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Hezbollah missile stock 'tripled'

Katyusha rockets are fired from the outskirts of the Lebanese city of Tyre (6 August 2008)
Hezbollah fired thousands of missiles into Israel during the 2006 conflict

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has said the Lebanese Hezbollah movement now has three times as many missiles as before the 2006 Lebanon war.

Mr Barak told MPs some of its 42,000 missiles could reach the southern towns of Ashkelon, Beersheba and Dimona, more than 200km (125 miles) from the border.

Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel during the 2006 conflict, killing some 40 civilians.

More than 1,125 Lebanese, most of them civilians, died in Israeli attacks.

The 34-day war started with a border incursion by Hezbollah on 12 July 2006. Eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped, prompting a massive Israeli response.

Gaza truce praised

In a speech on Monday to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Mr Barak warned that Hezbollah's military wing, the Islamic Resistance, had greatly increased its arsenal since 2006.

It now possessed missiles which could reach far into southern Israel, he said.

Hezbollah has three times the ability it had before the Second Lebanon War
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak
"Hezbollah has three times the ability it had before the second Lebanon war and now has 42,000 missiles in its possession, as opposed to the 14,000 it had before the war," he said.

"It has missiles that can reach the towns of Ashkelon, Beersheba and Dimona."

Mr Barak also said that the movement's inclusion in Lebanon's national unity government earlier this year meant that Israel might take wider action against the country's civilian infrastructure in future.

"The integration of Hezbollah into the Lebanese state exposes Lebanon and its infrastructure to in-depth attacks in the event of a new conflict," he said.

Aftermath of Israeli bombardment of Beirut during the 2006 Lebanon war
Mr Barak said Lebanon's infrastructure could be exposed to further attacks
Earlier, when addressing the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee, Mr Barak also renewed his support for an extension of the ceasefire with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, which began on 19 June.

"I'm not sorry for any day or month of calm," he said.

"In each of the two months leading up to the truce there were 500 incidences of Qassam rocket fire and mortar shell fire, a figure which dropped to roughly 10 a month when the truce kicked in," he added.

Mr Barak also rejected calls for a major ground offensive in Gaza to overthrow the Islamist movement, Hamas, which seized control of the territory last year.

"To all the warmongers I say: You have nothing to teach me about war or peace or my duties," the former chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces said.

"I am defence minister, not war minister, and my job is to maintain as far as possible the maximum of security for Israeli citizens. In any case, if a pre-emptive operation proves necessary, the army will act."

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