Unknown group claims responsibility for rocketing Israel from Lebanon

1208.jpgBEIRUT (AP) — A previously unknown group on Monday claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on northern Israel, reflecting Lebanon’s increasingly dangerous mix of armed organisations.Another group accidently caused a deadly explosion in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon when its members were preparing a bomb. Two people were killed and three wounded in the blast.In northern Lebanon, three soldiers were killed in the latest fighting of a five-week siege against a third group barricaded inside another Palestinian refugee camp. Their deaths brought to 72 the number of Lebanese soldiers who have died in the battle with Fateh Islam at the Nahr Bared camp. Plagued by its own domestic political turmoil, Lebanon has also seen the rise of a number of small, little known groups proclaiming the same Islamic “jihadist”, or “holy war”, ideology propogated by Al Qaeda.

Sunday’s rocket attack on Israel, which caused some damage but no casualties, illustrated the group’s potential for dragging Lebanon into conflict with Israel. The attack was the first since last summer’s war between Israel and Hizbollah in which fighters fired thousands of rockets, including longer-range ones, and the Israelis mounted massive air strikes. The Lebanese Shiite Hizbollah group quickly denied it fired the two Katyusha rockets.

On Monday, a group calling itself “the Jihadi Badr Brigades — Lebanon branch”, said it fired the rockets and in a statement faxed to the Associated Press in Beirut to continue attacks on Israel.

“We affirm that we will continue no matter what the sacrifices on the jihad path are,” said the statement, which began with a Koranic verse and carried a picture of Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock with a Palestinian flag in the background.

The claim could not be independently confirmed, and officials with wide experience in southern Lebanon said the group may not exist, with the name created merely to give the attack wider credibility.

Khaled Aref, a senior official with the mainstream Palestinian Fateh movement in the southern Lebanon refugee camp of Ain Al Hilweh, said he had no knowledge of the group. He said Palestinians had agreed not to use south Lebanon to attack Israel because “we don’t want to put more pressure on Lebanon”. Timur Goksel, who served with the UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon for two decades as spokesman and senior adviser to the peacekeeping force’s commander, believes the attack was a “contracting work”. “This is one of the local sympathiser groups, somebody paid money. This is sort of solidarity attack with Fateh Islam,” he said.

Since the fighting in  Nahr Bared erupted May 20, several armed groups have emerged vowing in web statements and videos to support Fateh Islam. Fateh Islam, too, has promised to take the battle outside the camp, where more than 100 people have been killed.

Two Lebanese soldiers were killed outside Ain Al Hilweh earlier this month when gunmen from Jund Sham, a group sympathising with Fateh Islam, fought Lebanese troops stationed nearby.

On Monday, an explosion ripped through a tyre shop in Ain Al Hilweh, caused when members of Jund Al Sham were extracting TNT from a shell to use in a bomb, Lebanese security officials said. The blast killed the shop’s owner and his nephew.

Among the three wounded were a leader of Jund Al Sham and a Lebanese man whose brother is in a Saudi prison on suspicion of Al Qaeda links, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the press.

Jund Al Sham is believed to be a splinter group from a Palestinian group based in the camp called Asbat Al Ansar. A group in Syria using the same name, Jund Al Sham, has carried out attacks against that country’s secular government, but it is not known whether the groups are linked.

Goksel noted that attacks with small rockets like Sunday’s are difficult to stop. The rockets can be easily transported and need no launcher.

“You need a donkey and two Katyushas and you can start a conflict in southern Lebanon,” he said.

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