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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Israel using armed drones in Gaza

Israel has been deploying "killer" pilotless aircraft in its battle against Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip and used one Sunday to kill two militants, Palestinian officials said.

Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan claimed that unidentified UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) had fired missiles during the "Days of Repentance" military operation in the northern Gaza Strip against Kassam rocket squads.

Rayyan, who fought alongside Hamas gunmen in the Jabalya refugee camp during the IDF operation, boasted that Hamas had managed to develop new techniques to face the drones, including the use of blankets as cover.

"The technology of the carpets defeated the modern Israeli military technology," he said.

Eyewitnesses said the pilotless aircraft was used Sunday in a pre-dawn attack in Khan Yunis in which two Islamic Jihad gunmen were killed – Ziad Abu Mustafa and Omar Abu Mustafa, both in their late 20s.

"The missiles were fired from a drone that was hovering over the area," said Ismail Mujahed, who was walking home from a nearby mosque. "There was a huge explosion and a number of people were wounded. There were parts of bodies everywhere."

A senior Palestinian Authority security official in Khan Yunis said Palestinians were aware that Israel was using more sophisticated weapons to track down and kill fugitives.

"They have been using these drones for some time," he said. "The drones were used in the assassination of several Hamas activists and leaders."

The PA-owned Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda published a photograph of the Israeli UAV, dubbed Zanana in Arabic – a reference to the buzzing made by the approaching UAV.

Israel has readily admitted to using UAVs for years in its surveillance of Palestinians, including the Hunter and Searcher models. This is because UAVs are ideal for many of the missions required by the IAF, which involve extended flight, monotonous surveillance, and dangerous conditions. But it has never acknowledged that it has armed them.

"The Israelis almost certainly have armed UAV programs on the go right now," Robert Hewson, editor of Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, recently told Reuters.

"The UAVs offer an ideal 'closed loop': spotting the target and then hitting it from the same platform," Hewson said.

According to the Web site of Northrop Grumman, a US avionics firm, the company has rigged the Hunter to fire laser-guided Viper Strike missiles that are completely silent, gliding out of the sky using fins instead of propulsion.

Hewson said Israel has its own UAV-fired munitions, adapted from tank shells and rockets.

"We are positive Israel has developed specific low-collateral guided weapons for these platforms," he said.

The US has openly used the Predator drone armed with Hellfire rockets to strike at al-Qaida targets in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen.