GAZA CITY Ñ Hamas was said to have been dealt a harsh blow in wake
of an Israeli air attack that killed 15 operatives.
Israeli and Palestinian sources said an Israeli missile strike on a
Hamas training facility in Gaza City has again driven the Islamic insurgency
group underground. The sources said the missile strike, directed by an
unmanned air vehicle, on early Tuesday highlighted Israel's precise
intelligence capability as well as the lack of Hamas security. The
London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat daily said Israeli Air Force AH-64A Apache
attack helicopters fired the U.S.-origin Hellfire missile toward the Hamas
"The idea that Hamas could train outdoors in Gaza City undetected,
regardless of the time of day, completely underestimated Israeli military
capability," a Palestinian security source said. "If anybody could see this,
then of course the Israelis would know about the training within minutes."
The sources said the Israeli attack marked the biggest blow to the
organization since April 2004 when its leader,Abdul Aziz Rantisi, was
killed in a helicopter strike. They said the death of 15 Hamas
operatives and cadets would hurt recruitment and operations.
Hamas has been struggling since the death of Rantisi and his
predecessor, Ahmed Yassin. Until last week, the
organization was repeatedly foiled in efforts to carry out a massive suicide
bombing inside Israel. On Aug. 31, 16 Israelis were killed in a double
suicide bombing of Israeli buses in the southern city of Beersheba.
On Wednesday, an Israeli military unit captured a senior Hamas operative
in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, where the Beersheba attack had
"We are interested in striking as many Hamas activists as possible whom
we know to be in different stages of preparations for terror attacks inside
Israel," Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
At the same time, Israeli combat units punched into the northern and
central Gaza Strip in an effort to stop Kassam missile and mortar strikes on
Israel. Hamas gunners also fired five Kassam missiles into Israel on
Israeli military sources said that over the last year Hamas has been
adopting the tactics of the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah. They said Hamas
used a soccer field in the Sejaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City for training
in the launch of Kassam-class short-range missiles, rocket-propelled
grenades, mortars and explosives. But unlike the much larger area of
southern Lebanon, where Hizbullah is based, Israel maintains easy access to
most areas of the Gaza Strip.
"The targeted location was known as a gathering field of Hamas
terrorists to be trained in the planting and activating of explosive
devices, launching of RPGs and Kassam rockets and
practicing infiltration into Israeli communities and military posts," an
Israeli military statement said. "The training was led by senior Hamas
terrorists who were involved in the carrying out of deadly terror attacks
and attempted attacks."
The sources said that in late August, Hamas operatives assembled a large
bomb in the soccer field, named after Yassin. They said the bomb, meant to
be used in an attack against an Israeli target, prematurely exploded and a
"well-known Hamas terrorist" was killed.
Hamas also used the soccer field to train in such tactics as hijacking
an Israeli vehicle and abducting Israeli soldiers and civilians, the sources
said. They said the field was used for youngsters at a Hamas camp in the
The Islamic insurgency group has pledged to retaliate for the Israeli
missile strike. But Palestinian sources said a drop in funding as well as an
inexperienced cadre of senior Hamas agents have hampered operations.
The Israeli strike has also sparked new tensions within the Palestinian
Authority. Palestinian sources said PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has again
threatened to resign amid complaints that his authority was being usurped by
PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.