The Shin Bet security service prevented a suicide bombing in Jerusalem last month when it seized an explosive belt only 24 hours before the planned attack, defense sources told Haaretz. The belt had already been smuggled into the city.
The success stemmed from a large-scale operation by the Shin Bet, the Israel Defense Forces and the police against Hamas' military infrastructure in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the sources said. In the operation, dozens of Hamas militants operating in 13 separate units were arrested.
The main unit responsible for carrying out the attack was based in Hebron. The unit was in touch with Hamas headquarters in Syria, and the date of the attack was set for August 21, the sources said.
A member of the group, As'haq Arafa, from East Jerusalem's Ras al-Amud neighborhood, works in a banquet hall in West Jerusalem and has an Israeli ID card. Arafa and the team's "engineer," Hussein Kawasmeh, are suspected of assembling the charge - a fire extinguisher containing six kilograms of explosives - in Kawasmeh's Jerusalem home.
Arafa allegedly smuggled the explosive and detonator to his own home in Jerusalem and was supposed to meet Said Kawasmeh of Hebron, the designated suicide bomber, who was to set off the charge in a bus or mall in Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood.
The same group was allegedly responsible for the March 23 attack at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, where a British tourist was killed and 47 other people were injured.
The Shin Bet found out about the planned attack following the arrest of Iman Eladam, an envoy sent by Hamas headquarters in Syria. He was arrested several days earlier after giving instructions to the Hebron group and trying to leave the West Bank for Jordan via the Allenby Bridge.
A terrorist alert was called in Jerusalem, and on August 20, a day before the scheduled attack, the bomb was found in Arafa's house. Two days later Jerusalem police arrested Kawasmeh on the Temple Mount outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan prayers.
Other group members, including Kawasmeh, one of the group's founders, were apprehended. Another explosive charge and a bag of homemade explosives were found in his home.
The Shin Bet has recently detected steps by Hamas activists to restore the organization's military infrastructure in the West Bank and carry out terrorist attacks. The main goal, defense sources say, is to kidnap a soldier in order to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Another terrorist group exposed by the Shin Bet was operated by Hamas activists at Ketziot Prison. The group consisted of about 20 activists allegedly intending to carry out terror attacks and mainly to kidnap an Israeli soldier for bargaining purposes.
The group had allegedly prepared a place in Hebron to hide an abducted soldier and planned to open fire on an IDF patrol jeep and kidnap a soldier.
Yet another group whose members have been arrested recently is suspected of operating from Hebron under directions from Hamas' leadership in Gaza. The group's alleged objective was also to kidnap a soldier, smuggle him into the Sinai Peninsula and then back through the tunnels to the Gaza Strip.
The head of the group, 44-year-old Ahmed Madhoun from Hebron, received $10,000 on a visit to Saudi Arabia to buy weapons for the operation, the sources said.
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