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(photo credit: )
Hizbullah's top commander in southern Lebanon is a veteran Fatah operative who was very close to former Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat when the PLO was based in Beirut, Fatah officials said over the weekend.
They identified the man as Imad Mughniyeh, a former officer in Arafat's Force 17 presidential guard who has been in charge of Hizbullah's military operations in south Lebanon for the past decade.
"Imad Mughniyeh is the overall commander of the Islamic Resistance [Hizbullah's armed wing] in southern Lebanon," said a Fatah official who said he knew Mughniyeh well during the '70s and '80s.
"He's nicknamed tha'lab [the fox], and today he's considered the second important figure in Hizbullah after Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. We're very proud to have a Palestinians holding such a high position in Hizbullah," the Fatah official said.
Mughniyeh, who is believed to have been behind the abduction of the two IDF soldiers on July 12, is also reported to be in charge of Hizbullah's rocket unit in south Lebanon. The unit has fired more than 1,600 rockets at Israel during the current violence.
When the IDF forced the PLO to leave Lebanon in 1982, Arafat entrusted Mughniyeh with transferring the organization's weapons to Lebanese militias allied with the Palestinians.
Mughniyeh, who refused to leave Beirut with the PLO leadership, joined the the Shi'ite Amal militia headed by Nabih Berri. He and Nasrallah, who was then a member of Amal, later left the movement to form Hizbullah.
Born in the Lebanese city of Tyre in 1952, Mughniyeh did not attract attention until 1976, when he joined Force 17 as a sniper targeting Christians on the Green Line dividing West and East Beirut.
Mugniyah has since been implicated in numerous terrorist attacks against the US, France and Israel, in which hundreds of people have been killed. These include three in 1983: the bombings of the US Embassy in Beirut and barracks housing US Marines and French paratroopers who were part of the Multinational Force in Lebanon.
He has also been linked to the Karine A weapons ship that Arafat tried to use to smuggle arms into the Gaza Strip in 2001.
On October 10, 2001 Mughniyeh appeared on the FBI's first "Top 22 Most Wanted Terrorists" list. A reward of $25 million was offered for information leading to his capture.