Hamas deploys 600-strong force to prevent rocket fire at Israel
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Hamas deploys 600-strong force to prevent rocket fire at Israel

Prodded by Egypt, Gaza's Islamist rulers task gunmen with thwarting cross-border attacks; Cairo clamps down on weapons smuggling

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Hamas security men parade in Gaza city (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
Hamas security men parade in Gaza city (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Hamas has deployed a 600-man military force in the Gaza Strip that operates 24 hours a day in order to prevent rocket fire at Israel, a senior Arab source told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Since Egypt — with the election a year ago of President Mohammed Morsi — stepped up its involvement in Gaza and began to pressure Hamas to not allow rocket fire, the Islamic organization has diligently worked to keep the peace in Gaza, even when that came at the price of confrontations with smaller Islamic groups such as the extremist Salafists, the source said.

Thus, Hamas has established a special force to “safeguard public order” that numbers around 600 gunmen and operates mostly along the Gaza-Israeli border.

The past few months have seen a dramatic decline in the number of rockets fired at Israel as compared to a year ago, a trend that has been confirmed by Israeli security sources. According to Israeli figures, since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in November, some 20 rockets or mortar shells have been fired into Israel, compared to about 150 over the same period last year.

At the same time, there has also been a drop in the number of weapons smuggled into the Gaza Strip, due to Egypt’s efforts in the Sinai Peninsula and the prevention of smuggling from Libya.

The Egyptians have fielded a relatively large force to fight terror cells operating in the Sinai and to prevent the smuggling of “game-changing” long-range missiles. Still, Israel claims that the Egyptian activity is insufficient to dismantle terrorist infrastructure in the peninsula, despite being a significant improvement over the days of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who during his rule did not conduct major operations against terrorists in the Sinai.

Over the last few days, a delegation of senior Hamas officials has been holding consultations in Cairo, sponsored by the Egyptian government. According to Arab media reports, Morsi gave special permission to three Hamas men wanted by Egyptian security to join the proceedings.

Egyptian security forces, including 24 senior officers, have been deployed around the Intercontinental Hotel in Cairo where the Hamas delegation is staying, fearing demonstrations by secular activists who oppose Hamas due to reports that the Islamic group has attempted to intervene in Egyptian politics and has been involved in attacks on Egyptian soil, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.

Meanwhile, Cairo has apparently deployed a considerable military force in the Sinai Peninsula, especially around Rafah, el-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, in anticipation of potential demonstrations and riots on June 30, the date chosen by the “National Salvation Front,” the umbrella opposition group, to stage massive nationwide protests.

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