Hamas claims credit for first in a series of 'earthquake-like' attacks

Friday, March 26, 2004

GAZA CITY On late Thursday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian insurgents who sought to attack an Israeli community in the central Gaza Strip. The frogmen were said to have reached the Mediterranean coast off the Gaza Strip and then launched an attack against the nearby community of Tel Kateifa.

Israeli troops returned fire and killed the insurgents. The insurgents were found with scuba-diving equipment, a rocket-propelled grenade, AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. A statement by the group's military wing said this would be the first of several mass-casualty strikes against the Jewish state, Middle East Newsline reported.

"This attack is just a prelude to a series of earthquake-like operations," Hamas said.

Israel's military has been on alert for a Palestinian air and sea attack.

Israeli military sources said Palestinian insurgents have developed and deployed small rubber boats and model airplanes filled with explosives for attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets. The sources said the weapons were assembled in the Gaza Strip with explosives obtained from neighboring Egypt.

Israeli military sources said the navy has been intensifying patrols along the Mediterranean to prevent insurgency infiltration. But they acknowledged that a navy radar and coastal outpost failed to detect the approach of the two insurgents.

The sources said Hamas and the ruling Fatah movement have been developing an airborne weapon that resembled an unmanned air vehicle. The mini-UAV was meant to contain a large amount of explosives and aimed against Israeli civilian and military targets in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leaders were said to have gone underground after the three-day mourning period for Ahmed Yassin, the movement's founder who was assassinated by Israel on Monday. The assassination has sparked a succession struggle that pitted Abdul Aziz Rantisi against Khaled Masha'al.

On Thursday, Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif endorsed Rantisi as head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Rantisi claimed leadership on late Tuesday, but a day later acknowledged the role of Masha'al as a leader of Hamas.

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