“The state of Hezbollah is already in existence in south Lebanon.”
“Hezbollah land grab heralds war,” by Nicholas Blanford for the Times via The Australian, :
HEZBOLLAH, the militant Shia organisation, is building a new line of defences just north of the UN-patrolled zone in south Lebanon ahead of a potential resumption of war with Israel.
The military build-up, only six months after the last Lebanon-Israel conflict, is being conducted in valleys and hillsides guarded by uniformed Hezbollah fighters in the rugged mountains north of the Litani river – the limit of the 12,000-strong UN Interim Force In Lebanon (Unifil).
Christian and Druze-owned land is being bought for cash by a Shia businessman.
Hezbollah’s opponents believe the goal is to create a Shia-populated belt spanning the northern bank of the Litani, allowing the Lebanese group to operate away from prying eyes.
“The state of Hezbollah is already in existence in south Lebanon,” the Druze leader and arch Hezbollah critic Walid Jumblatt said.
Since the end of the month-long clash last northern summer, Unifil’s strength has increased sixfold, with reinforcements from European countries such as France, Italy and Spain.
An additional 20,000 Lebanese troops have flooded the area, making it impossible for Hezbollah to resurrect its military presence along the border with Israel.
“There have been no instances of attempts to smuggle weapons into the area,” Unifil senior adviser Milos Strugar said.
Instead, Hezbollah’s fighters are preparing a new system of fortifications and expanding old positions in the mountains on the northern bank of the Litani.
Residents say the activity has increased lately, and peacekeepers confirm this.
“We can see them building new positions. There’s a lot of trucks coming into the area as well,” a Unifil officer said.