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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 13:53 GMT
Hamas' potent new threat
Qassam-2 rocket
Israel put captured Qassam-2 rockets on display
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

The launch of Qassam-2 rockets by Hamas militants is potentially a dramatic shift and escalation in the Palestinian-Israeli armed conflict.

The rocket would bring Israeli population centres within Hamas' range - just as Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon were able to target towns and villages in northern Israel.

Made by Hamas' military wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam brigade
First launched against Israel on 10 February
6 February: Israel displays eight rockets found in the West Bank
Range of 10 to 12 kilometres
Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has said the rocket represents a "new level of threat".

He and other Israeli officials warn that if such rockets are used against Israeli targets, this would elicit a very fierce response.

Two Qassam-2 rockets were fired on Sunday, landing harmlessly in Israeli farmland near Gaza.

Israel's response followed on Sunday and Monday. Two Israeli air raids were launched - Monday's raids alone injured 50 people.

Strategic shift

Hamas' deployment of the Qassam-2 could change the nature of its operations.

Our presence [in the Palestinian territories] is not permanent. We are there to ensure the reduction of the dangers posed by the Qassam-2's long range capabilities

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Suicide bombings and attacks by small groups of gunmen could become far less frequent if Hamas can target Israelis with the Qassam-2.

US officials have described the emergence of the new rocket "as deeply troubling".

Israeli security officials are increasingly talking about a security or buffer zone in the Palestinian territories, similar to the one used in southern Lebanon.

This zone would push back potential launch positions and keep Israelis within Israel out of range of the Qassam-2.

An explosion in the Palestinian Public Security Directorate after an Israeli attack
The launch of the Qassam-2 elicited a severe Israeli response
Israel has never defined the Palestinian-Israeli violence as a conventional war - despite the fact that it has launched rockets from F-15 and F-16 jets, and deployed Apache battleship helicopters and ground forces backed by tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

The massive imbalance in the opposing forces is another reason why the current conflict is not defined as a conventional war.

Many Palestinians see the Qassam-2, along with large arms shipments such as that intercepted in January on its way to the Gaza Strip, not as a dangerous escalation but as a reasonable response to the overwhelming military superiority of the Israeli army.

Hezbollah example

For groups such as Hamas, the example of Hezbollah is a very compelling one.

Hezbollah drove Israel out of southern Lebanon through a combination of inflicting heavy casualties on the Israeli army and Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli towns and villages.

The Qassam-2 has, according to the Israeli army, a range of 10 to 12 kilometres (six to seven miles).

The rocket is launched from a pipe roughly a metre long and 120 millimetres wide using an explosive charge of four to six kilograms.

By most standards the Qassam-2 is a very primitive weapon, and its accuracy has not really been tested.

However, the rocket's ease of assembly and low cost are part of its appeal.

It is believed that the Qassam-2 can be launched by a timer, allowing Hamas militants to avoid being hit by the Israeli response to the launching of the rocket.

See also:

10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel raids Palestinian city
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