Jerusalem — As Israeli airstrikes on Hamas installations in Gaza entered a third day, two buildings at the Islamic University of Gaza were destroyed in at least six direct hits early this morning.
An Israeli army spokeswoman told The Chronicle that the buildings had been used as “a research and development center for Hamas weapons, including Qassam rockets,” which are steel missiles filled with explosives. Israel has defended its attacks as designed to protect its citizens from rockets fired from Gaza, The New York Times and other news sources have reported.
Witnesses said the two university structures hit today were the science-laboratory block and the Ladies’ Building, where women studied in classrooms separate from those for male students. There were no casualties, as the university was evacuated when the Israeli assault began, on Saturday.
“One of the structures struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of Hamas’s research and development program, as well as places that served as storage facilities for the organization,” the army spokeswoman said. “The development of these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who are activists in Hamas.”
The spokeswoman said Qassam rockets were among the weapons developed and manufactured at the university. “Hamas has been working tirelessly to extend the range of the rockets, as has been shown during the past few days,” the spokeswoman said.
University officials denied the Israeli allegations. In remarks quoted by the International Middle East Media Center, Nihad al-Sheikh Khalil, a lecturer at the university, told Al-Jazeera TV that the Israeli army shells universities, mosques, and other civilian facilities and then claims “victory.”
The Islamic University was established by the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and has emerged as a training ground for the political and spiritual leadership of Hamas. Many Hamas leaders who are also academics have taught at the university, but students do not have to swear affiliation to the organization.
This is not the first time that the university has been accused of hiding weapons. In February 2007, at the height of tension between Hamas and the rival Fatah movement of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, his presidential guard stormed the university and confiscated weapons and ammunition. Palestinian TV aired footage of dozens of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, rockets, and assault rifles, as well as thousands of bullets, that Mr. Abbas’s officials said had been found inside the university.
But today’s bombardment appears to have inflicted much more damage, leaving the two buildings little more than smoking shells. —Matthew Kalman