Syria, Hezbollah Sign Defense Pact

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DAMASCUS - Syria and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah Shiite group have signed a defense pact that includes broad-based "field understandings," according to a report in the Kuwaiti paper al-Rai.

In the event of war with Israel, the two allies will provide military support for one another, including "combat cooperation" such as divvying up the bombing of Israeli targets.

The treaty also calls for setting up a joint operations center "to fill in all the intelligence gaps that can emerge in the battlefield," according to the Kuwaiti report.

The Syrian army will provide Hezbollah with intelligence information on the location of Israeli Air Force bases to target aircraft on the ground.

While Syria's alliance with Hezbollah is not new, signing an official pact will present the Israel Defense Forces with an even more complicated scenario than it faced in the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.

Other than providing an open border for Iranian armaments to reach Lebanon, Syria heeded Israel's warnings to stay out of that war. The new defense pact promises to complicate the next confrontation.

According to the most recent assessments, Hezbollah possesses an estimated 40,000 medium- and long-range rockets in its arsenal. Syria allegedly is arming some of its missiles with non-conventional warheads.

In the latest visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri to Damascus, one of many over the past year, Syrian President Bashar Assad advised Hariri to support the Iranian-back group, which is now an integral part of the Lebanese government.

Last week, a prolonged gun battle on the streets of Beirut between Hezbollah's Shiite forces and pro-Syrian al-Ahbash Sunni Muslims left three dead.

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