In a long hallway that looks more like a video game arcade than a military base, Hamas security forces are holding target practice using assault rifles fitted with lasers — all without firing a bullet.
For the cash-strapped Hamas government, the system is a much-needed money saver that eliminates the need to train with live ammunition, which is in short supply in Gaza. Hamas also says the quiet, indoor facility is less likely to attract the attention of the Israeli military than the open-air firing ranges often targeted in airstrikes.
“Our training centers are targeted all the time by the occupation, so we have a closed-door shooting range that is hidden from the occupation,” said Abdallah Karmot, deputy director of training at Hamas’ Ministry of the Interior, which oversees security in the Gaza Strip.
Karmot said Hamas developed the electronic shooting range with homegrown technology. The modified Kalashnikovs are powered by software developed by Hamas programmers and fire green laser beams at their targets that mimic the sound of real rifle fire when there is a direct hit.
The indoor range is about 40m long and located in the headquarters of the minsitry’s training department. It can only handle two officers at a time, but Karmot said 1,700 men have used it and Hamas is mulling more locations.
The move indoors is the latest sign of the deep financial crisis plaguing Hamas, which is suffering its worst money woes and ammunition shortage since taking power. Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of the seaside strip since Hamas seized power from the rival forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.
Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization responsible for killing hundreds of Israelis. Israel and Hamas have fought many times, most recently an eight-day battle in 2012 in which Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.
Under the blockade, Cairo looked the other way for years as cement, fuel and weapons were smuggled into Gaza via tunnels under the border with Egypt.
That changed last summer when Egypt’s military overthrew former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The new government cracked down on Hamas — the local offshoot of Morsi’s Brotherhood — and destroyed nearly all of the tunnels. With the tunnels out of operation, Hamas lost a key source of tax revenue and a main conduit for weapons.
Adnan Abu Amer, an expert on Palestinian militant groups at Gaza’s Al Ummah University, said the prices of some weapons have nearly doubled in recent months, while ammunition prices tripled.