Israeli military says Hezbollah has network of arms depots inside south Lebanon villages

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's military released maps and aerial photographs Wednesday showing what it described as a network of Hezbollah weapons depots and command centers inside villages in south Lebanon, near the Israeli border.

The Israeli material included detailed maps and 3-D simulations showing individual buildings that the military identified as rocket storehouses. Some were shown to be located close to schools and hospitals.

The rare publication of what seemed to be detailed intelligence material appeared aimed at demonstrating Israel's reach and preparing public opinion for possible strikes inside villages and the attendant civilian casualties if a future round of fighting erupts.

In Beirut, a Hezbollah official said he would not comment before seeing the information.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said the information showed that Hezbollah was increasingly moving its forces inside populated areas. "We are talking about more than 100 villages that have become military camps for Hezbollah, and we see that civilians in these villages will be Hezbollah's human shields if there is a war in the future," she said.

Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite organization backed by Iran, attacked an Israeli border patrol in 2006, sparking a monthlong war in which Israel went after the group in a massive air, sea and ground campaign, while Hezbollah launched around 4,000 rockets into Israel. Nearly 1,200 people died in Lebanon and 159 lost their lives in Israel.

Israel said Hezbollah's tactics forced the military to operate in heavily populated areas, but the high civilian death toll nonetheless drew heavy criticism of Israel.

The war ended with a U.N. resolution that imposed a blockade on weapons destined for Hezbollah and banned the group from operating near the Israeli border.

Israel says the resolution and international peacekeeping forces in Lebanon have been largely ineffective. Israel believes Hezbollah has increased its prewar arms stockpile to more than 40,000 rockets. Israeli defense officials say the range of the group's arsenal now includes Israel's main population center in and around Tel Aviv.

The border area has been largely quiet since the fighting ended in 2006.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed to this report from Beirut.