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Israeli commander says hamas growing stronger { February 2007 }

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Hamas growing stronger: Israeli commander
Wed Mar 7, 9:37 AM ET

JERUSALEM (AFP) - The Palestinian Hamas movement has grown stronger since its shock election a year ago despite Israeli and Western efforts to weaken the group, a top Israeli military commander said Wednesday.

"The strength of Hamas is increasing ever since it won the election (in January 2006)," Major General Yoav Galant, who heads the Israeli southern command, told reporters.

"Even if we don't like the situation, this is the situation right now."

At the same time, the moderate secular
Fatah party of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is gradually getting weaker, he said.

The Islamic Resistance Movement is building up an organised and well-equipped army in its stronghold of Gaza, a highly-disciplined force that at the moment includes four brigades and special forces, Galant said.

"This is a system under leadership," Galant said. "The target is to establish a military force in the
Gaza Strip and it's on the way."

Hamas currently has 5,500 "soldiers" and is aiming to increase the number to 8,000, Galant said, also claiming that the group has smuggled 30 tonnes of explosives into the Gaza Strip over the past year.

"This is not something to use against Fatah, this is something to use to create a different equation with
Israel... because they think we will be deterred by their capabilities," Galant said.

Clashes between Hamas and its rival Fatah killed dozens in Gaza over the course of several months before the two groups agreed in February to create a coalition cabinet.

Since it took office in March last year, Hamas has faced a Western freeze on direct aid to its government and a withholding of customs duties collected on the Palestinians' behalf by Israel -- sending the Palestinian economy into freefall.

The West, which along with Israel considers Hamas a terror group, has demanded that it renounce violence, recognise Israel and agree to abide by past peace deals for the aid to resume, but Hamas has steadfastly refused to do so.

Israel also waged a months-long operation in Gaza last year after a soldier was seized by three armed groups, including Hamas's military wing.

The operation, which wreaked havoc on the infrastructure in the coastal strip, killed around 400 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers.

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Israel attacks in gaza amid factional violence { May 16 2007 }
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Israeli airstrikes target gaza city { May 27 2007 }
Israeli commander says hamas growing stronger { February 2007 }
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Israelis gaza strikes help hamas { May 22 2007 }

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