Isareli tanks n withdrawn from Arafat`s residence

Having destroyed an elite Israeli tank this month, Palestinian guerrillas now hope to blow an Israeli helicopter out of the sky and pulverize fortified bunkers which guard Jewish settlements.

An operations planner and fighter for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also told AFP on Monday his group was experimenting with building launchers that would fire up to 10 mortars or rockets simultaneously. "Until today we're trying to destroy an army bunker and helicopter," said the PFLP militant, a wanted man who asked to be called Rafiq during an interview at a secret location in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian groups blew up a Merkaba battle tank earlier this month in the Gaza Strip and fired Qassam-2 rockets with a range of around eight kilometres (five miles) into Israel.

But analysts say such factions face major limitations.Israeli military analyst Zeev Schiff said Palestinian fighters might eventually stage such major attacks "here and there", but

doubted their strategic impact and warned they would invite overwhelming retaliation.

Palestinian political analyst Ghossam Khatib said Israeli military pressure was driving militants to devise "new and creative responses" but expected something less dramatic than downing a helicopter.

Rafiq said it was a process of trial and error, recalling how a mortar exploded in the tube when he tried to fire one at a Jewish settlement last year, injuring him slightly and throwing him one meter (three feet).

And he noted that secular and Islamic groups have improved in gathering and sharing intelligence, though their cooperation falls far short of a unified command structure.

For now militants may band together with one or more groups for a specific operation. The most active are Hamas, the largest Islamist movement, Islamic Jihad, Yasser Arafat's Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (DFLP) and the PFLP. They also trade information about Israeli facilities, glean details about making weapons from the Internet and defense magazines, and learn tactics via secret communications with Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla movement.

The explosives that earlier this month destroyed the Merkava tank, pride of the Israeli army, were made in Gaza using a Hezbollah formula, said Rafiq.

Contacts with Hezbollah, a major influence in the Palestinian territories because it helped drive Israeli troops from Lebanon, are made via e-mail or third parties travelling in Arab countries, he said.

Many Palestinians developed good ties with Hezbollah in years they spent together in Lebanon. The PFLP fighter added that the militants had learned much about explosives from a host of Internet sites, including Chinese and American ones as well as one posted by an Irish Republican Army militant. However, they have found it increasingly difficult to use the Internet because the Israelis have been able to filter material, he added.

The PFLP militant said it was impossible for Israel to achieve much by assassinating militants or pressuring Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to arrest them.

Such measures actually spur recruitment and at any rate, 10 percent of the members of each militant group operate completely nederground so that not even the Palestinian Authority knows whole they are, he said. "Even if the Palestinian Authority or Israel wants to destroy the faction, the hidden part will continue," Rafiq added.

He said secular and Islamic militants, whom he meets with regularly, increasingly opposed suicide attacks on civilians because they sparked world outrage and solidified Israeli support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hardline policies. But he pointed out that there were still militants who supported attacks on civilians.

And Schiff said the Palestinian guerrilla movement was weakened by a lack of a single strategy and command structure. "The Palestinians don't have their own Ho Chi Minh," he said, referring to the north Vietnamese nationalist and guerrilla leader who drove the United States from Vietnam after years of brutal conflict in 1975.

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