Israel warns of Hamas military buildup


Published: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

JERUSALEM - Hamas, the dominant faction in the Palestinian government, is building its military capacity in the Gaza Strip, constructing tunnels and underground bunkers and smuggling in ground-to-air missiles and military-grade explosives, senior Israeli officials say.

The officials, including a top military commander who spoke in an interview Friday, said that Hamas had learned tactics from Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, which brought in and stored thousands of rockets in bunkers near the northern Israeli border before its war with Israel last summer.

In Gaza, the Israeli commander said, Hamas has now recruited 10,000 fighters to its so-called Executive Force, a parallel police force intended to counter the control its rival Fatah exercises over the Palestinian Authority's security forces. The Executive Force is now divided into five "so-called brigades, with battalion leaders'' and is receiving more military training and sharing a common headquarters, he said, with the Qassam brigades, Hamas' military wing.

The commander, who gave the briefing on condition of anonymity, said that despite Israel's growing concerns about Hamas, "we're not going to start a big operation in Gaza.''

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