Palestinians in Gaza have acquired anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets from Libya during its six-month civil war, enlarging but not significantly improving their arsenal, Israeli officials said on Monday.
While the rebellion against Muammar Gadhafi has stirred concern abroad about the fate of Libya’s aging chemical weapons stockpiles, Israel has no indication Hamas or other Palestinian factions have sought these, the officials said.
Instead, Israeli officials have detected an inflow of SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), said one official, describing an overland supply route that opened up between eastern Libya—after it fell to the rebels—and the Gaza Strip via Egypt.
“We’ve been seeing more SA-7s and RPGs coming across,” said the official. “It’s not a major qualitative enhancement for them.”
The Soviet-designed SA-7 is a shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missile which Israel said Palestinians had previously smuggled into Gaza. Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), designed to penetrate armor, are plentiful in the territory.
Another Israeli official said “thousands” of the weapons had reached Gaza in recent months, but did not provide figures on how many had originated in Libya.
Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, which borders both Israel and Gaza, has long seen traffic in arms bound for Palestinians. The weapons come up through Sudan or arrive by ship over the Mediterranean.
State television reported in Cairo on Monday that Egyptian border guards had discovered “a large quantity” of weapons at the border with Libya, giving no more details.
Hamas, an Islamist group that governs Gaza, and smaller armed factions declined comment on the Israeli statements.
Egypt has stepped up efforts to impose order in Sinai, though Cairo’s authority has been weakened by the citizen revolt that forced President Hosni Mubarak from power.
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Roger Atwood