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(photo credit: )
Israel's security establishment is closely monitoring the situation in southern Lebanon after a statement, issued by al-Qaida last week, claimed responsibility for the recent Katyusha rocket attacks on Kiryat Shmona and Shlomi, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday.
"In the past two years we have noticed that al-Qaida is focusing more and more on the Middle East and Israel," said Mofaz during a tour along the northern border. "We are prepared to deal with that reality," he added. According to security officials, Palestinian terror factions operating in southern Lebanon assist al-Qaida operatives.
The situation is far more complex today then it was when troops operated inside southern Lebanon before the pullout in 2000, Mofaz said, adding that, based on assessments, he expected the circumstances to become still more complicated in 2006.
After meeting with IDF soldiers, Mofaz visited the Kiryat Shmona family whose home suffered a direct hit from the Katyushas. Four rockets hit the city causing extensive damage to two homes, while one hit Shlomi, and four others fell in open areas nearby. At the time Hizbullah denied involvement and Israeli intelligence officials suspected that Ahmed Jabril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was responsible.
In response to the rocket attacks, the IAF launched a number of air strikes in southern Lebanon targeting PFLP terror bases.
Two days after the Katyusha attacks, al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility, issuing a statement on an Islamic Web site which read: "The lion sons of al-Qaida launched a new attack on the Jewish state by launching 10 missiles... from the Muslim lands in Lebanon on selected targets in the north of the Jewish state."
Another cause for concern relates to Hizbullah which appeared to be beefing up in preparation for further attacks said Mofaz.
The situation has become particularly noticeable since the November 21 attack on Ghajar, he said.
At the time Hizbullah gunmen attempted to abduct soldiers deployed in Ghajar and an IDF post on the north eastern sector of Mount Dov, under the cover of heavy barrages of mortar shells and gunfire, in what appeared to be a well coordinated large-scale attack.
Eleven soldiers and civilians were wounded, and at least four of the gunmen were killed.