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Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday that Hezbollah has about 20,000 rockets and missiles of various ranges, more than it did prior to last summer's war in Lebanon.

Barak was speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the first time since joining the cabinet in June, and the first time overall since 2002.

"Barak's statements point not only to a failure to meet the aims of the Second Lebanon War, but also the failure of the diplomatic arrangement that ended the war," Likud whip Gideon Sa'ar said in response. "The paragraph in the agreement calling for an embargo is a dead letter," Sa'ar added.

With regard to Israeli gestures to the Palestinian Authority, Barak said the Central Command of the Israel Defense Forces is currently reviewing which checkpoints inside the West Bank could be removed. He said the continuation of missile fire from the Gaza Strip into the northern Negev proves that Israel cannot relinquish military control of the West Bank until an appropriate response to rocket fire is in place.

According to Barak, Israel will have an anti-rocket system within the next two and a half years, "and then maybe certain things can be done in Judea and Samaria."

The deputy head of research at Military Intelligence, Lieut.-Col. Eli Ben-Meir, told the committee that tension in Syria regarding the possibility of war with Israel has dropped recently.

With regard to Palestinian military activity in the Gaza Strip, he said that the Philadelphi Route is still used to smuggle arms into Gaza, and that Hamas leaders have recently slipped back into Gaza from training camps in Iran and in Syria using underground tunnels, despite Egyptian efforts to seal the smuggling routes.

Aluf Benn adds: Israeli intelligence has not detected any recent changes in Syria's military readiness and deployment, but does believe that the Syrians are less worried about Israeli intentions, and are not interpreting IDF training exercises as indicative of plans to attack their country.