Jerusalem – On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet secretary assured the Israeli press corps that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has no plans to attack intruding Israeli military aircraft.
The Israeli official made it clear that these Israeli flights over Lebanon are for very limited reconnaissance missions, and that they are not meant to be hostile to the UN force in Southern Lebanon.
However, the Middle East News Line has learned that U.N. officials said the French contingent of the international peace-keeping force in Lebanon has been on alert for Israeli military over flights. They said French commanders have been preparing anti-aircraft batteries to fire against Israel Air Force warplanes.
“The anti-aircraft unit of the [French] battalion took initial preparatory steps to respond to these actions,” UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar said.
Strugar said UNIFIL has reported increasing Israeli violations of Lebanon’s air space over the last week. He said 17 Israeli air violations were recorded on November 17, most of them over the area deployed by the French battalion.
This was the first time UNIFIL, comprised of 9,000 peace-keepers, warned of attacks on Israeli warplanes. On Nov. 13, France reported that its contingent in Lebanon nearly fired surface-to-air missiles against Israeli aircraft on Oct.31.
“They stipulate that in implementing their mandate, all UNIFIL troops may exercise the inherent right of self-defense and take all necessary action to protect U.N. personnel, facilities, installations and equipment,” Strugar told Agence France-Presse.
Israel has acknowledged air operations in Lebanon. Israeli officials said UNIFIL has failed to stop the flow of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon.
Over the weekend, UNIFIL reported the capture of 17 Katyusha-class rockets in Lebanon. A U.N. spokesman said the Lebanese Army was alerted.
The U.N. has reported overflights by Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-jets thoughout November. In one violation, Israel sent two Israeli reconnaissance RC12 aircraft near Tyre, the headquarters of the French battalion.
Use Of Dual-Engine Rockets
In July 2005, this reporter accompanied groups of journalists and diplomats to the porch of a Jewish home in the Northern Gaza community of Alei Sinai that has since been destroyed by the Israeli army, which forcibly expelled its residents. From that porch, we took a look at the Ashkelon power station, where we could easily see how close that station was to Alei Sinai, and that this would become a perfect place for launching missiles into Israel after the withdrawal.
And that has come to pass.
The Kassam rockets that were fired at Ashkelon two weeks ago and which led to the fatal shelling of Beit Hanoun were dual-engine rockets, and not single-engine ones, Israeli intelligence officials claim.
One of the rockets landed near a school in the southern part of the city and was identified by forensic experts as a dual-engine rocket with a 12.5 kilometer range, which is three kilometers more than the “regular” Kassam rocket has.
Israeli security officials noted, however, that these dual-engine rockets have been fired previously. A similar rocket was fired on July 4 in the middle of Operation Summer Rains. That rocket was fired out of the ruins of Elei Sinai and Dugit and landed near a high school in the heart of Ashkelon. Another rocket of its type fell a number of days beforehand near the Ashkelon cemetery.
Israeli intelligence director Yuval Diskin warned at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week, prior to the death of Faina Slotzker from Sderot, that Hamas had upgraded rockets in its arsenal that had a 12.7 kilometer range and which easily could strike at Ashkelon and areas north of Ashkelon
Hamas Establishes Control Center For Missile Strikes
News investigators with the Middle East News Line have confirmed that Hamas has been operating a C2 center to coordinate Kassam-class, short-range missile attacks against Israel. Israeli military sources said Hamas, with help from the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, established several such centers in the northern Gaza Strip
“Hamas has become more sophisticated in its attacks and can communicate with several Kassam missile squads,” a military source said.
Over the weekend, Israel Air Force helicopters struck Hamas missile facilities in the northern Gaza Strip. One of the targets was said to have been a C2 center.
“A structure used as an operations room was targeted in Gaza City, resulting in many secondary explosions, which apparently indicate that the structure also served as a weapons storage facility,” an Israeli military statement said on Saturday.
The statement said the operations room was meant to direct attacks against Israel. The Israeli military did not elaborate.
Israel has also been targeting commanders of the Palestinian Authority’s Executive Force, a 5,000-member unit under the nominal authority of the Interior Ministry. On Saturday, an Israeli AH-64 Apache attack helicopter attacked the home of Ala Uqailan in the United Nations Shati Palestinian Arab refugee camp outside Gaza City.
Uqailan was identified as a commander of the Executive Force of the Hamas.
©The Bulletin 2006