By HUSSEIN DAKROUB, Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon – The leader of the Islamic militant group Hezbollah threatened Monday to retaliate against Israel for sending warplanes on reconnaissance missions over Lebanon.
Israeli warplanes made repeated flights over Lebanon Thursday through Sunday, sometimes drawing fire from Lebanese army and Hezbollah anti-aircraft gunners.
Since the Israeli troop withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Israeli military aircraft have flown over Lebanon on apparent reconnaissance missions. The latest flights have increased in number, amid concerns by both sides of an outbreak of fighting on Lebanese-Israeli border in the event of a U.S.-led war on Iraq.
Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, stepped up the rhetoric, threatening Israel with a response outside the usual anti-aircraft firing on the planes.
“These mock raids will not achieve anything except that they will create a climate in Lebanon and the region that may prompt the resistance to consider special means to deal with them,” Nasrallah said, without elaborating.
His comments, made Sunday at a graduation ceremony in south Beirut, were faxed to The Associated Press on Monday.
Also Monday, Lebanon called on the United Nations to intervene to stop Israeli violations of its airspace. Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud asked Lebanon’s permanent representative at the United Nations in New York to demand U.N. measures against “these violations and provocations.”
The Foreign Ministry also summoned Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy in Lebanon. He later issued a statement calling on all parties to refrain from violations, adding that the United Nations was “deeply concerned” about the Israeli overflights.
In the past, Hezbollah has aimed anti-aircraft artillery in the air near the border. Fragments of exploding shells often fell on Israeli border communities, causing panic and drawing warnings from Israel. But in recent years, Israeli officials have accused Hezbollah of acquiring new, longer-range rockets that could strike deep into Israel.
Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations but is recognized in Lebanon as a resistance group, has refused to confirm or deny the Israeli missile claims. The Shiite Muslim militant group, backed by Iran and Syria, is known to possess thousands of inaccurate 127 mm rockets with a range of up to 17 miles.
Nasrallah also denied allegations Hezbollah has weapons of mass destruction, made in reports carried by Jane’s Foreign Report and picked up by Israeli newspapers.