There has been an increase in Palestinian attempts to kidnap Israeli citizens over the past two years, according to the Shin Bet security service. The defense establishment identified more than 30 kidnapping attempts last year and has foiled 14 such attempts this year, said Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Saturday.
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“The phenomenon of kidnapping attempts is not new,” said Ya’alon, admitting that the latest case – when three hitchhiking yeshiva students were abducted in the West Bank on Thursday – “passed under the radar.”
The defense establishment believes that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah are the three main groups planning kidnappings.
According to Shin Bet data, since September 2013 Israel’s intelligence services and the Israel Prison Service came upon 11 cases of security prisoners attempting to plan kidnappings of Israeli soldiers or citizens. In about half of these cases, the prisoners were associated with Fatah (the movement associated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas); in the remainder, the prisoners were associated with Hamas or other Islamic organizations.
Previous kidnappings have included September’s abduction and murder of Israel Defense Forces soldier Tomer Hazan, who was invited to visit the village of Beit Amin by his coworker Nidal Amar, a Palestinian who was in Israel without a permit.
Under interrogation, Amar said he had intended to negotiate for the release of Palestinian security prisoners, including his brother, in exchange for Hazan. Amar’s brother – a member of the Fatah militia group, Tanzim – has been jailed in Israel since 2003.
A handful of the kidnapping attempts foiled by the Shin Bet provide insight into the terror groups’ operations. In February 2013, Hamas operatives were arrested after their plans to kidnap a soldier reached “advanced stages of preparedness,” according to the security service. The suspects had been trained in manufacturing explosives.
A month earlier, members of an Islamic Jihad cell were arrested after spending two days in Israel in an attempt to find a kidnapping target. The investigation revealed that two Arab citizens of Israel were supposed to help them find a victim and take him or her to the West Bank.
In December 2012, the security forces uncovered a plan by Tanzim members to kidnap a soldier, assisted by Arab-Israeli residents of the Negev. The Shin Bet said the suspects were in “advance stages of preparation to carry out the terror attack,” and had been taking trips around the Ramallah region in preparation.
In 2006, Eliyahu Oshri, 16, from Itamar, was kidnapped and murdered after hitchhiking near the settlement of Ofra. His body was buried in a pit in Ramallah by members of a Hamas cell. Iham Kamamji, who was convicted of Oshri’s kidnapping and murder, was sentenced to two life sentences.
In 2005, Sasson Nuriel was kidnapped by five Hamas members, and his body was later found in a dump near Beitunia. In 2012, the Channel 10 TV program “Hamakor” revealed that Nuriel had helped recruit a Shin Bet informant who had been among his kidnappers.
In another case, from 2003, Palestinians kidnapped taxi driver Eliahu Gorel near Ramallah, in an attempt to exchange him for Palestinian prisoners. Gorel was freed by IDF special forces troops after several days’ captivity in Beitunia.