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U.S.: Hezbollah’s ‘terrorist activity at tempo unseen since 1990s’

Members of the demining unit of Hezbollah, raise up their hands as they shout slogans in support of pro-Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, during a rally commemorating "Liberation Day," which marks the withdrawal of the Israeli army from southern Lebanon in 2000, in Mashghara village Bekaa valley, Lebanon, Saturday May 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT/WASHINGTON: Hezbollah’s militant activity has reached levels not seen since the 1990s, partly due to a “marked resurgence” in Iran’s overseas sponsorship of terrorism, according to a new U.S. State Department report.

In its annual report in trends in political violence, the State Department said, “The year 2012 was ... notable in demonstrating a marked resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism,” via Tehran’s elite Al-Quds force, its Intelligence Ministry, and Hezbollah, the report said. “Iran and Hezbollah’s terrorist activity has reached a tempo unseen since the 1990s.”

The report cited a series of actual and planned attacks in Europe and Asia which it claims are linked to Hezbollah, including a July 2012 bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli citizens and a Bulgarian, and wounded 32 others.

There was no immediate reply to a request for comment from Iran’s mission to the United Nations.

Last July, Iran’s U.N. ambassador denied his country’s involvement in the Bulgaria bombing, which he accused Israel of carrying out. “We have never, and will not, engage in such a despicable attempt on ... innocent people,” Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said.

The report’s release comes as U.S. and European officials and intelligence agencies say Iran and Hezbollah have stepped up their military backing for the besieged government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah on Saturday publicly committed the group to an Assad victory over Syrian rebels who, like the Damascus government, have been accused of abuses in the 2-year-old civil war. The report, which only covers 2012, does not include this latest development, however it said that “Both Iran and Hezbollah are providing a broad range of critical support to the Assad regime, as it continues its brutal crackdown against the Syrian people.”

The report also voiced Israeli concerns over the “proliferation of conventional and nonconventional weapons from Syria to terrorist organizations,” an implicit reference to Hezbollah.

In early May, Israel bombed a military research facility and weapons warehouse on the outskirts of Damascus, over fears that arms were being transited to Hezbollah.

Earlier this year it also targeted a convoy which was allegedly transporting weapons to the party in Lebanon.

The State Department also highlights reports from 2012 which “surfaced of weapons smuggling into Syria [arming regime and anti-regime forces] from Lebanon and vice versa, and from Syria and Iran to Hezbollah and other militant groups in Lebanon.”

The report also highlights Israeli accounts of Hezbollah’s efforts to re-arm following the 2006 war with Israel, “as evidence that the group remained a threat to Israel.”

“According to the government of Israel, Hezbollah has stockpiled 50,000 missiles in Lebanon, some of which are capable of striking anywhere in Israel, including population centers,” the report added.

On the Lebanese government itself, which the report says is “dominated by the pro-Syrian regime and the Hezbollah-aligned March 8 coalition,” it describes “selective progress in building its counterterrorism capacity and cooperation with U.S. counterterrorism efforts.”

The report praises the Lebanese Army for “capturing wanted terrorist fugitives and containing sectarian violence.”

On the Internal Security Forces, the report says that while the institution “improved its capabilities and aggressively pursued terrorism and corruption cases, its leadership has become a bigger target for those who seek to destabilize the country,” highlighting the October car bomb which assassinated ISF Information Branch head Wissam al-Hasan.

The report also makes note of the fact Lebanese authorities have yet to apprehend the four members of Hezbollah indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In general, it says, corruption is a major issue throughout the country.

“Corruption remained a factor influencing all aspects of society, including law enforcement,” it stated.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 01, 2013, on page 1.

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