Be'er Sheva Bus Bombers Were Part of Hamas Cell in Hebron

The current local head of the terror cell that dispatched the suicide bombers who carried out Tuesday's attack in Be'er Sheva was also responsible for the attempted attack at the Caffit Cafe in Jerusalem two months ago.

Iz a Din al-Kassam, the military wing of Hamas, claimed responsibility in a leaflet that surfaced in Hebron, 50 km north of the southern Israeli city, saying the attacks were meant to avenge Israel's assassination of its two top leaders in helicopter missile strikes in March and April.

"Our religion orders us to respond in kind to aggression against us," it said. "This is but one of a series of responses which the Iz a Din al-Kassam Brigades have vowed to carry out in response to the martyrdom of the leaders of our movement, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi."

Muslim leaders in the Gaza Strip praised the double suicide attack over mosque loudspeakers, calling it a "heroic operation."

In a new style, the leaflet, which called the attacks a "gift" to striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, used elements of psychological warfare directed to Israeli citizens.

"You [Israelis] were mistaken if you thought that killing our leaders would lessen our determination," the leaflet said. "Your leaders have harmed our people. You are the ones who choose your leaders and choose to be their shields. Therefore your shields will suffer more blows.

"This is a gift to the newcomers who recently arrived to our land," it added, in a reference to recent wave of Jewish immigration to Israel. "We say to you: This is your fate, so we advise you to reconsider."

The two suicide bombers, Ahmed Kawasma and Naseem Jabari, had apparently known each other for several years, and coordinated the attacks almost completely.

The two are members of the two most prominent clans in Hebron, the Kawasmas and the Jabaris.

Ahmed Kawasma owned an aluminum products store in Hebron, while Naseem Jabari is a construction worker and lives near Kiryat Arba. Jabari's close relatives, well-known Fatah members in Hebron, accused Hamas of brainwashing Jabari.

A few hours after the Be'er Sheva attack, IDF forces raided the homes of the two suicide bombers and arrested several relatives. Kawama's home was destroyed overnight Tuesday.

The terror cell that dispatched Kawasma and Jabari is headed by a relative of Kawasma, Imad Kawasma, head of the military wing of Hamas, Iz a-Din al-Qassam, in Hebron. He has been on the IDF's most-wanted list since the beginning of 2003. In recent months the IDF raided his family's home several times, but did not arrest him.

The organization is very compartmentalized, which makes it difficult to apprehend its leaders. In contrast to terror cells in other cities in the West Bank, the Hebron cell, as well as the cell in Ramallah, usually avoids mistakes that reveal their whereabouts to Israeli forces. When they carry out a successful attack, their leaders go underground.

Imad Kawasma is considered heir to the founders and heads of the Hebron terror cells, Abdullah Kawasma and Ahmed Badr, who were killed by the IDF last year.

Hamas attacks over the past two years were all carried out by the Hebron Iz al-Din al-Qassam cell. In October 2003, more than 100 members of the Kawasma family and others were arrested in an attempt to put a stop to the activities of the cell, which have resulted in the deaths of over 80 Israelis.

While elsewhere in the West Bank the IDF has relatively good intelligence sources, they are more or less groping in the dark when it comes to Hebron. Last year, after a concerted effort, security forces managed to paralyze both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. With Tuesday's attack, the paralysis came to an end.

Hamas in the Gaza Strip is trying to overcome its difficulty penetrating Israel. It is seeking alternative routes into Israel, among them tunnels in Rafah to Sinai and from there to the Negev.

The attack in Be'er Sheva was apparently not coordinated with Hamas in the Strip. There apparently was also no connection between the Be'er Sheva attack and the attempted suicide bombing at the Erez checkpoint before dawn Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, before the Be'er Sheva attack, Palestinian Authority officials said that the PA had issued an ultimatum to Hamas in the Gaza Strip to surrender the three Hamas members whom it accuses of an attempted assassination against the deputy commander of the PA's general intelligence in the Strip, Tareq Abu Rajab. PA sources say the three Hamas members have taken shelter in the Strip's Jabalya refugee camp.