A view of the IDF Urban Warfare Training Center in southern Israel

IDF trains in mock Palestinian town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'

Hundreds of buildings, the tallest eight stories high, built inside military base to mimic Palestinian village in order to prepare infantry troops for urban warfare with the hopes of averting unnecessary fatalities

Associated Press |
Published: 06.22.22, 14:42
The Muslim call to prayer echoes through a remote town in southern Israel that has known only artificial war.
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  • Its 500 buildings, the tallest eight stories high, are deserted. Its narrow alleys are adorned with militant murals and posters honoring slain Palestinian fighters. It cannot be found on any map.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    A view of the IDF Urban Warfare Training Center in southern Israel
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    Officially, it’s known as the Urban Warfare Training Center. The Israeli soldiers who run military drills here call it “Mini Gaza.”
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    Israeli soldiers climb on a wall as they assault a complex during a training session simulating urban warfare
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    The military began building the $45 million facility in the Zeelim army base in 2005, toward the end of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule. Over the previous five years, Israeli troops had battled Palestinian militants in cities and towns across the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    Israeli soldiers aim their weapons towards their colleague dressed as a Palestinian militant while he exits from a fake tunnel, during a training session simulating urban warfare
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    Since then, Israel has fought four wars in Gaza against the Islamic militant group Hamas, with some battles erupting in densely populated cities and refugee camps.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    Israeli soldiers rest next to a mural depicting the late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, during an urban warfare exercise
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    Over 4,000 Palestinians have been killed, many of whom were armed militants. Israeli officials say 106 people have died on their side, including civilians, soldiers and foreign residents.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    An Israeli soldier pretending to be dead Palestinian militant lies on the ground during a training session simulating urban warfare
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    In each war, Israel has been accused of using disproportionate force in crowded residential areas, contributing to the civilian death toll. The military says it makes every effort to spare civilians, while accusing Palestinian militants of using them as human shields.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    Israeli soldiers are seen through a broken window of a guarding post during an urban warfare exercise
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    “The nature of war has changed,” said Col. Eli Abeles, the facility’s commander. “Today our principal fighting … is done around built-up areas and in built-up areas.”
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    An Israeli soldier dressed as a Palestinian militant
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    The tight alleyways, drab concrete buildings and open areas in the roughly 60-acre (quarter square kilometer) facility are meant to simulate the urban environments in which Israel’s soldiers often operate.
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    IDF weapons hangs over a Palestinian flag drawn on the wall in the urban warfare training facility
    IDF weapons hangs over a Palestinian flag drawn on the wall in the urban warfare training facility
    IDF weapons hangs over a Palestinian flag drawn on the wall in the urban warfare training facility
    (Photo: AP)
    These can include Gaza and the West Bank, as well as southern Lebanon, where Israel has warned potential future fighting with Hezbollah militants would likely take place.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    An Israeli soldier takes position during an urban warfare exercise
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    The army’s sole official graffiti artist decorates the streets with murals featuring Arabic slogans and portraits of Palestinian and Lebanese militants.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    Israeli soldiers climb on a wall as they conduct a mock assault during an urban warfare exercise at an army training facility
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    Between exercises, soldiers rest in the shade of the buildings, smoking cigarettes beneath the faded posters, some of which honor those killed in battle with Israel. Others don red-and-white checkered scarves to role-play militants in an upcoming drill.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    Israeli soldiers rest next to faded posters of slain Palestinian fighters, during a training session simulating urban warfare
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    The training center can accommodate exercises for an entire brigade of 2,000 soldiers at a single time, Abeles said. Visiting American troops and forces from European allies — most recently Cypriot soldiers — have also trained in Mini Gaza.
    12 View gallery
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    AP PHOTOS: Israelis train in ghost town dubbed 'Mini Gaza'
    Israeli soldiers take position during a training session simulating urban warfare
    (Photo: AP Photo / Oded Balilty)
    But when the guns fall silent and the soldiers withdraw, the training center reverts to a ghost town, the wind howling through empty rooms and creaking metal.



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