Gaza Terror Like Volcano Waiting to Explode, Israeli Officer Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The security situation in the Gaza Strip is like a simmering volcano, and there is therefore no end in sight to anti-terror military operations there, an Israeli army officer told Cybercast News Service.

At least six Palestinians were reportedly killed and 20 others wounded in exchanges of gunfire in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday.

The army said its forces were on a mission to thwart the launching of rockets targeting Israel and to search for terrorist infrastructure in the area.

One of those killed was Atta Shindari, who led an arm of the Popular Resistance Committees that focuses on launching rocket attacks, reports said. The PRC is an umbrella organization of Palestinian terrorist groups.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli operation on the first day of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. He called on the international community to intervene to stop what he called the "Israeli massacres."

But Maj. Tal Levram, spokesman for the Israeli army southern command, said he was not optimistic about the situation in Gaza, and did not believe Israel would stop its military operations there any time soon.

"Terrorism in the Gaza Strip is like a volcano waiting to explode," Levram said in a telephone interview.

Hamas has been building its fighting force in the Gaza Strip, and was building its arsenal and upgrading its weapons, he said.

The Palestinians were smuggling in large quantities of weapons, advanced anti-tank missiles and materials to make rockets and bombs through tunnels under the Egyptian-Gaza border, which Israel does not currently control.

Levram said terrorists were also firing Kassam rockets at Israel and trying to improve on them all the time. There had been dozens of attempts to infiltrate into Israel to carry out attacks.

Hamas came to power in the PA self-rule areas last March after winning a stunning victory in parliamentary elections.

Israeli officials estimate that some 20 tons of explosives, thousands of automatic weapons and large quantities of ammunition have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip since Israel's unilateral pullout last year.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday Israel was not willing to sit passively while the Palestinians essentially built an army - as Hizballah had done in Lebanon in the six years since Israel withdrew from a security zone in the south of that country.

It's not just the weapons flow that is troubling Israel, Levram said.

The Palestinians were also increasing their fighting know-how and capabilities with the help of outside sources, including Iran, he charged

Military sources, here say Hamas is trying to emulate Hizballah's way of fighting.

To that end, Hizballah members were training Palestinians in places like Lebanon, Syria and Iran, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

'Re-take the border strip'

In an effort to stop some of the weapons smuggling, Israeli troops re-entered an area called the Philadelphia corridor last week for the first time since they left almost a year ago under an agreement brokered by Washington.

According to the agreement, European observers monitor the crossings while the border itself is under Palestinian and Egyptian supervision.

On Sunday, at least two Israeli lawmakers suggested that Israel re-take the corridor - a 12-kilometer long strip between Gaza and Egypt - in a bid to stop the smuggling.

Levram would not comment on the possibility of such action, but noted that searches along the first 2.4 miles of the route had so far uncovered 14 tunnels being used to smuggle weapons.

The openings for some of the tunnels were concealed in Gaza homes and agricultural hothouses, he said.

There could be up to hundreds of such illegal tunnels, he estimated. Some were likely being used not just for smuggling but also for access by terrorists wanting to carry out attacks.

In one such attacks, Hamas-led terrorists killed two Israeli soldiers and abducted a third on June 25 in a move that sparked Israel's re-entry into Gaza.

Meanwhile, terrorists continue to attempt to carry out attacks against the crossing points, despite those points of entry being vital for goods to be brought into and out of the Gaza Strip.

In turn, Israel regularly comes under fire from the international community for closing the crossings.

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