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Israel deploys air defense missiles near Haifa

RIA Novosti

19/02/2008 17:33 TEL AVIV, February 19 (RIA Novosti) - Israel has deployed Patriot air-defense missiles near Haifa following Hezbollah's threat to start an all-out war over the killing of terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyah, the Haaretz daily said Tuesday.

It said the deployment is part of preparations to intercept pilotless drone aircraft laden with explosives that Hezbollah may use in an attempt to strike targets in Israel.

Israeli security officials said the battery was put on standby Sunday for the first time since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

The paper said Israel had issued travel advice for Israelis traveling abroad as the country's security services are concerned that Hezbollah may try to kidnap Israeli civilians abroad.

Over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces moved reinforcements close to the border with Lebanon in the North, including elite units. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel is prepared on all fronts for an attack.

Hezbollah has blamed Israel's secret service for the death last Wednesday of Imad Mughniyeh, implicated in several attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets. Mughniyeh, 45, was killed by a car bomb in Damascus. The group said Israeli intelligence agency Mossad orchestrated the killing.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the organization's secretary general, said up to now Hezbollah has been fighting the Zionist enemy on Lebanese soil, but the fact that Mughniyeh was killed in Syria means that Israel has started an open war against Hezbollah.

"Zionists, if you want this type of open war then let the whole world hear: let it be an open war," he said at Mughniyeh's funeral.

Tel Aviv has denied a role in the killing.

In the early 1980s Mughniyeh, who was believed to be head of Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah's armed wing, was linked to suicide bomb attacks at the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 43 diplomatic staff and 312 U.S. and French service personnel.

He was also implicated in an explosion at the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people in 1994, and the Israeli Embassy in the city in 1992, when 29 were killed and about 300 injured.

Israeli media reported earlier that Mughniyeh was behind the capture of two Israeli soldiers in July 2006 in the border raid that led to Israel's military operation in Lebanon which took the lives of around 1,000 civilians and crippled the country's infrastructure. Mughniyeh was also reported to have been a top Hezbollah commander in the month-long war.

Lebanon is caught up in an ongoing political crisis as its parliament has been unable to elect a president since November 23 over disputes between the ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition, believed to enjoy the backing of Syria and Iran.



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