Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Lebanon sees rise in small armies of Islamist militants

AP , BEIRUT

A previously unknown Islamic militant group on Monday claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on northern Israel, reflecting Lebanon's increasingly dangerous mix of armed organizations.

Another militant group accidentally caused a deadly explosion in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon when its members were preparing a bomb. Two people were killed and three wounded in the blast.

In northern Lebanon, three soldiers were killed in the latest fighting of a five-week siege against a third militant group barricaded inside another Palestinian refugee camp. Their deaths brought to 72 the number of Lebanese soldiers who have died in the battle with Fatah Islam at the Nahr el-Bared camp.

Plagued by its own domestic political turmoil, Lebanon has also seen the rise of a number of small, little known militant groups proclaiming the same Islamic jihadist ideology propagated by al-Qaeda.

Sunday's rocket attack on Israel, which caused some damage but no casualties, illustrated the group's potential for dragging Lebanon into conflict with Israel. The attack was the first since last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in which Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets, including longer-range ones, and the Israelis mounted massive airstrikes.

The Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group quickly denied it fired the two Katyusha rockets.

On Monday, a group calling itself the Jihadi Badr Brigades-Lebanon branch said it fired the rockets and in a faxed statement stated that it would continue attacks on Israel.

"We affirm that we will continue no matter what the sacrifices on the jihad path are," said the statement, which began with a Koranic verse and carried a picture of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock with a Palestinian flag in the background.

The claim could not be independently confirmed, and officials with wide experience in southern Lebanon said the group may not exist, with the name created merely to give the attack wider credibility.

Khaled Aref, a senior official with the mainstream Palestinian Fatah movement in the southern Lebanon refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, said he had no knowledge of the group.

He said Palestinians had agreed not to use south Lebanon to attack Israel because "we don't want to put more pressure on Lebanon."

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