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Hamas likely used North Korean weapons in attack on Israel

The evidence shines a light on illicit arms shipments that North Korea uses to fund its own conventional and nuclear weapons.
Hamas likely used North Korean weapons in attack on Israel
Posted at 8:34 AM, Oct 19, 2023

Hamas fighters likely fired North Korean weapons during their Oct. 7 assault on Israel, a militant video and weapons seized by Israel show, despite Pyongyang's denials that it arms the militant group.

South Korean officials, two experts on North Korean arms and an Associated Press analysis of weapons captured on the battlefield by Israel point toward Hamas using Pyongyang's F-7 rocket-propelled grenade, a shoulder-fired weapon that fighters typically use against armored vehicles.

The evidence shines a light on the murky world of the illicit arms shipments that sanction-battered North Korea uses as a way to fund its own conventional and nuclear weapons programs.

Rocket-propelled grenade launchers fire a single warhead and can be quickly reloaded, making them valuable weapons for guerrilla forces in running skirmishes with heavy vehicles. The F-7 has been documented in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, said N.R. Jenzen-Jones, a weapons expert who works as the director of the consultancy Armament Research Services.

"North Korea has long supported Palestinian militant groups, and North Korean arms have previously been documented amongst interdicted supplies," Jenzen-Jones told the AP.

Hamas has published images of their fighters with a launcher with a rocket-propelled grenade with a distinctive red stripe across its warhead, and other design elements matching the F-7, said Matt Schroeder, a senior researcher with Small Arms Survey who wrote a guide to Pyongyang's light weapons.

"It is not a surprise to see North Korean weapons with Hamas," Schroeder said.

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The North Korean F-7 resembles the more widely distributed Soviet-era RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade, with a few noticeable differences. Jenzen-Jones described the F-7 rocket-propelled grenade as "intended to offer a lethal effect against personnel" given its shape and payload, rather than armored vehicles.

Weapons seized by the Israeli military and shown to journalists also included that red stripe and other design elements matching the F-7.

In a background briefing with journalists Tuesday, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff specifically identified the F-7 as one of the North Korean weapons it believed Hamas used in the attack. The Israeli military declined to answer questions from the AP about the origin and the manufacturer of those rocket-propelled grenades, saying the ongoing war with Hamas prevented it from responding.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment from the AP. However, Pyongyang last week through its state-run KCNA news agency dismissed claims that Hamas used its weapons as "a groundless and false rumor" orchestrated by the United States.

Hamas propaganda videos and photos previously have shown its fighters with North Korea's Bulsae guided anti-tank missile. Jenzen-Jones said he believed, based on imagery of the weapons wielded by Hamas fighters in the Oct. 7 attack, they also used North Korea's Type 58 self-loading rifle, a variant of the Kalashnikov assault rifle.

"Many North Korean weapons have been provided by Iran to militant groups, and this is believed to be the primary way by which Palestinian militants have come to possess North Korean weapons," Jenzen-Jones said.

Iran also has modeled some of its ballistic missiles after North Korean variants.

Iran's mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. Officials in Iran long have supported Hamas and have praised their assault on Israel.

In December 2009, Thai authorities grounded a North Korean cargo plane reportedly carrying 35 tons of conventional arms, including rockets and rocket-propelled grenades, as it made a refueling stop at a Bangkok airport. Thai officials then said the weapons were headed to Iran. The United States later said in 2012 the shipments interdicted by the Thais had been bound for Hamas.

North Korea also faces Western suspicions that it supplies ammunition, artillery shells and rockets to Russia to support its war on Ukraine. The White House said last week that North Korea recently delivered more than 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions to Russia.

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