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Despite Gaza truce, Palestinian militants still building rockets

  • Story Highlights
  • Popular Resistance Committees showed journalists its rocket factory last week
  • Israel says rockets would violate the Egyptian-brokered truce reached in June
  • PRC says rockets are but one surprise for Israel should it attempt to reoccupy Gaza
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From Paula Hancocks
CNN
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Nearly two months after Israel entered into a truce with Hamas in Gaza, one militant group wants to show it is building longer-range rockets that Israel said would violate the cease-fire.

In a rare public relations display, spread over two days and intended to be viewed by Israel and the rest of the world, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees last week showed off its training techniques and a rocket factory to journalists.

The PRC said the rockets it displayed recently are but a drop in an ocean of surprises in store for Israel should it attempt to reoccupy Gaza, from which it withdrew in 2005.

The militants showed off what they said was a new rocket, called the Nasser-4, which can travel 16 miles (25 kilometers), or double the range of the existing Nasser-3. If true, larger Israeli cities such as Ashkelon -- with a population of about 120,000 -- and Ashdod -- home to about 200,000 -- would be under greater threat of attack.

There appeared to be little doubt that the PRC wants Israel to see the pictures. Rocket makers were positioned to give the camera the best angle during a highly choreographed visit by CNN journalists and other reporters, who were blindfolded before being brought there. In a previous day's visit, the group showed off a training ground where gunmen said they were preparing for what they see as an imminent Israeli incursion into Gaza. Video Watch more on the rockets »

"We have been under siege for the last two years," said Ibrahim Dahman, the only militant who allowed his face to be videotaped, since he already is wanted by Israel. "The only thing left is for them to invade and kill us."

The rockets would represent a "clear violation" of the six-month Egyptian-brokered truce reached in June, Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.

"The cease-fire that was negotiated through Egypt was very specific that the Hamas movement and the other terrorist groups can't use it as a period to import more weapons, more explosives, more rockets into the Gaza Strip," Regev said.

Regev said Israel reserves "the right to act, if need be, to protect ourselves. We don't want this current quiet just to be the quiet before the storm."

In more than a year after the Islamic militant group Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian fighters fired more than 5,000 crudely made rockets into Israeli towns and cities. Four civilians have been killed and many more wounded.

The PRC is revered as a group of freedom fighters by many here, but reviled as terrorists by Israel and many in the West. The group is one of many Gaza-based factions, and claims it has been involved in rocket attacks on Israel and the kidnapping two years ago of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Its "training ground" proved to be a dead-end road used for marching drills. Near the road, tires intended for target practice were stacked in front of the wall of a building. More tires were set ablaze around the area, emitting putrid, thick, black smoke intended to conceal the training from Israeli aircraft.

Masked gunmen practiced shooting at targets and taking hostages during the session. One fighter said he would never let his son fire a gun, but that he is fighting to make a better future for his family. Wearing a ski mask and carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher over his shoulder, he vowed to destroy any Israeli who enters Gaza.

The following day, the militants offered 20 minutes' notice for a trip to the rocket factory. A CNN correspondent and photographer were blindfolded and transferred into the back of an unmarked van outside Gaza City. Their mobile phones were confiscated, and the blindfolds were removed only when the van arrived at the plant.

Inside the "factory" -- a tiny room with a dozen rockets lining the walls -- two masked men tried to light a fire from a gas canister to heat the explosives to liquefy them so that they could be poured into shells. Despite the apparent painstaking planning that went into the display, the rocket makers sometimes fell short.

First, the lighter didn't work. Then, a leak in a canister filled the room with suffocating gas. Explosions, euphemistically called "workplace accidents," occur in Gaza from time to time, but the men building the rockets handled deadly ingredients and warheads in a visibly relaxed manner.

Hamas, which controls Gaza and the militant factions it contains, said that it is the responsibility of the 16 factions that agreed to the truce with Israel to respect it. The PRC said it supports Hamas, but a spokesman said last week that it would return to violence if improvements, such as the opening of border crossings, don't occur.

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But Regev called the PRC "an arm of Hamas," which he said would be held accountable if anything were to happen to break the truce.

"The current cease-fire is something we, Israel, wants to continue," he said. "It's good for the people in Israel's south who suffered under the barrage of the rockets. It's good for the Palestinians in Gaza. Everyone would want this cease-fire to continue except for these extremist elements who run the Gaza Strip, who want to continue their violent jihad. It's a problem for Israel and for the Palestinians."

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