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A leading Al-Qaida operative has accused Hezbollah of "protecting" Israel, the first time a high-ranking figure in the global terror organization has openly condemned the Lebanese group for undermining its campaign against the Jewish state.

In a recent interview with Al-Akhbar Al-Fajr, a Web site Al-Qaida uses to promote its jihadist ideology, Salah Al-Karawi said Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army have become "bodyguards" for Israel. "They don't allow us to act, but they don't strike Israel themselves," he said, describing Hezbollah as "nothing more than protectors of the Jews. It is the biggest hurdle delaying our activity on the ground against Israel."

Al-Karawi - 35th on the list of Saudi Arabia's 85 most wanted men - is an expert in document forgery, and believed to be responsible for establishing new Al-Qaida terror cells worldwide.

In the interview he threatened that his organization would again strike Israel from Lebanon, as it did a year and a half ago in firing Katyusha rockets across the border between the two countries. "The best way to liberate Palestine is to recognize the real powers collaborating in its occupation. The foundation of the conflict is not between Arabs and Jews but between the forces of good and evil," he said.

"Our organization must confront the traitors in Lebanon - Hezbollah, the Lebanese Army, UNIFIL, and all those who protect southern Lebanon for Israel's sake," he said.

Iranian cleric ousted as Hamas liaison

Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a prominent Iranian lawmaker and a Hezbollah founder, received a crushing blow from colleagues on Sunday when he was replaced as head of the Tehran-based International Conference on Support for the Palestinian Intifada, a body which coordinates activity between Iran and Hamas. Mohtashamipour, a high-ranking cleric, served as Tehran's ambassador to Syria in the 1980s and was charged with setting up training bases for Hezbollah and weapons smuggling channels to the group via Iran and Syria.

U.S. intelligence suspects Mohtashamipour of planning terror attacks against American forces in Lebanon and the American embassy in Beirut in the early 1980s. That decade Mohtashamipour was named interior minister in the Mir Hossein Mousavi government and later appointed chair of the parliamentary security committee.

Mohtashamipour's ouster as head of the Palestinian support organization is believed to be part of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "purging" campaign of opposition elements from the government.