Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' Qassam Brigades, March 26, 2010
Hamas' Qassam Brigades, March 26, 2010 Photo by AP
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Hamas militants in the West Bank have resumed their efforts to kill Israeli soldiers or civilians and abduct their bodies, Palestinian and Israeli security sources have told Haaretz.

The sources said Hamas activists believe they cannot keep Israeli hostages out of the Shin Bet and Palestinian Authority's reach for long. So they plan to kill them, abduct and bury the bodies, then negotiate returning them to Israel.

Hamas headquarters in Damascus and Gaza are pressuring organization cells in the West Bank to kill Israelis and abduct their bodies, in view of the effect Gilad Shalit's abduction has had on Israeli public opinion. Another reason for the pressure is the failure of Shalit's abduction to bring the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, the sources told Haaretz.

Hamas planned similar attacks in the Ramallah area in the middle of the last decade. In the past year, attempting to rebuild the organization's military networks that were damaged during the second intifada, it has returned to this line of action.

The Palestinian Authority and Israel have recently captured in the Ramallah region alone about five cells planning to kill Israelis and abduct their bodies.

On September 1, a day after a Hamas cell murdered four Israelis near the Beit Hagai settlement in the Hebron area, another cell opened fire at an Israeli couple from Ma'aleh Efraim in a car on the road to the Rimonim settlement east of Ramallah. The terrorists overtook Moshe and Shira Moreno's car and opened fire at them.

At this stage their plan went wrong. The AK-47 ("Kalashnikov" ) rifle the attackers were using jammed and the couple, although injured, jumped out of the car and rolled down the wadi beside the road. The terrorists stopped their car and approached the Israeli vehicle. When they saw it was empty they took a bag containing documents from the car and fled. The couple hid in the wadi and were saved by the darkness. The husband was moderately injured and his wife lightly injured.

The security services and police figured out what vehicle the militants were driving from findings left on the road. About 24 hours later the Palestinian defense forces arrested the cell members in Ramallah. Three of them are still imprisoned in the city and the PA apparently intends to put them on trial, although it is not clear on what charges.

The interrogated militants said they had intended to kill their targets and abduct the bodies. They had dug graves in advance near their home village of Silwad east of Ramallah, they reportedly said.

Moshe Moreno told Haaretz this week: "I didn't think at that moment when we jumped out of the car. It was instinctive. I was a combat soldier, but I don't know why I decided to jump. We hid in the wadi. The terrorists were so surprised when they couldn't find us in the car that they ran away.

"We lay in the wadi for 18 minutes until Magen David Adom came. We heard the paramedics speaking in Hebrew and came out of hiding. Physically we've recovered, but not emotionally. We live in fear. The IDF must arrest those terrorists. You can't count on the Palestinians to keep them in jail," he said.

Members of five other cells, most of them associated with Hamas, have been arrested in the Ramallah area in the past year. The cells, some of them caught by Palestinian forces, were allegedly planning similar attacks that were not carried out. The cells are mainly targeting West Bank settlers, either by picking up young hitchhikers or shooting at people in cars.

Hamas' military wing appears to have reached the conclusion it cannot hold an Israeli hostage alive in the West Bank and remain out of the Shin Bet and PA's reach for long. On the other hand, killing someone and negotiating over the body is seen as more effective, both due to the length of time the incident takes and the psychological pressure on the Israeli public.

In 2006 a Hamas cell from a village east of Ramallah was allegedly planning to kill soldiers and negotiate over their bodies. The cell was captured before carrying out its alleged plan.

In June that year the youth Eliyahu Asheri of the Itamar settlement was abducted and murdered after hitching a ride with terrorists. The Hamas cell hid his body in the A-Tira neighborhood in west Ramallah.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and other senior officers called for attacking settlers last summer, when the peace talks were resumed (they have since stalemated again ) between Israel and the Palestinians.

Chaim Levinson contributed to this story.