RAMALLAH – Hamas members have been flying to Iran and Lebanon for advanced military training with Iranian Revolutionary guard units and Hezbollah militants, according to a senior intelligence official from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.
The official was confirming reports last week quoting Israeli security sources saying dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Hamas terrorists left Gaza for training in Iran.
“We are sure according to information that we have that Hezbollah prepares Hamas for a confrontation with us (Fatah) and with Israel. None of these preparations takes place in Gaza, but they take place in Lebanon, in Iran and in other places where the Iranian and Hezbollah experts train Hamas militants,” the senior Palestinian intelligence official told WND.
The official oversees Fatah’s police forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli security officials last week told reporters Hamas has been training in Iran in Hezbollah-like guerrilla tactics. The officials said they fear the training will greatly improve Hamas’ military capability in any future battle with Israeli troops in Gaza.
Abu Obayda, a spokesman for Hamas militants, declined to confirm to the Associated Press whether his group was training in Iran.
“But I confirm that we have the right to train inside or outside the country,” he said.
The reports followed a visit to Iran last month by Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Iran reportedly provided Haniyeh’s cash-strapped government with $120 million and pledged several millions more.
Last week WND reported Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups have been using a cease-fire with Israel to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and build Hezbollah-like guerrilla armies to confront the Jewish state, according to the Israeli Defense Forces.
Senior Israeli defense officials told WND Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have been focusing their weapons procurement and training efforts on mimicking guerrilla warfare actions carried out by Hezbollah during its confrontation against Israel in Lebanon last summer.
The officials said the Palestinian groups learned Hezbollah-like tactics, such as raids of military installations and the use of anti-tank fire, can be more effective than ordinary terror attacks.
They also said more than 20 tons of weapons have been brought into Gaza from the neighboring Sinai desert in the last 10 months, including a large number of anti-tank missiles, which caused the highest number of Israeli military casualties during the last Lebanon war.
The officials said the Palestinian terror groups are also focusing much of their efforts on smuggling from Egypt longer-range missiles such as advanced Qassams and Katyusha rockets, which could target Jewish communities deeper into Israel similar to Hezbollah’s use of Katyusha rockets that devastated northern Israel last summer.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005. In a deal brokered in November by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Egypt-Gaza border, once controlled by the Jewish state, now is manned by Egyptian and Palestinian security officials and observed by European monitors. The monitors reportedly have fled their duty several times the past few months.
Israeli security officials have noted multiple breaches in border security, including the open transport of terrorists and weapons across the border. They say several key sections of the border are penetrable and that smuggling tunnels that snake under the border are “thriving.”
Terror leaders: We are copying Hezbollah
Speaking to WND, senior terror leaders in Gaza, including militants from Palestinian Authority President Abbas’ Fatah party, admitted they are working to copy Hezbollah warfare tactics.
“We are turning Gaza into south Lebanon,” Abu Ahmed, northern Gaza leader for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group told WND.
“We learned from Hezbollah’s victory that Israel can be defeated if we know how to hit them and if we are well prepared,” Abu Ahmed said. “We are importing rockets and the knowledge to launch them and we are also making many plans for battle.”
Abu Abdullah, a leader of Hamas’ so-called “military wing” told WND his group is preparing for war against Israel.
“In the last 15 months, even though the fighters of Hamas kept the cease-fire, we did not stop making important advancements and professional training on the military level. In the future, after Hamas is obliged to stop the cease-fire, the world shall see our new military capabilities,” said Abu Abdullah, who is considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas’ Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas’ declared “resistance” department.
Al Aqsa’s Abu Ahmed said his group is receiving help from Hezbollah to import long-range rockets and train in guerrilla warfare tactics.
“We have warm relations with Hezbollah, which helps with some of the training programs,” Abu Ahmed said. “We don’t have anything to be ashamed of – that we are dealing with Hezbollah and that we are receiving training and information from them.”
He said Hezbollah maintains cells in the Sinai.
“The Sinai is an excellent ground for training, the exchange of information and weapons and for meetings on how to turn every piece of land into usable territory for a confrontation with Israel,” Abu Ahmed said.
Palestinians establishing Gaza war bunkers
Abu Ahmed said Palestinian groups are developing war bunkers inside Gaza similar to the underground Hezbollah lairs Israel found during the war in Lebanon.
“Our preparations include the building of special bunkers. Of course, we are taking into consideration that Gaza is not the same topography as Lebanon,” Abu Ahmed said.
During its confrontation with Hezbollah, Israel destroyed scores of complex bunkers that snaked along the Lebanese side of the Israel-Lebanon border. Military officials said they were surprised by the scale of the Hezbollah bunkers, in which Israeli troops reportedly found war rooms stocked with advanced eavesdropping and surveillance equipment they noted were made by Iran.
Abu Ahmed said the most important “tool” in the Palestinian resistance arsenal was rockets. He said his group learned from Hezbollah that Israel can be defeated with missiles.
“We saw that with the capacity to bombard the Israeli population with hundreds of rockets every day we can change the strategic balance with Israel,” he said.
Since Israel’s Gaza withdrawal, Palestinian terror groups have been regularly firing rockets at nearby Jewish communities, even after a cease-fire went into effect last month. The terrorists generally have fired three versions of Qassam rockets, improvised steel projectiles filled with explosives and fuel. Qassams can travel between one and five miles depending on the sophistication of the particular rocket.
Israel has noted improvements in Qassams, including rockets carrying double engines.
Israeli security officials say a large number of Katyusha rockets have been brought into Gaza. Katyushas can travel about 12 miles and can deliver large payloads. Hezbollah fired more than 2,800 Katyusha rockets into Israel in July and August.
In August, Islamic Jihad fired a Katyusha rocket into the Israeli Negev. It landed in an empty area. In June, the group fired a Katyusha-like rocket that traveled about nine miles.
“The Katyusha we fired (in August) shows we can have every weapon we need,” said Abu Ahmed. “It is only a matter of a small period before Gaza is ready for war.”
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