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TEL AVIV – In the week leading up to Tuesday’s cease-fire announcement, Hamas deployed an alarming new weapon: Russian-manufactured mortars with accurate GPS capabilities.
Senior Egyptian security officials say Hamas purchased the precision mortars from rebels who looted Muammar Gadhafi’s reserves after the Libyan strongman was toppled by a U.S.-NATO campaign in 2011.
The rebels also reportedly acquired thousands of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, or MANPADS, said to be capable of downing passenger jets.
The security officials said the mortars, believed to number in the hundreds, were smuggled into Gaza during the administration of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who served as Egyptian president until being deposed in July 2013.
The GPS-driven mortars defy Israel’s Iron Dome and proved to be devastating in the last week, said the officials.
On Tuesday alone, 12 mortars were fired at the Eshkol region outside of Gaza, scoring direct hits and killing one civilian while injuring seven, two of whom were critically wounded. Two days earlier, mortars scores direct hits at the Erez Crossing area, injuring four civilians.
Tuesday, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a broad longer-term cease-fire.
The truce calls for an end to Hamas attacks and Israel Defense Force strikes and the opening of Israel’s border with Gaza to more humanitarian goods. The Gaza-Egypt border is to be gradually reopened under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority, which will take responsibility for ensuring against weapons smuggling.
Also, Israel agreed to extend a so-called fishing zone off Gaza’s coast to six miles from three miles.
The truce calls for the discussion of broader issues in the near future, including the release in Israel of hundreds of Hamas prisoners and Hamas requests for an airport and seaport. Israel is demanding the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, possibly under an international mechanism.