By Jack Kim and Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea denied on Friday its weapons were used by Hamas in the attack against Israel, saying the claim made in some media reports was a bid by Washington to divert the blame for the conflict from itself to a third country.
Military experts said this week that photos from the conflict showed Hamas militants may be using North Korean weapons, including possible F-7 rocket-propelled grenades.
There have been reports of Hamas using the F-7 for several years, said Bruce Bechtol, a professor at Angelo State University in Texas, who has done research on North Korea’s arms sales.
“This could be new supplies or from previous shipments going back as far as 2009,” he said, adding that in any case the weapons likely took an indirect route to Hamas from North Korea through Iran or Syria.
The North’s official KCNA news agency called the claims of its weapons being used in the attacks “a groundless and false rumour”.
“It is nothing but a bid to shift the blame for the Middle East crisis caused by (the United States’) wrong hegemonic policy onto a third country and thus evade the international criticism focused on the empire of evil,” it said.
According to European researchers Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer, the F-7 is easily discernible from similar RPGs by the red band around the warhead. Such red bands are visible in photos shared by the Israeli Defense Force, and other social media accounts.
The F-7, as well as small numbers of North Korean Bulsae-2 anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), were seen in use by Hamas in 2021 clashes as well, the researchers said at the time.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday said he could not confirm the reports about the source of the rockets being used by Hamas.
The United States’ security strategy elsewhere in the world including the Korean peninsula will not be affected by the Israel-Hamas crisis, Kirby added.
North Korea’s state media earlier this week blamed Israel for causing bloodshed in Gaza.
The latest Israel-Palestinian conflict began on the weekend with a surprise attack by Hamas, the deadliest by Palestinian militants in Israeli history.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)