Guns on the Beach: Saraya al-Quds' Legacy Small Arms
Saraya al-Quds is the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad- which is a Palestinian islamist organization with the objective of the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an independent Islamic Palestinian state. It has taken part in various attacks against the Israeli state, and mainly operates in Gaza and the West Bank. Recently, a fellow researcher, Hugo Kamaan, came across a archive of images, all from 2008, of Saraya al-Quds propaganda and training. The images appear to be from a beach in Gaza, and provide a fascinating image into the small arms of the group prior to the large increase in arms in the area from the Libyan Civil War. They are watermarked with a now-defunct URL.
They show a variety of scenes, from the stereotypical "jumping through flaming hoops", to disembarking from transport, to target practice. The militants are all dressed in a standardised fashion, if not to the standard armed groups in Gaza currently attain to.
Most of the rifles shown were rather pedestrian and worn AK variants, such as the Type 56 and Zastava M70AB2 below. These are common and inexpensive, and can often still be seen in Gaza today, although the advent of the Libyan Civil War appears to have lead to an influx of much newer Russian AK-103, FAL, and other rifles into the Strip. The AK-103 in particular seems to be very valued. However, back in 2008, tired AKs appeared to be the order of the day in these images.
However, these arms are common, and remain so in the hands of the group. The images below were somewhat rarer and were particularly highlighted in the propaganda.
The rifle pictured above is very likely to be a product of the Israeli Defence Forces' upgrade and refreshment program for their vintage M16A1s, thousands of which were donated or sold to Israel during Operation Nickel Grass and other subsequent arms sales and transfers. It is highly unusual to see these rifles in an unmodified configuration- they have usually been extensively modified by the the IDF, including replacement stocks, shortened barrels and more. However, some of the rifles have remained closer to how they came off the Colt production line, with this example only appearing to have been modified with M16A2-style handguards, rail-mounted FAB defence grip, and IDF handguard wraps/sling. How this rifle got into the hands of the militants is unclear-it's possible that this rifle was a result of capture from the IDF in the field. Only one M16 was shown, indicating that the rifle was at that time relatively rare in Gaza, in contrast to recent images where much larger quantities of M16 or M4 derivatives can be shown.
The machine gun shown above is comparatively rare and unusual. This is a SGM Medium Machine Gun, a mildly modernised version of the SG-43 Goryunov, a Soviet design first put into operation during World War 2. This old gun fires the classic Russian 7.62x54r cartridge, which itself dates back to 1891. The S-43, SGM and their Chinese clones (Type 53 and Type 57, respectively) can be seen widely across the Middle East, having been used by various state and non-state armed groups. It is much less popular than the lighter, more modern and more reliable PK series of machine guns, in particular one of the later iterations, the PKM.
However, this machine gun isn't how it came from the factory, whether it Chinese or Soviet. The orginal gun uses spade grips to operate it, mounted on a large tripod or wheeled mount. This example has been fitted with an improvised PKM-style stock, trigger, and trigger guard, evidently in attempt to make it much easier for the fighters to carry around on the move, and to replicate the rather newer PK series.
This style of modification is rare, but not unique- the below image shows another SGM with a very similar modification for sale in Iraq, 2018.
This modification by Saraya al-Quds seems likely to be down to a shortage of appropriate machine guns, with this modified example clearly insprired by the PKM, a much superior machine gun. It seems that modern small arms were not abundant. Given the natural preference of such groups to show off their most modern and impressive hardware in propaganda images we can only guess what other, even more vintage hardware wasn't shown off.
Another example of this is the quite used RPD machine gun shown below, alongside a Hungarian AMD-65 shortened AKM clone. The RPD is a 7.62x39mm light machine gun originally designed in 1943, that was generally replaced in service by the RPK, the LMG version of the AKM, in the 1960s. The RPD is generally regarded as superior. The RPD is too a WW2-era (Although it never saw active use in WW2) design, one that has been since replaced.
The last small arm of particular interest is this G3 rifle. The G3 Rifle is one of Heckler & Koch of Oberndorf's most famous products, aside from the MP5, and this heavy battle implement has seen service across the globe. Hence, it is no great surprise that this rifle can be seen here, seemingly in some kind of designated marksman rifle role. However, this example has a rather interesting story.
This particular rifle can be identified as what many American collectors would term as a one with "Namibian" furniture. This is actually a misnomer, as these guns aren't from Namibia, but rather were built under license by the Fábrica de Braço de Prata factory (FMP) in Portugal, and sold to South Africa. The precise origin of the alternative foreend (And buttstock, except this is a collapsing stock variant) is unclear, but they the furniture is said to have been produced in Pretoria, South Africa. Many of these rifles ended up across Africa, Yemen, and evidently to Gaza, far and wide from their original producers in Portugal. Thousands of G3 rifles were also passed from South Africa to Rhodesia for service in that countries' bush war, but it doesn't seem that rifles with this style of furniture were passed on often at all.
The example above is also very clean, and appears maintained, how it ended up in Gaza is somewhat of a mystery. These rifles still appear often in the brutal Yemeni Civil War even today, as can be seen below.
These images paint a picture of a force armed with only old, surplus and captured weapons, one that seemingly strugged to obtain even the common PKM. The M16, with all it's Propaganda value, can only be seen once. However, that was to change a few years later, with the Libyan Civil War causing an influx of arms into the region, including to the Gaza strip, where this group, and others like it such as al-Qassam Brigades benefited. This can be easily shown in recent Saraya al-Quds parades, where they hold modern M4, Colt 653 and AK-103-2, the latter of which came directly from Gaddafi's looted arsenals, although many of the older guns remain and are the most common, with thousands of these also being available in Libya. Even 11 years later however, all of the arms that I have mentioned remain in active use, showing how small arms from 60 or more years ago still remain relevant.
[The images that I have covered show only a very small portion of all of the archive, which can be found for download here: https://archive.org/details/sarayaalquds_image_collection]