Pyongyang, Hamas talk arms deal

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Pyongyang, Hamas talk arms deal

North Korea is reportedly in negotiations for a new arms deal with Hamas militants to provide missiles and communications equipment to the Palestinian group for its offensive against Israel, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported, citing Western security sources.

The alleged deal between the two countries, said to be worth “hundreds of U.S. dollars,” is being handled by a Lebanese-based trading company that has close ties with the militant Islamist organization, reports on Saturday said.

“Hamas is looking for ways to replenish its stocks of missiles because of the large numbers it has fired at Israel in recent weeks,” a security official was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

“North Korea is an obvious place to seek supplies because Pyongyang already has close ties with a number of militant Islamist groups in the Middle East.”

Hamas has allegedly already sent an initial down payment to North Korea to secure the deal, and Pyongyang is expected to ship the weapons to Gaza, sources said.

Hamas officials are allegedly attempting to boost the capability of their fighters for operations against Israel through the new arms deal with Pyongyang, the reports said.

Arms deals between Hamas and North Korea were first discovered in December 2009, when the Thai government seized about 35 tons of weaponry, including surface-to-surface missiles and rocket grenades, from a North Korean cargo plane when it was forced to make an emergency landing at Don Mueang International Airport, one of Bangkok’s international airports.

The Thai government confirmed in January 2010 that the weapons were headed for Iran. Later, in May 2010, then-Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a news conference that the arms were intended to be smuggled to Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israeli officials assume that North Korea has given advice to Hamas officials on building a network of tunnels in the Gaza Strip to enable its fighters to transport weapons without being detected by the Israeli military.

North Korea is known to have a sophisticated underground tunnel system, which it built after the 1950-53 Korean War to send its soldiers to infiltrate South Korea, bypassing the heavily armed demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Having arms deals with various foreign countries, Hamas militants have acquired a sophisticated arsenal with five kinds of rockets and missiles, including 122-mm Katyusha rockets, with a maximum range of 48 kilometers (30 miles), and Qassam rockets.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


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