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Al-Qaida Operating in Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Says Sharon - 2002-12-05

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network have begun operating in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Israel believes last week's terror attacks in Kenya were the work of al-Qaida.

Mr. Sharon says Israel has been aware for some time that al-Qaida members have infiltrated Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip and are also in Lebanon, working with the militant Islamic group Hezbollah.

Speaking to a conference of editors in Tel Aviv, Mr. Sharon said he has no doubt that, "Israel is a target for an attack" from al-Qaida.

Israel suspects that the terrorist group is behind last week's suicide bombing on an Israeli-owned hotel near Mombasa, Kenya, as well as an unsuccessful missile attack on an Israeli airliner in the same area.

Mr. Sharon is not the first Israeli official to link al-Qaida with the Palestinians. Earlier this week, Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, said Mr. bin Laden had been sending instructions to Palestinian militants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A former defense minister of Israel, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, has also claimed that some al-Qaida members, after fleeing Afghanistan, moved into southern Lebanon, where they joined forces with the Hezbollah.

The leader of the Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has dismissed the claims as "ridiculous".

Both the Hezbollah and al-Qaida have vowed to destroy Israel.

Mr. Sharon says Israel is better prepared than at any time in the past to counter attacks. He says more security forces have been deployed than ever before to counter the terrorist threat.