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Al-Qaida Moving Into Lebanon, say Israeli Officials - 2002-09-02

Israeli government officials say they believe Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaida terrorist organization is establishing bases in Lebanon. The officials spoke following a report by one of Israel's leading journalists.

Senior Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told VOA that up to 200 al-Qaida operatives have moved into Lebanon after fleeing Afghanistan. The Israeli officials said Syria is helping al-Qaida establish itself in Lebanon.

The officials were responding to a report in the Hebrew daily Ha'aretz, by its defense correspondent, Ze'ev Schiff.

The report says the al-Qaida members have settled in the Palestinian refugee camp Ein Hilwe, near Sidon in Lebanon.

The camp has been the scene of fierce battles. Mr. Schiff reports those battles were al-Qaida's effort to take control, and that three al-Qaida members were killed.

The report says the al-Qaida group in Lebanon includes senior commanders who arrived from Afghanistan through Iran and Syria.

The Israeli newspaper also alleges strong links between Syria and Mohammed Atta, the leader of the al-Qaida group that launched the September 11 attacks. It claims that Mr. Atta visited Syria at least twice before he flew the first plane to hit the World Trade Center in New York.