Hamas has been making concerted efforts in recent months to renew its activities in the West Bank, Israeli security officials note.
According to the officials, over the past few weeks, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service have intercepted relatively large amounts of funds that Hamas activists abroad have tried to smuggle into the West Bank as part of these efforts.
Since Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, and its expulsion of the Fatah leadership there, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has come down hard on Hamas activists in the area. Hundreds of Hamas activists have been incarcerated for extended periods, funds have been confiscated and Hamas-affiliated charities and organizations have been closed down.
However, following last October's prisoner-exchange deal that saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit freed from Hamas captivity in return for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, Hamas' standing in the West Bank has been boosted.
One indication of this has been the seized money, which, security officials believe, was intended to help reignite Hamas activities following a long period during which the organization had difficulty in operating in the West Bank.
It appears that in the initial stage, Hamas is trying to spark activists back into action in various parts of the West Bank. By and large, Hamas has refrained from staging terror attacks from the West Bank in recent years, due both to operational difficulties and political considerations.
As expected, the Shalit deal boosted Hamas' standing among the Palestinian public. Israeli security officials note that until now, prisoners involved in the Shalit deal have not returned to the path of terror, aside from an isolated case; nevertheless, they say, a large portion of the terror attacks perpetrated in recent years were carried out by cells set up by prisoners released from Israeli jails.
At present, Israeli security concerns are focused on the younger prisoners released in the framework of the Shalit deal. These released prisoners, Israeli security sources note, have not paid a significant price for their crimes and did not serve lengthy jail terms; on the other hand, they have accumulated know-how and training in terror activities from veteran prisoners with whom they served their time.
Most terror attacks perpetrated in the past two years have been carried out by relatively young and inexperienced cells, some of which had no distinct link to any particular terror organization. Such attacks have been defined by Israeli intelligence officials as "popular terror strikes."
Now, security officials are concerned that the return to the field of more experienced terror activists could upgrade the daring and sophistication of attacks in the West Bank.
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