Hamas far from disabled after weeks of fighting

The Guardian reports: As war returned to Gaza on Friday, many outside observers were asking why Hamas and the other smaller Islamist groups active in Gaza had let the ceasefire lapse and fired dozens of rockets into Israel. One answer lies in the resilience of a movement that has been carefully built over decades and is deeply embedded in the community.

A key question is the level of casualties sustained by Hamas, an acronym for the Harakat al Muqawamma Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement) so far in this most recent war. Israeli military officials have said that up to 900 fighters from Hamas and other smaller factions in Gaza, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, have been killed. These figures are largely based on reports from Israeli units fighting in Gaza.

“They were reporting a lot of success: five guys, 10 guys, 20 guys killed. These were big engagements,” said Daniel Nisman, an Israeli security analyst and commentator.Last week, Yossi Kuperwasser, the Israeli minister for strategic affairs, told reporters: “Hamas has lost more and more during the war – the tunnels, thousands of rockets and hundreds of operatives. Every day that went by, they lost more.”

It does appear that dozens of sophisticated tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel, which could enable cross-border raids to kill or kidnap civilians and soldiers, have been destroyed. More than 3,000 rockets have been fired on Israel from Gaza – killing three people – which Israeli officials insist is at least half of Hamas’s total stocks of the weapons.

However, few senior Hamas military commanders appear to have died.

“Most of the casualties were from anti-tank missile cells or lost on motorbikes. These were low-level guys bouncing between missile positions, particularly in border areas,” said Daniel Nisman, an Israeli security analyst.

When last week a missile struck a street metres from the gates of a UN school in Rafah, killing nine people, Israeli military spokesmen said they had been targeting “terrorists on a motorbike” nearby.

Khaleel Habeel, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, admitted casualties, saying that “if you take on the fourth most powerful army in the world then of course you lose people”. Ziad Abu Oda of the Mujahideen Faction splinter group told the Guardian that his organisation had lost 50 men, including fighters and political officials.

But even top-end estimates of casualties would be a fraction of the strength of Hamas’s military brigades and other groups, which are believed to have 10,000 fighters permanently under arms, with another 10,000 in reserve. [Continue reading…]

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