Hezbollah trains for Israel drill

2010-05-21 18:32

Beirut - Hezbollah mobilised thousands of militants in southern Lebanon on Friday in response to week-long Israeli defence exercises due to kick off on Sunday, an official from the Shi'ite militia group said.

"The Hezbollah fighters have (been instructed) to be completely ready to confront Israeli manoeuvres on Sunday," Nabil Qaouk said.

"Thousands of our fighters will not go to the polls (for municipal elections on Sunday) and will be prepared from today" for any eventuality, he added.

"In the event of any new attack on Lebanon, the Israelis will not find anywhere in Palestine to hide," he said.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war in 2006 that destroyed much of southern Lebanon, largely a Hezbollah stronghold. Israel attacked Lebanon after Hezbollah guerrillas captured two soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Israel estimates that Hezbollah has since stockpiled more than 40 000 rockets, some of which could reach major Israeli population centres.

And last month, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of providing Scud missiles to Hezbollah, charges that Damascus has denied.

Dubbed "Turning Point 4", the defence exercises are designed to prepare emergency responses to rocket strikes on Israel, with sirens due to ring out across the country on Wednesday and Israelis to head for shelters.

Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai emphasised last week that the exercises had been planned long in advance and had no bearing on the Jewish state's present relations with its northern neighbours.

Vilnai also said that, as in previous years, Israel has made contact through intermediaries with its northern neighbours, notably Syria, to reassure them of its non-belligerent intentions.