Shin Bet: 40 Palestinians Arrested in Crackdown on Hamas Infrastructure in West Bank

Suspects were involved in setting up Hamas headquarters in Nablus and the area, security service says.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Palestinians hold rockets and guns during a celebration organized by Hamas in the West Bank city of Nablus, on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014.
Palestinians hold rockets and guns during a celebration organized by Hamas in the West Bank city of Nablus, on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014.Credit: AP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Shin Bet security service announced Wednesday that 40 Palestinians have been arrested over the last three months on suspicion of being involved in setting up a Hamas headquarters in Nablus.

These activists were establishing a terror infrastructure in the city as well as in neighboring villages, with commanders operating to renew Hamas activity and carry out attacks in the Samaria area, the Shin Bet said.

The news of these arrests comes amid an increase in the number of attacks in the West Bank. On Tuesday Malakhi Moshe Rosenfeld, 26, died from critical wounds sustained a day earlier in a drive-by shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel.

“This case reveals once again the intense efforts made by Hamas leadership, here and abroad, to establish a widespread organizational infrastructure, with a stable and continuous budget, that will enable it to sustain independent activity in the Samaria area,” read the Shin Bet statement. “This is intended to strengthen Hamas’ hold in the area and prepare the groundwork for the day it can resume terror attacks.”

Several of the detainees have already been charged in the military court in Samaria, and more charges are expected in the coming weeks. Two of those arrested are considered to be the top Hamas operatives in Nablus: Ghanem Salme, who the Shin Bet defines as the Hamas commander in the region, and Samih Aliwi, owner of a gold shop in the city who was responsible for the Hamas HQ’s finances. Several of the arrested activists had previously served time in Israeli prisons for involvement in Hamas activity.

The establishment of the headquarters in Nablus, the Shin Bet believes, was assisted by Hamas spokesman Husam Ali Badran, who used to be the commander of the organization’s military wing in the Samaria area. Badran was released as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap and expelled to Qatar. According to the Shin Bet, he is currently operating in Turkey under Saleh Aruri, who is in charge of Hamas operations in the West Bank.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke Wednesday of the efforts to renew Hamas activity in the West Bank. “It appears that Hamas wants to resume operations in Samaria – this is the overseas faction operating from Istanbul, Turkey, after moving there from Damascus.”

The Shin Bet claims that Badran was involved in the decision to recruit operatives for the new headquarters in Nablus, transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to them in order to finance their activity. The money is believed to have been carried by Saliwi’s partner in the gold shop, which served for laundering Hamas funds. Gold purchased in Jordan with money supplied by Hamas activists there was smuggled into the West Bank and then sold in Saliwi’s shop in Nablus, and the income went to Hamas. During the arrests, the Shin Bet confiscated gold and jewelry in the shop valued at about 4 million shekels ($1 million), as well as several cars that were used by the suspects.

Six of those detained are six believed to be regional Hamas commanders in the West Bank towns of Zuweita, Kafr Tal, Aqraba, Kablan, Salfit and Tubas. The Shin Bet claims that they divided responsibility for promoting Hamas activity in areas such as education, charity and the media, as well as in areas related to terror attacks, such as intelligence gathering or what the Shin Bet defined as “preparing the groundwork for military operations.” They operated secretively, taking precautions so as not to be caught by using emissaries, electronic mailboxes and by meeting in secret.

The Shin Bet says that its investigation has also uncovered a Hamas cell that was operating in the Jenin area. Its members admitted to obtaining binoculars and night-vision gear for carrying out attacks. The Shin Bet says they were in touch with Hamas activists in Gaza in order to receive funds, as well as with people from Ahmed Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine organization in Syria.

Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen told a Knesset panel on Tuesday that Hamas is improving its military preparedness for the next possible conflict with Israel. Cohen added, however, that the militant group's control of the Gaza Strip is eroding, though it is maintaining control either out of the people’s fear or lack of good alternatives.

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