Selon un journaliste du « The Time of London », le Hezbollah serait en train de construire une nouvelle ligne de défense au nord du fleuve Litani, à la limite de la zone dans laquelle la Finul est mandatée pour surveiller l’application de la résolution 1701 du conseil de sécurité de l’ONU.
Selon le député druze Walid Joumblatt, cette zone druze et chrétienne a été achetée par un homme d’affaire chiite liée au Hezbollah. Il déclare que l’État du Hezbollah existe déjà au sud Liban.
Selon le conseillé de la Finul, Milos Strugar, aucun trafic d’armes n’a été constaté dans la zone de surveillance onusienne. Cependant il confirme que des combattants du Hezbollah préparent un nouveau système de fortifications au nord du Litani, hors de la zone FINUL.
Le journaliste se serait alors rendu sur place pour constater que la zone où seraient entrepris ces travaux est interdite, des personnes semblant apparentées au Hezbollah en interdisant l’accès. Un vétéran du Hezbollah aurait également confirmé au journaliste que les roquettes à longue portée tirée vers Israël durant le conflit de juillet dernier auraient été lancées depuis des plates-formes souterraines.
L’homme d’affaires chiite liées au mouvement Hezbollah, dénommé Ali Tajiddine, aurait fait fortune dans le commerce et diamant en Afrique avant de se lancer dans le développement immobilier. Il aurait ainsi dernièrement acheté 2 millions de mètres carrés dans le village chrétien de Kotrani, et les deux tiers des villages druzes de Sraifeh, pour construire 30 maisons actuellement déjà vendues à des propriétaires chiites. Un proche d’Ali Tajiddine avait déjà été arrêté en mai 2003 à Antwerp, pour avoir été soupçonné de recycler de l’argent pour le compte de l’organisation chiite.
Selon le député druze Walid Joumblatt, cet achat aurait été financé par des fonds iraniens afin de transformer ces terrains en zone militaire dépendant du Hezbollah.
Interrogé par « The Times of London », le numéro deux du mouvement chiite, cheick Naïm Kassem, estime que les propos du député Walid Joumblatt sont complètement infondés, ajoutant que le député druze aime compliquer la situation. L’homme d’affaires mis en cause a également démenti que de telles actions seraient en cours, et déclare avoir acheté ces terrains pour une opération immobilière qui serait, toujours selon lui, prometteuse.
Hezbollah regroups in a new mountain stronghold
Nicholas Blanford in Rihan | Times of London
Hezbollah, the militant Shia organisation, is building a new line of defences just north of the United Nations-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 told The Times.
Since the end of the month-long clash last 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,” said Milos Strugar, Unifil’s senior adviser, adding that no armed fighters had been seen since September. 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 that 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.
When I visited the area two Hezbollah fighters wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying automatic rifles and walkie-talkies emerged from bushes beside a stone track on a hillside overlooking the river. They politely but firmly asked The Times for identification, saying that the area was off limits.
Less than a mile to the west, a shiny chain suspended between two concrete blocks along a dirt track marked the entrance to another Hezbollah “security pocket”. A sign hanging from the chain read : “Warning. Access to this area is forbidden. Hezbollah.” Beside the entrance stood a small sentry box housing another Hezbollah fighter who worked a landline telephone at the approach of strangers. More fighters could be seen on a pine-tree-studded hill overlooking the check-point.
A veteran Hezbollah fighter told The Times that long-range rockets were fired at Israel during the last clash from underground platforms in the surrounding hills. A Western diplomat said : “We have evidence to support their presence there. It seems to be an expansion of what was there before the war.”
Hezbollah readily admits that it is rearming. Three weeks ago a lorry loaded with rockets and mortars was stopped by Lebanese customs police on the edge of Beirut. Hezbollah said that the weapons were intended for its military wing and asked for their return. The Lebanese minister of defence said they would be handed to the Lebanese army. This month Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, said that weapons were being transported to “the front” in south Lebanon. “We have weapons of all kinds and quantities, as many as you want. We don’t fight our enemy with swords made of wood,” he said.
The area in which Hezbollah is consolidating lies at the confluence of several Shia, Christian and Druze villages, hamlets and farms.
For the past year, Ali Tajiddine, a Shia businessman who traded in diamonds in West Africa before expanding into property development, has been buying swaths of land from Christians and Druze. Two thirds of Sraireh, a Druze village, has been bought along with more than 2 million square yards of land in the near-by Christian hamlet of Qotrani, where 30 houses under construction have been sold to Shia owners, according to residents.
A new community of houses and shops called Ahmadiyeh is being built on a barren hillside beside a quarry owned by Mr Tajiddine. His interest in the remote mountainous corner of Lebanon has puzzled residents and raised the suspicions of Mr Jumblatt, whose Druze fiefdom cuts into the area. He suspects that Iranian funds are being used to buy the land, which will be turned into a Hezbollah military zone.
Mr Tajiddine’s connections to Hezbollah are well known in south Lebanon. In May 2003, one of his relatives was arrested in Antwerp on charges of laundering money for Hezbollah, using West African diamonds.
Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, told The Times that Mr Jumblatt’s allegations were unfounded. He said that the Druze leader “likes to stir calm waters”. Mr Tajiddine also denied the claims. He said that he was buying land in the area because it was rich in quarrying opportunities.
Some Lebanese officials view Hezbollah’s rearming as part of the looming showdown between the United States and Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
34 days of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict last summer
116 Israeli Defence Force personnel killed
43 Israeli civilians killed
15,000 Lebanese houses destroyed
1,100+ Lebanese civilians killed
3,970 Hezbollah rockets landed in Israel
6,000 Israeli homes damaged
309 Hezbollah rocket launchers destroyed by the IDF
33 Hezbollah tunnels destroyed by the IDF
Sources : Times archives ; Amnesty International ; The Israel Project ; Lebanese Government