Shin Bet Seizes 117 Hamas Members in West Bank

Security service uncovers three terror networks said responsible for deaths of 5 Israelis, despite declared 'calm.'

The Shin Bet security service has recently uncovered three Hamas networks in the West Bank that are suspected of responsibility for a series of terror attacks over the past two months, the Shin Bet said Monday.

The security service has arrested 117 Hamas members suspected of involvement in the three networks, which the Shin Bet says are located in the Ramallah area, north of Hebron and southwest of Hebron.

Two of the terror attacks were carried out in the last few months in violation of the official commitment undertaken by Hamas in February to maintain "calm" in the territories.

Senior Shin Bet officials said Monday that while Hamas has continued to carry out attacks, in general the group has avoided taking responsibility for them because it realizes Palestinian public opinion objects to them and it does not want to come into direct conflict with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"At present we do not see any willingness on the part of the PA to enter into conflict with the terror organizations," the Shin Bet said. "They talk about the strategy of [preventing terror without a direct struggle]. Therefore, we must continue with our arrests."

Intelligence information received in recent weeks about the three terror rings has led the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces to recommend that Israel change its policy toward Hamas. Israel had avoided arresting Hamas activists in consideration of the "calm," and has focused on the struggle against the Islamic Jihad, which had announced its opposition to the calm. But security forces have now carried out several arrest raids, netting hundreds of Hamas members.

The security forces arrested 23 members of one network believed responsible for the abduction and murder of Sasson Nuriel on September 21. The two men who kidnapped Nuriel had apparently worked in his candy factory in Mishor Adumim. The pair lured Nuriel to the village of a-Ram, north of Jerusalem, ostensibly to buy a coffee machine. On the way to the village, they abducted him at gunpoint. Nuriel was taken to an apartment in Ramallah and videotaped making a coerced statement there.

The initial plan was to exchange him for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, but shortly after abducting Nuriel, his captors panicked and led him to the garbage dump in the village Betunia, west of Ramallah, where they stabbed him to death.

Investigators said that the key figure in the network is Yasser Salah, a Ramallah resident who joined Hamas about two years ago while he was a student in Egypt. About a year and a half ago, Salah's handler, Muhammad Turaya, from Gaza, directed him to return to Ramallah to establish a Hamas foothold there, and gave him money. Salah, who was apprehended during the last round of arrests, is son of the Ramallah police chief. The Shin Bet believe Salah's father was unaware of his son's activities.

Hamas recently sent a female explosives instructor, Samar Sabih, from the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, to Tul Karm. The members of Salah's network initially carried out shooting attacks, but asked to carry out suicide attacks as well. They had also made plans to kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians to hold as hostages in negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Suspects told their interrogators that they were planning to kidnap an Israeli officer involved in drug dealings with the Palestinians. The security services have not yet found out the identity of the officer.

Thirty-five members of another network from Dahariya, south of Hebron, were also arrested. The Dahariya network is believed to be responsible for the shooting and grenade attack on Southern Command headquarters in Be'er Sheva in 2002 in which two women soldiers were killed, and a shooting attack two years later on the seam line south of Hebron, in which a couple from southern Israel was killed.

The Dahariya network went underground for long periods following each attack, which made it difficult for the Shin Bet to uncover it. In August, the network sent Abdel Rakhman Kaisiya, 19, on a suicide mission to the Be'er Sheva central bus station. After he was stopped by two security guards, Kaisiya blew himself up, seriously injuring the guards. Network members had 10 more large explosive charges in their possession when they were arrested.

Fifty-nine members of a network centered in Shuyukh, north of Hebron, were also arrested in the latest sweep. Some of those arrested were affiliated with Hamas' civilian framework. The Shuyukh network is believed responsible for a number of shootings and one bomb attack north of Hebron, with no injuries. According to the Shin Bet, the network had been planning to attack a military jeep, shoot its occupants to death, and hold their bodies hostage in negotiations for prisoner releases. They had also planned to blow up an Israel Air Force helicopter on maneuvers in the Judean desert.