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French Version

UNIFIL beefs up security after new bin Laden audio tape

Purported recording by Al-Qaeda chief raises fears of more attacks on UN peacekeepers in South Lebanon

The already-tight security measures around bases manned by the United Nations Interim Force in South Lebanon (UNIFIL) were made even more stringent this week, following a threat by Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, a Lebanese security source told the Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA).

The measures came a few hours after the posting of an audio recording on an Islamist Web site late Saturday.

In the 56-minute recording, bin Laden criticized Hizbullah and its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, for allowing "crusader" troops from the United Nations into Lebanon after the 34-day war with Israel in 2006.

Bin Laden accused Nasrallah of aiding Israel by accepting the deployment of UNIFIL troops in South Lebanon.

"UNIFIL troops were deployed in 2006 to protect 'Jews,'" the Al-Qaeda leader said.

According to an analyst who follows militant Islamist groups, "this statement by bin Laden should be taken very seriously." The analyst, who asked not to be identified, added that the statement "could be a prelude to future attacks on the UN forces in South Lebanon."

The UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon was increased to almost 13,000 troops according to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the summer 2006 war with Israel.

According to a Lebanese security source in South Lebanon, "the UNIFIL command had been taking precautions and tight security measures around their bases in South Lebanon before this message by Al-Qaeda, but extra precautions and even tighter measures were adopted following the message."

"Even in their daily patrols, they are being very cautious," the source added.

The source said that even UNIFIL vehicles and patrols "are being searched thoroughly and the IDs of troops riding in the UN vehicles are being checked as well," when entering the UN bases A UN sources declined to comment on the report.

In a separate development, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a report on Saturday saying that UNIFIL had increased its supervision of bridges and passages over the Litani River in a bid to deter Hizbullah from moving weapons to the South, particularly to areas bordering Israel.

UN forces were quoted in Haaretz as saying that UNIFIL commander Major General Claudio Graziano believed the forces under his control were preventing the entry of heavy weapons into South Lebanon.

According to Haaretz, Hizbullah has been rearming in the past few months, especially in the area north of the Litani River. "New medium- and long-range rocket units have been put in position and bases [have been] created in this area," the daily said. "The organization makes no secret of the fact that it wants to be able to move freely south of the river as well, as reflected in the major exercise it held a few months ago."

Early in November, Hizbullah organized military exercises that were reported to be the largest in its history, only days after Israeli troops performed maneuvers in Al-Jaleel in northern Israel from October 28-31.

In other developments, UNIFIL's Italian contingent, the largest one in the peacekeeping force, organized a mini-marathon on Tuesday in the Southern village of Tibnin. Soldiers from other contingents also took part in the activity .

Italy won first prize in the 10-kilometer race, which was broadcast live on Italian television.

Beirut 03-01-2008
The Daily Star

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