THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Israel says Hamas has new weaponry

Antiaircraft missiles alleged

By Aron Heller
Associated Press / October 19, 2010

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JERUSALEM — Gaza’s Hamas rulers have obtained antiaircraft missiles, Israel’s prime minister said yesterday, a potentially game-changing development that could threaten the Israeli Air Force’s ability to strike at the Islamic militant group.

Israeli aircraft have long dominated the skies over Gaza, striking suspected Hamas military installations and assassinating dozens of wanted militants. The Israeli Air Force played a key role in a fierce three-week offensive in Gaza early last year, which began with airstrikes that killed hundreds of Hamas fighters. The air raids also destroyed vast amounts of infrastructure and killed hundreds of civilians.

Speaking to his Likud Party, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disclosed that Israel’s aerial freedom has been compromised by the new weaponry, presumably smuggled into Gaza through tunnels connected to neighboring Egypt. He said any future peace agreement would have to include security arrangements to deal with the threat.

Israel believes that despite its military offensive and Egypt’s stated goal of halting arms smuggling, Hamas has managed to restock its arsenal with longer-range missiles.

Netanyahu’s assessment was the first time an Israeli official has openly said Hamas possesses antiaircraft weaponry, though intelligence officials have privately suspected that was the case.

He warned that the missiles could also threaten air traffic at Israel’s international airport. “Israel’s security needs are real, the solutions have to be real, not on paper,’’ he said.

Netanyahu gave no evidence to support his assertion, and aides would not discuss the missiles. The Israeli military refused to comment.

Security officials said they have long assumed Hamas has smuggled in Russian-made Strela antiaircraft missiles, presumably supplied by Iran. Some versions of the Strela are shoulder-fired and are designed to target planes, helicopters, or drones at ranges of around 2 1/2 miles, according to the military information website GlobalSecurity.org.

Hamas refused to say whether it has any antiaircraft weapons and accused the Israeli leader of spreading propaganda to justify future attacks in Gaza.

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