plan for a while and then launch several rockets," he says.

The statement attributed to Al Qaeda used language that is similar to that employed in leaflets written by Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"The rockets fired at the grandchildren of monkeys and pigs from the south of Lebanon was only the start of a blessed in-depth strike against the Zionist enemy," the group said in a statement, which was posted on several different militant Islamic websites and picked up by both Western and Middle Eastern media outlets.

"All that was on the instructions of the sheikh of the mujahideen, Osama bin Laden, may God preserve him," said a taped voice that is reported to be Jordan-born Zarqawi's.

The tape also said that Israelis should not enjoy security as long as Muslims were not safe.

The Israeli Army could not comment in depth on the issue at this time. "As far as we are concerned, we hold the Lebanese government responsible for any activity that happens in its territory," a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces said.

"If the Lebanese won't move [against such operatives] and the Syrians won't do anything, we might run into a pattern," says Zeev Schiff, a top military affairs columnist for the Haaretz newspaper. "I can guess that if Sharon were really in power, this could be the time to act against" militants in southern Lebanon.

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