LEBANON: Militant group's attack on Israel complicates the situation along tense border
For years, Israel's main concern on its northern border was the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, a tightly organized resistance movement that participates in the Lebanese government but still maintains its own military and social infrastructure.
But now another player has appeared, a previously little-known Islamist group calling itself the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah, a branch of the Abdullah Azzam Brigade, that has now claimed responsibility for its second rocket attack on Israel this year. Ziad Jarrah was a Sept. 11 hijacker, and Abdullah Azzam a mentor of Osama bin Laden.
Although Hezbollah has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, it often coordinates with the Lebanese army and the U.N., which maintains a peacekeeping force in the south.
The Battalions of Ziad Jarrah, on the other hand, are thought to have connections to Al Qaeda, using the well-known Jihadist Fajr media center to claim responsibility for the rocket that was fired on northern Israel on Tuesday from the Lebanese border village of Houla.
Israel responded to the rocket attack by shelling the area, where the Lebanese army later found four more timed rockets. No casualties were reported.
The exchange comes just two weeks after a number of Israeli surveillance devices were found and destroyed near Houla.
The group is also believed to be behind the rocket attacks on Israel from Qleilah, Lebanon, on Sept. 11 this year.
The Battalions of Ziad Jarrah said this recent attack was in retaliation for Israel's crackdown on protesters at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, according to the SITE intelligence monitoring group.
The mosque sits on a site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and has been the site of clashes between police and Palestinian protesters who claim Israeli excavation beneath it is threatening the mosque's structural stability.
"The occupying Jews have dared to repeatedly raid the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Mosque.... In response to this aggression, a battalion among the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah" fired a katyusha rocket, the statement said, according to AFP.
-- Meris Lutz in Beirut