Chinese-made rockets are being smuggled into the Gaza Strip and are being used to target Israeli cities that had been outside the reach of Hamas’ homemade weapons, the head of the Israeli police bomb squad said in a briefing.
The Hamas arsenal now includes long-range, professional rockets that have been increasingly launched at Israel leading up to and since Israel’s invasion of Gaza, dubbed Operation Cast Lead, which began in December.
Kobi Preger, deputy head of Israel’s bomb disposal laboratory, told reporters on Tuesday that the long-range rockets were made by China's military. The 122-millimeter rockets have a range of 25 miles and can reach densely populated Israeli cities. Palestinians also have rockets that can reach Tel Aviv - some 44 miles north of Gaza - but have yet to use them, Preger said.
“Once you can smuggle, you can smuggle in anything,” he said.
The 122-millimeter rockets pack about 14 pounds of explosives, enough to destroy a house or take out sections of a larger building. One of these rockets destroyed a classroom in a Beer Sheva school. No students were present at the time. The warhead is more than 6 feet long, contains 4,000 steel balls and is powered by a chemical combination of legal pharmacy products, Preger said.
The homemade rockets and mortars are smaller - 90 to 115 millimeters in diameter - easier to transport and have a shorter range. Preger said the improvised weapons are made from standard construction material in Gaza and the warheads are packed with shards of steel.
Israel’s bomb squad analyzes recovered rockets and can identify which Gaza organization made the weapon or if it is foreign. Preger emphasized that the homemade rockets are basic and don’t require much training to construct, power and launch.
Palestinians in Gaza have launched some 10,000 rockets at southern Israel since 2001, killing 28 and wounding 1,073, according to The Israel Project. When Hamas’ long-range rockets were unveiled late last year, hitting central cities, Israel decided to launch Operation Cast Lead, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“The threat was becoming more real to more people in significant and far-off population centers,” he said.
Iran has long been a benefactor of Hamas’ war against the Jewish state providing weapons and training. Hamas fighters have been trained in Iran and Lebanon, one of the reasons Gazans’ skirmishes with Israel have been more successful than attempts stemming from the West Bank. Yair Naveh, former head of Israel’s military command in the West Bank, said the system in Gaza is already “quasi-military” due to this hands-on military training both over the border and by terror networks that have infiltrated Gaza.
“In Gaza, an entire, extremist system has been reinforced and all factions bolstered,” he said, citing a number of al-Qaeda cells and global jihad organizations operating in the coastal strip.
Because the West Bank is geographically cut off from foreign borders and Gaza, militants there are coached remotely on how to build bombs or launch rockets, and usually fail in executing an attack like the one that failed to explode at a Haifa mall last month, Naveh said.
“It is important to disconnect between Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza. The separation of Judea-Samaria today causes it to be under Fatah without terrorism,” he said. But he warned that “Hamas and Hezbollah are both trying to get there. Whoever gets there first will be the winner.”
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