The establishment of the group, called the "Defenders of Al-Aqsa," is said to allow Hamas to assert a pragmatic façade in the international arena, while covertly keeping up its military activity.
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According to the report, the Defenders of Al-Aqsa are responsible for the rocket attacks of recent months, and for planting bombs on the border with Gaza – taking the political heat for the aggression instead of Hamas.
The group, which was formed over a year ago under the guise of an independent and provisional organization, is headed by Fathi Hamad. The top Hamas figure, who also serves as the Gaza government's interior minister, has recruited a few dozen youths to his ranks – a second generation of terrorists, as it were, whose fathers once fought alongside Hamad.
The Defenders is considered a militant faction that wished to split off Hamas due to its seemingly political moderateness.
Planned attacks include abductions
The new group is said to act on a long-term scheme of carrying out well-planned abductions and multi-victim attacks. Bombs found on the Israel-Egypt border several weeks ago, for instance, were intended to target crowded spots within the Jewish state.
As part of their activity, the operatives systematically document IDF movement along the border with Egypt and in the southern city of Eilat. Intelligence collected through these reconnaissance efforts reportedly aided in the preparation of a series of shelved terror attacks, including the planned abduction of soldiers, officers or a public figures in the settler community. Other scenarios include terrorist border infiltration, antitank missile fire and penetration of military posts.
Meanwhile, Hamas continues to amass weapons. In 2011, seven times more mortar shells were smuggled into Gaza than in the previous year. The number of antiaircraft missiles that made their way into the Strip rose by 40%, while the number of smuggled Grad rockets increased by 25%.
But Hamas' direct terror ventures have not stopped entirely; in recent months, Israeli security agencies have registered a spike in the activity of Hamas cells in the Strip.
Funds are being streamed into these cells – increasingly through an unlikely conduit: Migrant workers employed in Israel. The workers transfer their wages to middlemen who funnel the money to Hamas, while representatives of the organization transfer equal sums to the migrants' families in their primarily African countries of origin. The transaction saves the workers the fund transfer fees, and facilitates Hamas' funding of its terror offshoots.
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