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Monday, January 12, 2009

Israelis: Combat-avoiding Hamas battalions
'have simply disappeared'

TEL AVIV — Israel's military has determined that Hamas combatants were starting to desert their units in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli military sources reported a significant drop in Hamas's military presence in the northern and central Gaza Strip. The sources said the Hamas military has abandoned its conventional tactics and were fighting largely as individuals or in pairs.

"Their operatives evade engagement with our forces and prefer remote-controlled operations from a distance," Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin said on Jan. 11. "Their leadership in Gaza is paralyzed. Their military wing is evasive."

The sources said at least 350 Hamas combatants have been killed since the launch of Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27. They said the casualties included Hamas battalion and company commanders as well as portions of units.

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"Many of the battalions have simply disappeared," a military source said. "They are without leaders or communications and the soldiers are running away."

In some cases, the flight of Hamas combatants has forced commanders to the battlefield. The sources cited the death of Hamas rocket division commander Amir Mansi on Jan. 10 in an Israeli air strike.

"We found him, a senior commander, firing rockets by himself, something that should have been done by his subordinates," the source said.

The sources said the military has determined that hundreds of Hamas combatants have deserted their units. They said the high casualty rate among Hamas fighters has sparked numerous unauthorized leaves.

By late 2008, Hamas organized a military of more than 20,000 soldiers. The sources said about 15,000 were Hamas combatants, with the remainder members of the Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees.

"Hamas is suffering from heavy casualties, damage to warehouses, and damage to transportation capabilities, both of material and operatives," Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin said. "Hamas' smuggling capabilities across Philadelphi [Egyptian border] were damaged. Many of the operators of the smuggling tunnels were hurt or fled their homes."

The sources said the desertions have been enabled by the disintegration of Hamas's military command. They said many of the leaders of Hamas's military have been hiding with families in apartment buildings in Gaza City. Others were said to have been hiding in or near Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

On Jan. 11, the Israel Air Force targeted the home of Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari. Jabari was not believed to have been home.

"The leaders of Hamas and the armed wing are hiding in bunkers, hospitals and foreign missions," Israel's Cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel, who did not elaborate, said.

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