OSLO, Jan 12: Israel is testing a new “extremely nasty” type of weapon in Gaza, two medics charged as they returned home to Norway on Monday after spending 10 days working at a hospital in the war-torn Palestinian territory.

“There’s a very strong suspicion I think that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons,” Mads Gilbert told reporters at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport, commenting on the kinds of injuries he and his colleague Erik Fosse had seen while working at the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

The two medics, who were sent into the war zone by the pro-Palestinian aid organisation NORWAC on Dec 31, said they had seen clear signs that Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), an experimental kind of explosive, were being used in Gaza.

“This is a new generation of very powerful small explosives that detonates with an extreme power and dissipates its power within a range of five to 10 metres,” said Gilbert, 61.

“We have not seen the casualties affected directly by the bomb because they are normally torn to pieces and do not survive, but we have seen a number of very brutal amputations... without shrapnel injuries which we strongly suspect must have been caused by the DIME weapons,” he added.

The weapon “causes the tissue to be torn from the flesh. It looks very different (from a shrapnel injury). I have seen and treated a lot of different injuries for the last 30 years in different war zones, and this looks completely different,” said Fosse, 58.

“If you are in the immediate (vicinity of) a DIME weapon, it’s like your legs get torn off. It’s an enormous pressure wave and there is no shrapnel,” he explained.

Gilbert also accused Israel of having used the weapon in the 2006 Lebanon war and previously in Gaza, and referred to studies showing wounds from the explosive could cause lethal forms of cancer within just four to six months.

Meanwhile, Israeli tanks punched their way towards Gaza City on Monday in some of the heaviest clashes of the war as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to hit Hamas with an “iron fist” unless it stopped firing rockets.

A defiant Hamas however said it was closer than ever to victory after 17 days of conflict.

Israeli infantry units battled Hamas gunmen across the region as Olmert insisted Israel was achieving the objectives of Operation Cast Lead.

“We want to end the operation when the two conditions we have demanded are met: ending the rocket fire and stopping Hamas’s rearmament. If these two conditions are met, we will end our operation in Gaza,” Olmert said in a speech.

“Anything else will meet the iron fist of the Israeli people, who are no longer ready to tolerate the Qassams (rockets).”An army spokesman said that close to 30 missiles had been launched from Gaza during the course of the day, although there were no reports of casualties.

Hamas is nearing victory in its war against Israel, Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, said on Monday.

“We are approaching victory,” he said in a televised address.

“The blood which has flowed will not have flowed in vain as it will bring us victory, thanks be to God,” Haniya said.

“I tell you that after 17 days of this foolish war, Gaza has not been broken and Gaza will not fall.” Haniya also said that the blood of children who have been killed in the conflict would serve as a “curse which will come back to haunt (US President George W.) Bush.”

Medics said 20 Palestinians were killed in the latest fighting, bringing the overall toll to 917, including 277 children. A further 4,100 have been wounded.—Agencies

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