syrian troops 88.
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An attempt by Syria to divert attention from the Mehlis report by stirring a clash with Israel is not likely, since their army is spread too thin to pose a threat, a senior officer said Tuesday.
Still, the IDF has put its forces along the Lebanese border on a heightened profile to offset any attempts by Damascus's proxy, Hizbullah, to stir up tensions. It has not added any reinforcements to the frontier, the senior officer said.
The officer revealed that the IDF killed at least eight Hizbullah fighters and not four, as was previously reported, in last month's botched attempt to kidnap soldiers in the village of Ghajar.
While there have been no civilian casualties on the Lebanese border since 2003, the IDF has noted an increase in Hizbullah attacks there. In 2005, there were 31 incidents, including shooting and missile fire, compared to just 18 in the previous year. Two soldiers were killed and 22 were wounded in Hizbullah attacks this year.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz visited the Lebanon border Tuesday and warned that Hizbullah may try to inflame the region.
"The link between Syria, Iran and Hizbullah is constantly tightening. I expect there will be other attempts by Hizbullah to provoke violence, similar to the incident three weeks ago in the bor de r village of Ghajar," Mofaz said.
"For Syria, this is a 'safety valve' to release tensions generated by the international pressures it faces, most notably the Mehlis report," he said.
Mofaz was referring to the UN inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri that implicated Syrian intelligence.
Hariri's death, as well as Monday's assassination of an anti-Syrian Lebanese lawmaker and journalist, Mofaz said, demonstrated Syria's desire to continue ruling Lebanon.
"Syrian attempts to divert attention away from the country may result in heightened Hizbullah activity in the North," he warned.
A senior IDF officer said the Syrian army was now deployed on four fronts, including on the Golan, the Lebanese border, the Turkish border and, under US pressure, on the Iraqi frontier to block the flow of insurgents into Iraq.
"This is a very complicated situation for their army," the senior officer said, but declined to reveal more intelligence about their battle order.
"An army that has limited offensive capabilities and that is split up on four fronts is even more limited now," the officer said.
The UN Security Council began to debate the contents of the Mehlis report but is not expected to take any actions against Syria at this point in time.
The Security Council was expected to give German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis another six months to complete his investigation but will not go ahead with any sanctions before the investigation is complete.
The US has reacted sharply to th e Mehlis report and to the murder of Tueni. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the Bashar Assad regime to stop meddling in Lebanon's affairs.
"Syrian interference in Lebanon continues, and it must end completely. The United States will work wi t h its partners on the Security Council and in the region to see that Security Council Resolutions 1595 and 1636 are fully implemented," said Rice in a written statement she published Monday.
President George Bush later put out a similar statement demand ing Syrian compliance with the UN resolutions regarding Lebanon.
Though the US has maintained its hardline approach towards Syria, the Mehlis report, according to diplomats who analyzed its content, is seen as a setback, since it did not put the blame o n the Syrian government but rather on individuals within the government.
This will make it harder to impose sanctions on Syria and will allow action only against those involved directly in the attack. If Bashar Assad does not comply with the demand to t ake action against those involved in the Hariri assassination, only then UN will be able to punish the Syrian regime.
Nathan Guttman contributed to this report.Ë‡