- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2008

TEL AVIV — Israeli analysts say a series of strikes against Israeli outposts on the border with the Gaza Strip indicates Hamas has improved its fighting capability, aspiring to repeat Hezbollah’s successes in Lebanon.

Palestinian militants have launched five attacks on or near Israeli-run border crossings into Gaza in less than two weeks. Thirteen soldiers were injured Saturday in a car bombing at the Kerem Shalom crossing, a few days after three soldiers were killed in an ambush on the Palestinian side of the border near the Nahal Oz crossing.

“We’ve never seen anything like this attack since the disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, said Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant after the Saturday attack. “Its purpose was mass killing and the kidnapping of soldiers.” The attacks on the Israeli crossing terminals along the fence, say observers, are designed to draw attention to Israel economic blockade around the Gaza Strip, which has been all but sealed by Israel.

Israeli officials claim that by targeting crossing terminals, which transmit humanitarian and basic supplies, Hamas is cynically worsening the hardship of the blighted economy of 1.4 million people.

However, observers in Gaza say residents generally support the attacks.

Hezbollah is seen as the Arab world’s one fighting force that has succeeded against Israel’s army where national militaries have failed, having forced Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000 and fought Israel to a draw in the 2006 war in Lebanon.

Hamas, which Israel says has sent military officers to Hezbollah-patron Iran for training, has increased its fighting force and organized it into regional brigades with disciplined soldiers.

After taking control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party last year, Hamas has added foreign-made rockets and more anti-tank missiles to its arsenal. Just as Hezbollah created an elaborate network of bunkers in southern Lebanon in anticipation of an Israeli invasion, Hamas is also believed to have dug itself in by booby-trapping the Gaza refugee camps.

In the attacks Saturday, militants used the early-morning fog to confuse the Israelis. At Kerem Shalom, three vehicles were packed with explosives and driven toward the Palestinian side of the terminal under the cover of a mortar attack.

In the ambush that killed three Israeli soldiers, Israelis were lured across the border by an apparent decoy and attacked under the cover of early- morning fog. A week ago, a few militants infiltrated an Israeli fuel terminal on the border and killed two civilians.

“I definitely see a rise in the capabilities of Hamas and a rise in the motivation, and I see an increase in the level of assistance that Hamas is getting from Iran and Hezbollah,” said Danny Rothschild, a retired general, in an interview with Israel Radio.

Islamists in Gaza have also started using foreign-made Katyusha rockets, which have a longer range and a more powerful explosive than the local Qassam rockets, echoing Hezbollah’s ability to rain missiles down on northern Israel during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

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