'We have info on threats against UNIFIL'

Lebanese defense minister warns that extremists may be planning to target peacekeepers.

jp.services2 (photo credit:)
jp.services2
(photo credit: )
Lebanon's Defense Minister Elias Murr said Thursday that there were intelligence reports of possible attacks being planned against the international peacekeepers in Lebanon. "We have information on threats against UNIFIL," Murr said in an interview with the privately owned Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. He was referring to the UN force monitoring a UN-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah guerrillas in the buffer zone in southern Lebanon. Murr said there were reports that "fundamentalist groups" in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon, were contemplating attacks against the peacekeepers. "Whether this information is true or not, we have to deal with it very carefully ... even if it has zero credibility," he said. He did not elaborate or give more details on the fundamentalist groups. Murr's announcement came after a brief exchange of fire Wednesday night between Lebanese troops and the Israeli army. UN peacekeepers sent tanks and armor to the area on Thursday, to try to establish whether an Israeli bulldozer had crossed into Lebanon, sparking the shootout that caused no casualties. Israel and Syria have both warned of an increasing al-Qaida presence in Lebanon, though attacks here have been rare. Lebanese security forces broke up several cells believed linked to al-Qaida early in the year. On Nov. 28, the leader of a Syrian militant group blew himself up on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon in a clash with guards there in what may have been an attempt to infiltrate Lebanon. In December, Israeli media reported that Israel had warned the 12,000 strong UNIFIL that al-Qaida is planning an attack on the force. The reports said Israel had received intelligence that al-Qaida's deputy chief, Ayman al-Zawahri, had issued the order to attack the peacekeepers. In a video released this year marking the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, al-Zawahri denounced the beefed-up UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon. Also in December, during a visit to his country's contingent in south Lebanon, Italy's Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema also warned that there is a risk of attack against the peacekeepers and that they should be alert.