The leader of Lebanon’s Sunni militant group says cooperation with Shiite Hezbollah is essential to fighting Israel

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BEIRUT (AP) — The leader of a Lebanese Sunni political and militant group that has joined the Shiite militia group Hezbollah in fighting Israel on Lebanon’s border said Tuesday that the conflict has helped strengthen ties between the two groups.

The Secretary General of al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Mohammed Takkoush said that his group has decided to join the war on the border between Lebanon and Israel because of Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip and his raids on the towns and villages of Lebanon killing civilians, including journalistssince the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct.7.

“We decided to join (the war) as a national, religious and moral obligation. We did this to protect our land and villages,” Takkoush told The Associated Press at his group’s headquarters in Beirut. “We also did this in support of our brothers in Gaza,” he said, adding that Israel was “openly killing people.”

Hamas led a surprise attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 that killed nearly 1,200 people and displaced 250 others. Israeli bombings and ground attacks in the Gaza Strip have killed more than 32,000 Palestinians there, according to health officials. From then on, violence on the border between Lebanon and Israel more and more, and displaced thousands of people on both sides

Takkoush said he believes Israel wants to occupy more territory “not only in Palestine but also in Lebanon.”

The Islamist group is one of the largest Sunni groups in Lebanon but has been in political decline for years. It has one member in the 128-seat Lebanese parliament. The group’s elections in 2022 brought its leadership closer to Hamas.

Like Hamas, it is inspired by the ideology of the Pan-Arab Islamist political group The Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928 by school teacher-turned-Islamic ideologue Hassan al-Banna.

It carries out attacks against Israel mainly from the southern city of Sidon, where the group had a strong influence.

Takkoush said his group makes its own decisions in the field but is closely allied with Hezbollah, as well as the Lebanese branch of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

“Some parts (attacks against the Israeli army) were coordinated with Hamas, which is affiliated with Hezbollah,” he said, adding that direct cooperation with Hezbollah “is growing and this is visible in the field.” He did not elaborate further.

While the Lebanese border region is seen as Hezbollah’s stronghold and its population is Shiite, it also has Sunni villages, where the Islamist group operates.

The conflict between the two main groups of Islam – Sunni and Shiite – began after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632. The spread of the Middle East to this day makes the cooperation between Hezbollah and al-Jamaa al-Islamiya very rare. .

The Islamic Group, known as the Fajr Forces, has claimed responsibility for several attacks on the Lebanese-Israeli border since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

They have lost five fighters so far, Takkoush said, three of whom were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the border area earlier this month.

The other two were killed on January 2, when Israel attacked a building in Beirut overlooking the city Hamas chief Saleh Arouri.

The group’s use of weapons against Israel is not unusual. He founded the Fajr Forces in 1982 at the height of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 after 18 years. But the Lebanese government says Israel is still in the Chebaa farms and the Kfar Chouba mountains that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war.

In the current conflict, “coordinating and cooperating with a group like Hamas, a very respected freedom movement, is an honor,” Takkoush said.

Regarding his group’s relationship with Hezbollah, Takkoush said it went through highs and lows. They had differences over the conflict in Syria and Yemen but put them aside “to avoid Israeli occupation of parts of Lebanon,” he said.

“Our relationship with Hezbollah is good and growing and strengthened as we go through the war,” Takkoush said.

Takkoush added that all the weapons they use, from bullets to rockets, come from their weapons. He said: “We did not even take a bullet from either side.

While Hezbollah has solidified its position as the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, the country’s Sunni sect has struggled for lack of a strong leader.

Asked if the Islamic Movement is trying to bridge the gap between Lebanon’s left-wing Sunni political leadership and the former Prime Minister Saad Hariri who resigned In politics two years ago, Takkoush said that Prime Minister Saad Hariri still has a base of support and popularity, but his party did not have the habit of filling no one.

“We introduce ourselves as partners in building generations with (government) institutions but we do not replace anyone,” he said.

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