By JOSEF FEDERMANThe Associated Press
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 2:25 PM
JERUSALEM — Israel’s minister of strategic affairs said Thursday the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group has infiltrated agents into the Gaza Strip to train Palestinian militants.
Gaza is ruled by the Hamas militant group, which, like Hezbollah, is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
The minister, Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s former military chief of staff, told reporters that “Hezbollah experts can get into the Gaza Strip, like the Iranian rockets are coming to the Gaza Strip.” He said Hezbollah militants can go from Lebanon to Sudan, then to Egypt and on to Gaza.
Israel charges that archenemy Iran sends rockets and other weapons to Gaza militants, smuggling them into the seaside strip through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
Yaalon said Hezbollah has a special unit, called 1800, to deal with the Palestinian militants. He said the Lebanese guerrillas also operate in the West Bank, paying militants.
Yaalon offered no evidence to support his claims.
Israel has long accused Hezbollah and its Iranian backers of supporting Palestinian militants, but officials have said little about an actual physical presence of Iranian-backed militia in Gaza.
Hamas has often denied that foreign forces are in Gaza. On Thursday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called Yaalon’s claim “fabricated,” and said “all the factions in Gaza are Palestinians.”
Yaalon’s office said Hezbollah has been infiltrating Gaza quietly since Israel withdrew in from the seaside strip in 2005.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a bitter month-long war in 2006, when Hezbollah rained almost 4,000 rockets on Israel as Israeli forces caused widespread destruction in Beirut and south Lebanon. A year later, Israel launched a punishing war in Gaza to try to put a stop to daily rocket attacks by Gaza militants.
Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.