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Hezbollah claims it sent drone into Israel

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By The Associated Press
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 8:28 p.m.

BEIRUT — The leader of Hezbollah claimed responsibility on Thursday for launching an Iranian-made drone aircraft into Israeli airspace this week, adding more tension to an explosive Mideast atmosphere.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned that it would not be the last such operation by his Lebanese militant group.

Israeli warplanes shot down the unmanned plane, but the infiltration marked a rare breach of Israel's tightly guarded airspace. Hezbollah had been the leading suspect because of its arsenal of sophisticated Iranian weapons and a history of trying to deploy similar aircraft.

With a formidable arsenal that rivals that of the Lebanese Army, Hezbollah is under pressure in Lebanon from rivals who accuse it of putting Lebanon at risk of getting sucked into regional turmoil. Confirmation that Hezbollah was behind the drone could put the group under further strain internally as it pursues its longstanding conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite Muslim group committed to Israel's destruction, has long served as an Iranian proxy along Israel's northern border. It is also seen as a close ally of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Israel accuses the Assad government of allowing Iran to ferry weapons to Hezbollah through its territory.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a brutal monthlong war in mid-2006. Hundreds of people were killed, and Hezbollah fired several thousand rockets and missiles into Israel before the conflict ended in a stalemate.

Israel routinely sends F-16 fighter planes over Lebanon, in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war. The Israeli planes have often broken the sound barrier over Beirut and other places as a show of strength, most recently after the drone incident.

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