Al Ghoul Sniper Rifle: Wreaking Havoc in Gaza?

Palestinian snipers, adept and highly effective in urban operations have utilised a new weapon in their fight against Israeli forces. This weapon, the ‘Al-Ghoul’ sniper rifle, is an anti-material rifle which first utilised a 14.5x114mm cartridge. Early versions of the rifle also boasted an effective range purportedly to be more than 2km. The rifle has been a deadly tool in the arms of the Al-Qassam Brigades (IQB) in their fight against the IDF.

The rifle is similar in design to the Steyr HS .50 and the AM-50 Sayyad produced by Iran. It is large, exceeding 1.5 metres, and currently features several different ammunition variants. This has allowed the rifle to penetrate armour and vehicles in use by the Israeli Defence Forces.

IQB militant in a ghillie suit posing with the al-Ghoul rifle
IQB militant in a ghillie suit posing with the al-Ghoul rifle – [Image source]

1. History

The IQB’s ‘Ghoul’ sniper rifle, named after Adnan al-Ghoul (more below), was first reported to be active in 2014. It was originally manufactured to fire 14.5x114mm cartridges. These cartridges were created by the Soviet Union for use in their PTRS and PTRD anti-tank rifles. [Source]

The Brigades first used the rifle in 2014 during what Israel called, Operation Protective Edge, also known as the Battle of the Withered Grain (معركة العصف المائكول). During this battle, snipers from the Al-Qassam Brigade used the Ghoul rifle to carry out several precise and successful sniper operations against IDF forces from long distances. [Source]

The newer, updated version of the ‘Ghoul’ rifle uses a 12.7x99mm cartridge and is locally produced. 

1.1 ‘Ghoul’ rifle in use since the October 7 Attack

The IQB have used the ‘Ghoul’ rifle extensively since the outbreak of the October 7 Attack by Hamas-led Palestinian militant factions. In Early December 2023, during just two days of fighting in the Eastern region of Khan Yunis, a city in Southern Gaza, Al-Qassam snipers managed to land 10 hits on IDF soldiers including 6 in one area. [Source]

At the end of December, the IQB media unit released a video which showed sniper operations targeting IDF officers. Using ‘Ghoul’ rifles during combat at the Jabalia refugee camp in Northern Gaza they targeted IDF personnel. [Source]

In February, the Brigades announced that they had executed 57 successful sniper operations since October. 34 of these had been using the ‘Ghoul’ rifle. In mid-March, the Brigades released footage which showed the sniping of Yitzhar Hoffman. He was the IDF commander responsible for the besieging and storming of the al-Shifa Hospital in November 2023. [Source, source]

1.2 Adnan al-Ghoul

Yahya Mahmoud Jaber al-Ghoul, also known as Adnan al-Ghoul, was the assistant of Mohammed Deif, the leader of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (IQB). He was a senior operative responsible for the development of explosives and weaponry for the Brigades. [Source]

Adnan al-Ghoul was responsible for the development of weapons and explosives used in several attacks. This includes the 1995 Beit Lid junction attack and the 1996 Dizengoff Center attacks which resulted in 32 Israelis dying. He was also responsible for the development of the ‘Qassam’ rocket which militant groups have frequently launched at Israeli territory. [Source]

An Israeli Air Force AH-64 launched two missiles at a car on October 21, 2004, killing Adnan al-Ghoul and Imad Abbas, who was another engineer and bomb maker for the IQB. [Source]

Adnan al-Ghoul
Adnan al-Ghoul – [Image source]

1.3 Al-Qassam Brigades

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (IQB), also shortened to the Al-Qassam Brigades, is the paramilitary wing of Hamas. Currently led by Mohammed Deif the IQB is the largest and most well-equipped militant group operating within Gaza today. [Source]

Created in 1992, it was named after Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a Syrian Muslim preacher from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was initially concerned with blocking the Oslo Accords. From 1994 to 2000 it claimed responsibility for carrying out several attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel. [Source]

2. Other variants of the Ghoul rifle

The ‘Ghoul’ sniper rifle is similar in design to the Steyr HS-50 and the Iranian AM-50 Sayyad. It is also similar in design to other variants. These variants all stem in design from the Steyr HS-50 which Steyr sold 800 of to Iran in 2005. This was done under the pretext of using them to disable the engine blocks of smugglers’ vehicles on the Iranian border. However, Iranian defence organisations started to produce their rifle-variant known as the AM-50 Sayyad. [Source]

2.1 HS (Steyr)

Steyr Mannlicher manufactured the Steyr HS .50, a single-shot anti-materiel rifle chambered in .50 BMG. It has several variants such as the HS .460 (.460 Steyr round), HS-50 (single shot – .50 BMG) and the HS-50 M1 (.50 BMG). The HS-50 M1 features a magazine-fed system and includes a Picatinny rail, adjustable cheekpiece, fixable bipod, and a monopod at the buttstock.

Ukrainian GUR operator armed with an HS-50
Ukrainian GUR operator armed with an HS-50 – [Image source]

2.2 AM-50 Sayyad

The Iranian-produced AM-50 Sayyad is an unlicensed production variant of the HS-50. It has been in production since 2008. It had been imported and deployed, where it found use among various Syrian rebel factions. [Source, source]

On 21 December 2023, Hamas released footage of one of its fighters producing a rifle which was similar in look and detail to the AM-50. Therefore, there was a belief that the rifle might have been a ‘Ghoul’ rifle. [Source]

Captured AM-50 Sayyad in the hands of a pro-government Yemeni fighter
Captured AM-50 Sayyad in the hands of a pro-government Yemeni fighter – [Image source]

2.3 Golan S-01

In 2019, media organizations affiliated with the Syrian government reported the commencement of unlicensed production of the HS-50/AM-50 Sayyad. Dubbed the Golan S-01, in reference to the Golan Heights, an area of South Western Syria of which Israel has occupied two-thirds since the Six-Day War of 1967. [Source]

Chambered to fire the 12.7x108mm cartridge instead of the .50 BMG like the original HS-50/AM-50 Sayyad variants, it is slightly heavier and is 100 mm longer than the HS-50. Similar to the HS-50, it underwent improvements, resulting in a new variant called the Golan S-01 AMR, which introduced a new stock, box magazine, and scope. [Source]

3. Technical specifications of the ‘al-Ghoul’ rifle

The rifle was originally designed in 2014 to shoot the 14.5x114mm cartridge but has since been updated to fire the 12.7x108mm cartridge. [Source]

Its anti-materiel capabilities, extending well beyond a reported effective range of 2km, suggest potential for upgrades with additional attachments, akin to the AM-50 and HS-50 and their associated variants. It’s highly likely that the rifle’s barrel has been sourced from the 14.5x114mm KPV HMG commonly found in Gaza. The rifle is around 2 metres long which is around 70cm longer than the HS-50. [Source

Ghoul 14.5mm Anti-Materiel Rifle graphic by Grey Dynamics.
Ghoul 14.5mm Anti-Materiel Rifle graphic by Grey Dynamics.

3.1 14.5x114mm and 12.7x99mm ammunition

The original variant of the rifle was chambered to fire the 14.5x114mm cartridge, an anti-material round produced by the Soviet Union. However, it underwent rechambering to fire the 12.7x99mm round, more commonly known as .50 BMG. This is an anti-materiel round with armour-piercing capabilities and it also has several variants of ammunition type. This can include armour piercing, incendiary, explosive and other types used in training. [Source, source]

From left: .50 BMG, .300 Win Mag, .308 Winchester, 7.62x39mm, 5.56x45mm NATO, .22 Long Rifle
From left: .50 BMG, .300 Win Mag, .308 Winchester, 7.62x39mm, 5.56x45mm NATO, .22 Long Rifle – [Image source]

3.2 Ammunition variants used with the ‘al-Ghoul’ rifle

The newer updated version of the ‘Ghoul’ rifle features 3 distinct ammunition variants of the 12.7x99mm ammunition cartridge. These are:

  1. Regular 12.7x99mm rounds
  2. Armour piercing rounds
    1. Likely features a hardened metal core designed to penetrate armour
  3. Incendiary rounds
    1. Used for igniting and exploding flammable materials and equipment

Reportedly, these rounds of ammunition are all handmade within Gaza itself, rather than being smuggled in from outside sources. This has enabled Hamas to continually supply and equip its ‘Ghoul’ rifle operators to confront the IDF. [Source, source]

In December 2023, the IQB released a video detailing the production process behind the ‘al-Ghoul’ rifle, showing the homemade nature of the rifle and its ammunition alongside the quote

“We made with our own hands what we will harvest your heads with”.

12.7x99mm rounds tear through steel targets at a shooting range designed to show the capabilities of the ‘Ghoul’ rifle
12.7x99mm rounds tear through steel targets at a shooting range designed to show the capabilities of the ‘Ghoul’ rifle – [Image source]

4. Operations involving the ‘al-Ghoul’ rifle

Hamas has used the ‘Ghoul’ rifle to deadly effect in its fight against the IDF and Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. There are several notable operations in which they have used it and these include but are not limited to:

  • Officer Eyal Shominov – Hamas released a statement on its Telegram channel that they had succeeded in sniping a “Zionist officer with a Qassam ‘Ghoul’ rifle”. On 20 February, several days later, the IDF confirmed that they had lost one of their officers during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip. [Source]
  • Officer Yitzhar Hoffman – The IQB media wing released footage through their Military Media Unit which showed their fighters stalking an Israeli officer, Yitzhar Hoffman, who was responsible for the besieging and storming of al-Shifa Hospital. The fighters then targeted and eliminated Yitzhar Hoffman who was at a field command center at the time of his death. [Source]
  • Beit Hanoun – IQB fighters released footage showing that they had managed to target and eliminate 3 IDF soldiers including an officer north of Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. This footage showed that the fighters must have enjoyed some form of operational comfort as they were able to engage and target three IDF personnel simultaneously, which would have been difficult because the ‘Ghoul’ rifle has a low firing rate. [Source]

4.1 Use of the ‘al-Ghoul’ Rifle in urban warfare

The ‘Ghoul’ rifle operators utilise several tactics when they are engaging Israeli Forces which include:

  1. Operators of the Ghoul rifle will often sit or lay recessed within a room in order to conceal their shooting position and the loud sound that the 12.7x99mm round creates.
al-Qassam sniper using an al-Ghoul rifle to target an Israeli officer in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in western Gaza City.
al-Qassam sniper using an al-Ghoul rifle to target an Israeli officer in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in western Gaza City. – [Image source]
  1. IQB snipers have demonstrated their ability to employ counter-sniping tactics, actively engaging and neutralising Israeli Army snipers situated within urban structures in Gaza.
  1. Snipers using the ‘al-Ghoul’ rifle frequently make use of ‘murder holes’ in order to engage IDF forces from unseen positions. This involves creating a small hole in a wall through which the sniper can observe and fire without exposing themselves.
IQB sniper using the ‘al-Ghoul’ rifle utilising a ‘murder hole’ to engage IDF forces in Gaza
IQB sniper using the ‘al-Ghoul’ rifle utilising a ‘murder hole’ to engage IDF forces in Gaza – [Image source]

5. Conclusion

The Al-Qassam Brigades (IQB) ‘Ghoul’ sniper rifle is a heavy-duty anti-materiel rifle designed and crafted in Gaza. Its ammunition calibre and variants allow it to engage IDF forces with lethal intent and have resulted in the deaths of several high-ranking officers of the Israeli Defence Forces. Due to its hand-crafted status, this has allowed it to be adapted and stealthily crafted to ensure operational success in the evolving battlefields of Gaza and the occupied Palestinian Territories.

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