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Security forces foiled a suicide attack that most likely would have targeted a packed synagogue during the Yom Kippur holiday, confiscating an explosives belt from a South Tel Aviv apartment yesterday and arresting the head of the cell planning the attack on Friday.

The joint Hamas-Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine cell intended to carry out the attack at a Tel Aviv synagogue during Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish holiday of the year, security forces believe.

Based on the testimony of men arrested over the weekend, police and Shin Bet agents raided the apartment at 4:30 A.M. yesterday, where they found the belt.

Several Palestinians there who lacked residency permits were arrested and transferred to the Shin Bet for questioning.

While making the arrests, one of the police officers suffered a broken nose.

The belt was destroyed a few hours after it was found. Explosives experts determined that it contained a moderate quantity of explosives.

Police located the apartment after they arrested Nihad Shakirat, 34, early Friday morning. Shakirat, the head of the operation and a wanted Hamas activist, was apprehended on the streets of the Ein Beit Ilma camp in Nablus by members of the elite undercover Duvdevan unit. Israeli military sources said Shakirat had been hiding with a Palestinian family, but that they threw him out because they feared being punished if he were caught there.

During interrogation, Shakirat said an accomplice, Mahdi al-A'ashur, rents an apartment on the corner of Jaffa and Da Piggioto streets in South Tel Aviv. A'ashur, who does not have a permit to reside in Israel, was arrested on Friday evening in Nablus. During questioning, he said an explosives belt was hidden at the apartment.

Yesterday, Israeli forces found the Nablus explosives laboratory where the belt was manufactured and destroyed it, along with a large quantity of explosives there.

Last week, more than 40 people were arrested in Ein el-Hilweh as the IDF worked to prevent the attack. Those arrested included the would-be suicide bomber, his recruiter and the person who was to have taken the bomber to his target.

This was the largest Hamas operation to be exposed in the West Bank in the past three years.

Military sources said Israeli security forces prevented a major attack at the last minute, given that the explosives were already in Tel Aviv, and that smuggling the attacker into the city would have been a relatively minor affair.

The belt was smuggled into Tel Aviv in pieces, over several different trips.

Israeli forces are still searching for a Qalqilyah-based terror cell that is attempting to dispatch a suicide bomber into central Israel.

Meanwhile, two Qassam rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory over Yom Kippur. They landed in open areas south of Ashkelon and caused neither injuries nor damage. Several shooting incidents were reported along the Gaza border. An IDF unit operating within Palestinian territory in the southern Gaza Strip arrested 10 suspects.