Hamas beefing up forces in Gaza Strip, report says

(dpa) - The Islamic Hamas movement is is beefing up its forces in the Gaza Strip and although full implementation will take some years, the build-up is at its peak, an Israeli think tank said in a study released Thursday.

However, said the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre, some components of the buildup "are basically ripe," increasing the threat to the Israeli military and to residents of Israel's Western Negev region, which borders the Gaza Strip.

"Threats include improved capabilities to carry out complex terrorist attacks such as mass casualty attacks and the abduction of soldiers and civilians, an increase in the scope, accuracy and range and force of rocket fire into Israel, increasing the threat of anti- tank weapons to Israel's tanks and armoured vehicles and to Israel Defence Force soldiers, improved survival capabilities of Hamas forces waging most of the fighting from the densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip," the report said.

According to the report, Hamas' buildup includes increasing the sizes of its forces, which now number 20,000 armed men; reorganizing its forces into semi-military formations; carrying out large-scale in the Gaza Strip and also in Iran and Syria, and improving its command and control structure.

A spokesman for Hamas dismissed the findings of the report as "inaccurate and untrue."

Sami Abu Zuhri said the report was "part of the Israeli media campaign which is organized by the Israeli occupation in order to find an excuse to carry out a new round of war against Hamas and against Gaza."

Although Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in August and September 2005, it still controls the salient's borders with it, as well as its airspace and coast line, leading Hamas to insist the enclave is still occupied.

"Hamas is a movement of resistance that has a primitive kind of weapon and confront a state of occupation that owns nuclear and the most sophisticated kinds of weapons," Abu Zuhri said.

Although most of the rockets militant groups fire at southern Israel are of improvised manufacture, Hamas has claimed credit for launching Russian-produced Gard-type Katyusha missiles at the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon.

Israel says Hamas, which administers the Gaza Strip, bears "ultimate responsibility" for a well-planned attack the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees and a faction of the Fatah movement carried out Tuesday against a fuel crossing point on the Israel-Gaza border Wednesday afternoon.

Two Israeli civilians were killed when militants who succeeded in breeching the Gaza border opened fire on the terminal, and seven Palestinians, including two who died of wounds overnight, were killed as Israel pursued the attackers.

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