Israeli commander says Hamas has amassed vast arsenal

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Hamas militant group ruling Gaza has replenished its arsenal since a 2014 war with Israel and now has a vast collection of rockets, guided missiles and drones, a senior Israeli military commander said Thursday.

According to Israeli military estimates, Hamas has some 7,000 rockets, as well as 300 anti-tank and 100 anti-aircraft missiles, the commander said.

It also has acquired dozens of unmanned aerial vehicles and has an army of some 30,000 militants, including 400 naval commandos who have received sophisticated training and equipment to carry out seaborne operations, the commander added. He spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines.

The smaller Islamic Jihad group, which often acts independently of Hamas, boasts a similar arsenal, the commander said. That includes 6,000 rockets, dozens of drones and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and some 400 naval forces.

Hamas also made use of attack tunnels beneath the Gaza frontier during the 2014 war. Israel has discovered and destroyed around 20 tunnels since hostilities ended, including a large one last October that was still under construction.

The commander said an underground barrier equipped with sensors to detect tunnels is 99% complete and will cover the entire 37-mile (60-kilometer) frontier.

Hamas, which is opposed to Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Since then, Israel has fought three wars with Hamas and numerous smaller skirmishes with it and Islamic Jihad.

Israel has pointed to Hamas’ increasingly sophisticated military capabilities to justify the blockade it has imposed on the coastal strip since the militant group seized power. The blockade, supported by neighboring Egypt, has taken a heavy toll on the territory’s population of 2 million Palestinians.

Last week, the International Criminal Court in the Hague ruled that its chief prosecutor had jurisdiction to open an investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas. If an investigation is opened, the prosecutor has said she could look at Israeli military strikes in Gaza as well as Palestinian militant rocket fire and use of human shields.

Israeli officials say they are not deterred. Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the military chief of staff, warned in a recent speech that in future conflicts, Israel would use heavy force in residential areas where rockets are stored and launched. He said Israeli troops would warn civilians to evacuate their homes before launching such strikes.