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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Hamas using Gaza cease-fire to beef up military forces

IDF: Hamas using Gaza cease-fire to beef up military forces
By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Corrspondent Last update - 02:47 26/12/2006

Israel will soon have to face improved Palestinian weapons capabilities in the Gaza Strip, Brigadier General Sami Turjeman, who heads the operations directorate in the General Staff, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

"In another few months, in the Gaza Strip we will have to deal with military capabilities of the terror organizations that we haven't been familiar with until now, especially in the realm of anti-tank missiles," he said.

There has recently been a significant improvement in the terror groups' capabilities regarding sniping, defense, launching anti-tank missiles, and other areas, Turjeman said. He warned that their abilities are reaching a semi-military level.

The head of the Military Intelligence research department, Brigadier General Yossi Beidetz, said the threat from Gaza will be significantly greater a year from now because Hamas is using the cease-fire to strenghten its forces. He said Hamas would like to extend the lull to the West Bank as well.

Islamic Jihad has continued firing Qassam rockets at Israel since the November 26 cease-fire, but the number of rockets has decreased, Beidetz told the panel.

He also said 25 Palestinians have been killed in the current round of fighting between Hamas and Fatah militants.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz expressed his objections on Monday to Israel's current policy of restraint regarding Gaza, whereby Israel Defense Forces troops are not allowed to fire on Palestinian militants who are about to launch Qassam rockets.

Such cells must know that they will be targeted, Peretz said. He said allowing rocket-launching cells to move freely even in open areas, when there is no fear that innocent Palestinians will be hit in an Israeli attack, does not contribute to the stability of the cease-fire. Peretz said he has asked that the government discuss the matter further.

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