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IDF Chief of Staff to Knesset: Syria Arming Islamic Militants

Adding fuel to government charges that Syria actively supports terrorist groups, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff told a parliamentary committee that the Islamic fundamentalist Hezbollah movement has received large supplies of arms via Syria.

Appearing Tuesday before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak said Hezbollah, which has been waging an armed struggle with Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, had received improved Katyusha rockets from Iran, as well as Iranian-produced 240mm shells.

Shahak added that it was clear that Syria was supporting terrorist actions.

“We witnessed that a terrorist organization with headquarters in Damascus took responsibility for the [June 26] terrorist ambush in the Jordan Valley” in which three Israeli soldiers were killed, Shahak said.

Earlier this month, Israeli warplanes blasted a site in eastern Lebanon that was a base for Fatah-Uprising, a Syrian-backed group that claimed responsibility for the June 26 attack.

Before setting out for the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his claim that Syria was supporting terrorist actions.

He said he hoped to secure U.S. action, including possible sanctions against Syria, to pressure Damascus to stop its support for terrorist groups.

In his remarks before the parliamentary committee, Shahak also had harsh words for the austerity budget the government passed earlier in the week that included cuts of some $265 million from the Defense Ministry budget.

Although that figure was about half of what the Finance Ministry initially wanted to cut from defense expenditures, Shahak blasted the final sum, saying that the move had already prompted security forces to cancel some key projects.

He also expressed concern about another facet of the budget plan that calls for cuts in the salaries of career officers.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, meanwhile, defended the cuts.

Speaking at the Erez Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Mordecai acknowledged that the budget cuts could affect operations, but that the IDF could live with them.

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