'Hamas army' established in Gaza, intelligence source says
Southern Command intelligence officer tells Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi that Hamas' military industry is being run in organized manner and developing in many areas. 'Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are controlled in Strip by Hamas army,' he says
According to the officer, intelligence sources believe that a real 'Hamas army' exists in the Gaza Strip and includes between 7,000 and 10,000 soldiers, who are being armed continuously with weapons smuggled through the Philadelphi route.
"Six kilometers (3.7 miles) away from here, some 800,000 people are concentrated in the Gaza Strip, where they are controlled by the Hamas army. This army's goal is to hurt innocent Israeli citizens living around the Gaza Strip," the officer said.
According to the report given to the Italian premier, about 30 tons of explosives have been smuggled over the past year into the Strip to Hamas and radical Islam organizations. Thousands of rifles and antitank missiles were also smuggled.
"As if this smuggling, which comes from Egypt, is not enough, Hamas has developed a real military industry, which operates inside buildings and private houses. The weapons manufactured there already have serial numbers, which testify to the development of this military industry," the intelligence officer said.
Prodi meets Qassam rocket (Photo: Yuval Harel)
During his tour of Sderot, Prodi asked Mayor Eli Moyal in disbelief three times, "5,000 Qassams have hit Sderot and the Gaza perimeter?"
"It's hard to see the daily suffering of the residents here. It's impossible to live like this," said the Italian premier, on his first visit to the Qassam-battered southern city.
It should be noted that since November 2006, when the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip came into force, the IDF has halted its operations inside the Palestinian territory, and the concrete operations were only resumed recently, most of them up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the border fence.
Senior officers described the change in Hamas in a way that was reminiscent of Hizbullah: A hierarchy, a clear division of roles, a training system, groups responsible for smuggling weapons and others in charge of preparing explosive devices, planning sophisticated terror attacks in an effort to take advantage of the IDF's weak points, etc.
In spite of the smuggling of weapons from Egypt to Gaza, the most worrying thing as far as the IDF and the Shin Bet are concerned, is the fact that representatives of the organization acquire knowledge outside the Strip, mainly in Tehran.
The return of the "students" to Gaza and the passing of knowledge to many others constitutes a key threat which cannot be fully addressed even through a wide-scale ground operation in the Strip.
One of the defense establishment's challenges in this area is to continue the differentiation between Gaza and the West Bank, exactly due to the fear that these "teachers" will transfer the information to their friends in the Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report