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Saturday April 24, 2010 1:07 PM (EST+7)
Lebanese army chief sure no scuds in country

Read more: missiles, scud, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Israel-Lebanon relations, Lebanon-Israel relations, Syria

BEIRUT, April 24 (Reuters) - Lebanon's army chief said he is convinced there are no scud missiles in the country, dismissing allegations that Syria has transferred the long-range rockets to the Lebanese Shi'ite Islamist group Hezbollah.

An-Nahar newspaper quoted army commander Jean Kahwaji on Saturday as denying it would be possible to bring Scuds across the Lebanese border undetected.

The allegations, which appeared on April 10 in a Kuwaiti newspaper, initially caused consternation in Washington and drew denials from the Lebanese and Syrian governments.

Kahwaji said Scuds were not like the easily mobile Katyusha rockets, Hezbollah's weapon of choice when the Syrian- and Iranian- backed group fought a war with Israel in 2006.

The process of transporting them is not a game, it's a very big operation. I'm convinced there are no scuds in Lebanon and talk about the issue is political, said Kahwaji.

Israeli President Shimon Peres has endorsed the allegations. But on Friday Defense Minister Ehud Barak stopped short of saying whether Hezbollah actually possessed Scuds, saying only he assumed that it had sought them.

Moving Scuds into Lebanon might draw preemptive Israeli strikes. US officials said on Thursday they had no indications any had been shipped into the country, although Washington suspected that some kind of transfer may have occurred in Syria.

Scud rockets are not like Katyushas that are carried on the shoulder and transferred from one area to another. The rockets are 30 metres long, are carried on large vehicles, and need 40 minutes to prepare for launch, Kahwaji said.

Hezbollah fired thousands of the mostly short-range Katyushas on Israel in 2006 and the Jewish state is worried that the guerrillas have replenished their arsenal to lash out on Iran's behalf should its nuclear sites come under attack.

The commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was also quoted as saying he had not seen any Scuds in the southern region bordering Israel.

I have not seen and our forces haven't seen either Scud rockets or others ... I am certain that in UNIFIL's area of operations, there are no rockets, Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas told as-Safir newspaper.

U.S. officials are confident that any Scuds crossing the Lebanese-Syrian border would be detected, especially since they cannot be readily broken down into small parts for transport.

Hezbollah has not commented specifically on the allegations, but Syria and Lebanon dismissed them as disinformation to give Israel a pretext to launch a war against them.

Kahwaji said Israel could launch a war at any moment but added that the indications until this hour point to no war in the foreseeable future. There are no reasons that require a war and the south is completely quiet.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit who was visiting Beirut, also dismissed the allegations. Whoever knows about these rockets, knows that these (allegations) are all laughable lies, he told reporters. (Writing by Yara Bayoumy; editing by David Stamp)






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