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Friday, January 2, 2009

Hamas has been hit hard, but its missile arsenal and command structure still intact

TEL AVIV — Hamas has absorbed massive Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip but its military capacity has not been significantly diminished.

Military sources said an assessment by the air force and intelligence community concluded that Hamas still retained most of its missile and rocket arsenal. The sources said the assessment also determined that Hamas's command structure remained intact.

"This [Hamas] capability exists throughout the entire area," Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, head of the military's Home Front Command, said. "While it was hit hard, it was not eliminated."

The military assessment said Hamas sustained some losses in its command structure, including the death and injury of dozens of low- and medium-ranking officers, most of them from the civilian police. They said at least four Hamas senior commanders have either been killed or seriously injured.

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"Guided by Iran and Hizbullah, with operatives in Gaza itself, Hamas quickly recovered," a senior military source said.

Military intelligence has confirmed the death of Ismail Jabari, commander of Hamas's special protection unit. The military has not confirmed reports that Hamas military chief of staff Ahmed Jabari was killed in an Israeli air strike.

Another senior military commander, Maher Zaqout, was said to have survived an air strike on his home. On Jan. 1, Hamas senior operative Nizar Rayan was killed in an air attack on his house in the Jabalya refugee camp.

"Many secondary explosions were identified as a result of the attack, thus proving that the house [of Rayan] was used for storing weaponry," an Israeli military statement said. "It was also used as a communications center. In addition, a tunnel was located under the house and was used for the escape of terror operatives."

Officials said many military commanders were holed up in hospitals and pretending to be physicians. They said others were hiding in mosques around Gaza City and Khan Yunis.

"Many Hamas officials are hiding in mosques throughout Gaza, out of the assumption that Israel will avoid attacking Muslim houses of worship," Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin said. "A number of Hamas operatives hide in hospitals, several of them walking around in uniforms of doctors and nurses."

The Israeli assessment said Hamas sustained losses of about 1,500 missiles and rockets. The sources said this comprised no more than 15 percent of its estimated 10,000 surface-to-surface weapons, some of which were capable of striking targets 40 kilometers away. This was said to include the Iranian-origin Fajr-3, with a warhead of up to 70 kilograms.

During the war, Hamas gunners fired missiles and rockets into Beersheba, Israel's fourth largest city and the largest in the south. This marked the first time that Hamas missiles reached Beersheba, with a population of 185,000 and about 30 kilometers from Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona.

Many of the extended-range rockets were said to have been manufactured in China and delivered to Iran. Officials said the missiles that fell into Beersheba contained a warhead packed with shrapnel that could kill people up to 100 meters away.

"We are witnessing the expansion of the rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip to a radius of 30-40 kilometers," Brig. Gen. Avraham David, deputy commander of the Home Front Command said.

Hamas' military was said to have sustained about 300 casualties. But the sources said this did not harm the overall military infrastructure, which could recruit more than 20,000 combatants.

The assessment said the Israel Air Force destroyed about 50 tunnels that spanned the divided city of Rafah. Hamas was said to oversee more than 800 tunnels.

"We are already seeing Hamas rebuild the tunnels," the military source said.

The military also reported the destruction of Hamas missile factories and a center for weapons research and development. The R&D center, part of the Islamic University, was said to have been located in Gaza City and specialized in missile and explosives.

The sources said Hamas assessed that Israel would not launch a massive ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. They said the Hamas regime was informed by such countries as Qatar and Saudi Arabia that the United States was pressing Israel to limit any response to missile attacks from the Gaza Strip.

"Hamas managed to reach the brink and succeeded," the source said.

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