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Smoke trails are seen after missiles were fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza City toward southern Israel on July 9, 2014. / Hatem Moussa, AP

The dramatically improved range of Hamas' rocket arsenal is allowing the militant group to reach deeper into Israel and expose a wider swath of the country to risk, Israeli officials and analysts say.

After its last major conflict with Israel in 2012, Hamas saw the advantage of building long-range rockets to target Israel's population, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces. "All investments after that were in long-range rockets," he said.

Central to that effort was Hamas' ability to get a Syrian-made rocket, called the M-302, which can reach up to 100 miles, representing "a huge improvement on their capability," Lerner said.

In the current conflict, one Hamas rocket reached the Israeli town of Hadera, traveling an estimated 68 miles, the deepest rocket strike ever from Gaza. The Israeli military said Wednesday that 74 rockets overall landed in Israel. Neither side showed any sign of retreating as the Palestinian death toll rose to at least 75.

"Two years ago they were not able to fire north of Tel Aviv," said Yossi Alpher, a military analyst and former Israeli intelligence official.

Israel believes the Syrian-made rockets were supplied by Iran. The Israelis raised concerns about the M-302 in March when they intercepted a shipment of the rockets, which they said were being smuggled by Iran into Gaza.

Iran generally supplies the weapons to Hamas at no cost, said Jeffrey White, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former Defense Intelligence Agency official.

In 2012, Hamas was able to target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but the group now has a larger number of longer-range rockets capable of reaching the cities, said Ephraim Sneh, a former Israeli deputy minister of defense.

In addition, primitive rockets can be modified to improve their range by reducing the size of the warhead, or explosives, to make the weapon lighter, White said.

Even though the militants have extended the range of the rockets, they remain an imprecise weapon with no guidance systems.

"The rockets' sole purpose is to terrorize the population," Lerner said.

Israel's military believes Hamas has a total arsenal of about 10,000 rockets in Gaza, Lerner said. The bulk are locally assembled and of limited range.

Hamas will likely not be able to replace many of the rockets, particularly the longer-range weapons, since the smuggling tunnels from Sinai into Gaza were destroyed by the Egyptian government, making it difficult to get component parts. Egypt brokered a truce between Israel and Gaza that ended the 2012 conflict.

"It will be harder for them to replace the rockets, though they have the capacity to improvise," Alpher said.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Hamas boosts rocket range, reaching deeper into Israel

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