(photo credit: AP [file])
Hundreds of Hamas security forces trained Saturday for a possible Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, firing automatic rifles and shoulder-held grenade launchers in their first extensive exercise since they overran the coastal territory in June.
Hamas has said it is preparing for the possibility that Israel will launch a large military operation in the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government is under public pressure to respond to recent Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel.
In the drill in the northern Gazan town of Beit Lahiya, Hamas forces in black ski masks and camouflage ran between fig trees and corn stalks, shooting toward a purported target. They took cover behind mounds of sand, hid in half-destroyed houses and in trenches.
At one point they fired at an empty house, causing a large explosion. They then kneeled to the ground, shouting "Allah Akbar," or "God is great."
The exercise was the first in which Hamas invited the media since the Islamic group took over the Gaza Strip in five days of bloody fighting. Hamas now rules the Gaza Strip, while its rival Fatah controls the West Bank after Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Hamas-lead government, naming a Western-backed Cabinet in its place.
Hamas forces are better equipped than at the time of previous Israeli incursions since they confiscated weapons from Fatah during the fighting in June, senior Hamas official Nizar Rayyan said.
"Your brothers, the sons of Hamas ... have the weapons that they claimed as booty from the war of cleansing (against Fatah) and will now fight the state of Israel with them," Rayyan said.
During any such Israeli operation, Hamas would kidnap Israeli soldiers, Rayyan said.
On Saturday, a small group affiliated with Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees, held a military drill in an open field in Gaza City. About 60 operatives laid explosives in the ground, and fired at imaginary targets.
"We will surprise the enemy with our ferocious fighting," said Abu Youssef, the group's spokesman.