August 6, 2009


This report concerns rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on civilian population centers in Israel since November 2008.  Human Rights Watch researchers conducted 21 interviews for this report in Israel and in Gaza.  Fifteen interviews were conducted with witnesses to rockets attacks, family members of victims, medical personnel, and municipal and other Israeli officials in Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, Ashdod, and Beer Sheva in Israel.  We inspected the sites of five rocket attacks in Israel. 

Human Rights Watch interviewed six Palestinian victims and witnesses to rocket attacks by armed groups that accidentally struck inside Gaza, as well as Palestinians who witnessed rocket launches.

Interviews were conducted in Arabic and Hebrew, with interpreters, and in English.

Rockets Used Against Israeli Targets

The rockets used by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza are unguided weapons that the groups fire mostly from northern Gaza. Each rocket has four stabilizing wings at one end, an engine in the middle, and a warhead. A rail elevated on two legs serves as the launching mechanism.

Armed groups in Gaza make “Qassam” rockets using basic materials.[4] The fuel comes from a combination of potassium nitrate and sugar. The warhead consists of a metal shell containing an explosive made from urea nitrate, found in fertilizers, and TNT. The fuse comes from a small-arms cartridge.[5] A journalist who was taken to an Islamic Jihad “rocket factory” in 2008 described the production process:

One of the team welds the rocket casings together from metal pipes, while another fills the warhead with up to three kilograms of TNT. Abdul's specialty is the last step: the rocket propulsion. He and his mates brew up the fuel out of a mixture of glucose, fertilizer and a few other chemicals, which is used to fire the rockets at distances of up to nine kilometers. Right at the end, he inserts the detonator cap, which makes the missile explode on impact. They hide the finished rockets in depots, which the launch commandos can then freely avail themselves of.[6]

The locally made rockets have become increasingly powerful and able to reach deeper into Israeli territory. The earliest version carried a half-kilogram payload and had a maximum range of 4.5 kilometers. The second-generation rocket, developed in 2002, weighs 32 kilograms, and has a 5 to 9 kilogram payload and a range of 8 to 9.5 kilometers. The third generation “Qassam 3” is 2 meters long, 170 millimeters in diameter and weighs 90 kilograms. First produced in 2005, its maximum range is around 10 kilometers and it carries a payload of up to 20 kilograms.[7]

In 2008, Hamas began firing 122-millimeter-diameter, Grad-type rockets, manufactured abroad and apparently smuggled into the Gaza Strip.[8]  Most of these rockets had ranges of less than 20 kilometers, but some landed nearly 40 kilometers inside Israel. The deputy commander of Israel’s Home Front Command, Brig. Gen. Abraham Ben David, said that a rocket that struck Beer Sheba on December 31, 2008 was manufactured in China, and contained metal pellets.[9]  Based on photographs of rockets that landed in Israel near Gan Yavne and Bnei Darom on December 28, 2008, the US-based Global Security website tentatively concluded that Hamas evidently had fired Chinese-manufactured 122mm WeiShei-1E rockets.[10]  The WS-1E solid propellant rocket is 2.9 meters long and weighs up to 74 kilograms. The rocket comes in short-range (10 to 12 kilometer) and longer-range (20 to 40 kilometer) versions. The short-range rocket carries a modular warhead weighing 26 to 28 kilograms; the longer-range rocket warhead weighs 18 to 22 kilograms. The high explosive warhead can be augmented with a blast fragmentation warhead containing 4,000 steel balls, which can be lethal over a radius of about 100 meters.[11]

[4]  Hamas referred to its rockets as “Qassams” for Sheikh Iss al-Din al-Qassam, a Syrian who in the 1930s worked among displaced and landless Palestinian peasants in what is now northern Israel, and whose death in a clash in 1935 with British troops helped to spark the 1936-39 Palestinian revolt.

[5]Azriel Lorber, “The Growing Threat of the Kassam Unguided Rockets,” Middle East Missiles Monitor, http://www.memonitor.

com/files/The%20Growing%20Threat%20of%20the%20Kassam.htm, accessed May 15, 2007.

[6]Ulrike Putz, “Graveyard Shift for Islamic Jihad: A Visit to a Gaza Rocket Factory,” Der Spiegel, January 29, 2008,,1518,531578,00.html, accessed April 19, 2009.

[7]Global, “Hamas Rockets” (no date),, accessed April 20, 2009.

[8]Human Rights Watch inspected dozens of spent rockets at the Sderot police station in December 2008, but did not attempt to identify foreign-made rockets. Numerous sources state that Hamas has fired smuggled, foreign-made Grad-type rockets at Israel. Id., and, e.g., Crisis Group, Gaza’s Unfinished Business, April 23, 2009,, accessed May 10, 2009

[9]Yael Barnovsky, “IDF: Rocket that hit Beersheba school made in China,” YNET, December 31, 2008,,7340,L-3648122,00.html , accessed April 28, 2009. 

[10]“Hamas Rockets,” Global,, accessed April 20, 2009.

[11]Other types of warheads are also available for the WS-E1 rocket.  According to the Defense Update website, a 17 kilogram thermobaric warhead is also available, containing 6.2 kilograms of explosive and 1,500 steel balls. “Palestinians Use Extended-Range 122 mm Rockets from China for Long-Range Attacks,” Defense,, accessed April 28, 2009.