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Updated January 28, 2013

Qassams

The Qassam rocket is named after the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. The rockets and the Brigades are named after Ezzedeen al-Qassam, a Syrian Islamist guerrilla who fought in the Arab revolt of the early 1930s against the British military and the local Jewish population in mandatory Palestine. Qassam and two of his followers were killed in November 1935.

Qassam rockets are homemade projectiles made from common civilian products, including pipes of steel, cast iron, and aluminum. The pipe is affixed at the top end with a small warhead that weighs just a few pounds. At the bottom end of the tube a set of wings is affixed for stability, along with detonators and fuses. The warheads are usually made of homemade explosives, but now are increasingly made of higher-grade explosives. Hamas is known to add metal shrapnel to increase the damage. The fuel used to propel the rockets is usually made of melted sugar combined with commercial fertilizer.

The explosive material is typically smuggled into the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels from Egypt. Other elements for these rockets arrive by ship to Gaza. The raw materials for one rocket can cost up to $800.

Qassams are typically assembled in teams of two. One rocket-maker welds the rocket casings together from metal pipes. The other fills the warhead with the explosives. Next, one rocket-maker mixes the propellant fuel and the other affixes the detonator cap, which makes the missile explode on impact. One rocket takes about 25 minutes to construct.

The production of Qassam fuel is the most technical and dangerous phase of the rocket-making process. Injuries while making fuel are common. The highly combustible fuel mixture is heated under intense flame and then poured into a plastic tube to cool, where a long wire is embedded in the mixture. Once the fuel has cooled and solidified, the plastic tube is removed and the fuel cylinder (complete with a fuse) is placed in the Qassam casing.

The rockets are usually launched from crude, hand-made scaffolds or from truck-mounted launchers. Salvos can range from one to six missiles. Due to the fact that the rockets are small, it is relatively easy for militants to carry them from place to place and even fire them without the use of stationary launchers.

The use of Qassam rockets against Israeli civilians is a relatively recent development. Since its inception in late 1987, Hamas has gained notoriety by carrying out headline-grabbing suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. After a fresh round of Palestinian violence in autumn 2000, tighter Israeli security measures made it more difficult for Hamas to launch its suicide operations. Increasingly, Qassams and other rockets have become Hamas's weapon of choice.

Rockets are multi-function tools for Hamas and a key component to its strategy. While their indiscriminate nature terrorizes Israel's population, the rockets also help Hamas maintain its credentials as a Palestinian resistance movement and the organization keep its membership numbers high among those who do not agree with Hamas's cease-fire policy. Moreover, that a rocket or two every so often only attracts one Israeli counter-attack means Hamas can aggravate Israel without risking an all-out Israeli response.[1]

Qassams were first fired at Israeli civilian targets in October 2001. They were initially directed at Israeli citizens living in the Gaza Strip before the unilateral pullout in 2005. The number of rockets launched drastically increased following the 2005 withdrawal, but saw a large drop after Israel's Operation Cast Lead.

Qassam Rockets Fired Per Year

Total rockets fired from 2001-2012: 7,665

Year Rockets Fired Comments
2001 4 Beginning of rocket fire on Israeli residents in Gaza
2002 35 First year that rockets hit within Israeli territory
2003 155 Smuggling from Egypt increases
2004 281 Rocket strikes in retaliation for Israeli targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders.
2005 179 108 until the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, 71 afterwards
2006 946 First year of mass production
2007 896 421 until the Hamas takeover in mid-June, 475 afterwards
2008 1,752 1,199 January - June 18
223 June 19 (beginning of the ceasefire) until December 19
330 December 20 (beginning of Operation Cast Lead) until December 31
2009 578 428 January 1 - 31
2010 129 On March 19, a rocket landed in Netiv Ha'asara, killing a Thai man in the first rocket-related death since Operation Cast Lead.
2011 375 On April 7, a Kornet missile was fired at a school bus, killing teenager Daniel Viflic ten days later. On Aug 20, Yossi Shushan of Ofakim was killed by a Grad rocket explosion. On Oct. 29, Moshe Ami of Ashkelon was killed when shrapnel from a Grad rocket hit his car.
2012 2,335 1,506 November 14 - 21 (Operation Pillar of Defense)

Note: These figures are approximates, as it is impossible to verify each and every single rocket fired.
Source: Israel Security Agency, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and JPC research

[1] "The Challenge of Gaza," The Saban Center at Brookings, Analysis Paper 23 (2011): 5-6.

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