Israeli officials deem explosive military grade

Palestinians benefiting from expert help, they say


TEL AVIV, Israel - The Palestinian militants battling the Israeli army in the West Bank lack the basic weapons available to the world's guerrilla armies: anti-tank guns, missiles and land mines that can cripple armored vehicles.

But Israeli intelligence officials say they have evidence that the Palestinians have recently augmented their arsenal with significantly more powerful, military-grade explosives that appear to have been smuggled into the area.

Israeli officials said a forensic examination of two big explosive charges used to cripple Israeli tanks in the Gaza Strip in February and last month found traces of RDX, an explosive that is much more potent than the rudimentary bombs previously detonated by the Palestinians.

Officials said it was not known where the Palestinians had obtained the military-grade explosives, and they had no estimate of how much had been stockpiled.

Security officers said two suicide bombs - one March 27 in Netanya that killed 26 people, another four days later in Haifa that killed 15 - also were more expertly built than previous devices and appeared to have used the more powerful explosives. The bombs contained longer nails that were packed better to increase deaths and injuries, one senior officer said.

Israeli security authorities attributed the lethality of the attacks in Netanya and Haifa to improved explosives and training provided by Hezbollah guerrillas, who have vowed to help the Palestinians with weapons and expertise.

The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks, and one of its leaders boasted in an interview this week that his group had obtained military-grade explosives.

"Those blasts were more powerful and effective than anything we have seen before," said an American official in the region. "The Palestinians have learned some new tricks."

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