Israelis train in ghost town dubbed ‘Mini Gaza’

ZEELIM ARMY BASE, Israel (AP) — Calls for Muslim prayers echoed in a remote town in southern Israel that only knew about the war.

Its 500 buildings, the tallest of which are 8 stories high, have fallen into disuse. Its narrow alleys are decorated with radical murals and posters commemorating slain Palestinian fighters. Can’t find it on any map.

Officials call it the Urban Combat Training Center. Israeli soldiers conducting military exercises here call it “mini Gaza”.

In 2005, near the end of the second Palestinian uprising or uprising against Israeli rule, the military began construction of a $45 million facility at the Zeelim Army Base. For the past five years, Israeli forces have fought Palestinian militants in towns in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel has been fighting since then Four wars in Gaza Fighting has broken out in densely populated cities and refugee camps against the Islamist militant group Hamas.Over 4,000 Palestinians has been killedmore than half of them civilians, and according to UN Israeli officials, 106 people have died around them, including civilians, soldiers and foreign residents.

In each war, Israel has been accused of using disproportionate force in crowded residential areas, killing civilians. The military said it did everything it could to protect civilians, while accusing Palestinian militants of using them as human shields.

“The nature of warfare has changed,” said Colonel Eli Abeles, the facility’s commander. “Our main battles today … are fought in built-up and built-up areas.”

At the roughly 60-acre (quarter-square-kilometer) facility, narrow alleys, drab concrete buildings, and open areas are designed to simulate the urban environment in which Israeli soldiers often operate. These could include Gaza and the West Bank, as well as southern Lebanon, where Israel has warned of possible future fighting with Hezbollah militants.

The army’s only official graffiti artist adorned the streets with murals featuring Arabic slogans and portraits of Palestinian and Lebanese militants.

Between exercises, soldiers rested in the shade of buildings, smoking cigarettes under faded posters, some honoring those killed in the battle with Israel. Others don red and white plaid scarves and play militants in the upcoming exercise.

Abels said the training center can conduct exercises for the entire brigade’s 2,000 soldiers at the same time. Visiting U.S. troops and troops from European allies—most recently Cypriot soldiers—have also been trained in the Mini Gaza Strip.

But as the gunfire fell and the soldiers retreated, the training center became a ghost town again, the wind whistling through the empty room and the metal crunching.

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