Israel Arrests Dozens of Hamas Operatives Suspected of Planning Terror Attacks

The Shin Bet security agency says it disrupted a major Hamas plot to resume suicide bombings. The network, which was based in the West Bank, had enough explosives for two to four suicide vests

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The arrest operation, in the West Bank.
The arrest operation, in the West Bank.Credit: Israel Defense Forces

Over 50 Hamas operatives suspected of planning terror attacks have been arrested in the West Bank, the Shin Bet security agency said Monday.

The agency said it had uncovered in recent weeks a major Hamas cell in the West Bank seeking to commit terror attacks, including within Israel. The Shin Bet added that it had found a variety of weapons, including materials for assembling four explosive belts.

The Shin Bet’s discovery of this network is the first case in more than five years in which Israel has disrupted a major Hamas plot to resume suicide bombings. The network had enough explosives for two to four suicide vests. 

This comes after a 25-year-old immigrant from South Africa, Eliyahu David Kay, was killed and four people were wounded in a terror attack near the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday morning.
Investigators said the suspects admitted to planning multiple suicide bombings in the West Bank and Jerusalem. However, they haven’t yet found anyone who agreed to carry out a suicide bombing, so it’s possible the bombers hadn’t been recruited yet.

The arrest of alleged Hamas operatives in the West Bank.Credit: Israel Defense Forces

The defense establishment is also worried by the large quantity of other weaponry the network possessed.

During the arrest operation, there were two incidents in which Hamas operatives resisted arrest, leading to gun battles with Israeli soldiers. One was in the Jenin area; the other was near the village of Biddu, near Ramallah, north of Jerusalem.

The operatives’ willingness to fight, like the weapons they possessed, indicate that had it not been for their arrest, Hamas might have embarked on a series of shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers on West Bank roads. Such incidents would have worsened the security situation in the territories.

Of the more than 50 suspects arrested, the ringleaders were veteran Hamas operatives in their thirties and forties who have done jail time in Israel. Within a relatively short time, they managed to set up an organized military network, make contact with the Hamas command in Turkey headed by Saleh al-Arouri, receive orders and money from it and set up subsidiary local cells in preparation for multiple attacks. 
According to the Shin Bet, Hamas operatives from several areas in the West Bank, including around Ramallah, Hebron and Jenin, were recruited by the network.

Among them was 37-year-old Hijazi Qawasmeh of Hebron, who has been arrested multiple times for allegedly planning attacks. Qawasmeh is suspected of finding recruits for the network in the West Bank, and of meeting with senior Hamas officials abroad who gave him instructions for carrying out the attacks.

He was allegedly offered $1 million if he managed to kidnap an Israeli. He was given hundreds of thousands of shekels for the network’s use, according to the suspicions against him.  

Among others, Qawasmeh recruited 40-year-old Hamza Zahran, a Hamas operative from Bidu. Zahran, who has been arrested numerous times for Hamas activities, including planning terrorist attacks, used funds raised abroad to purchase weapons and manufacture explosives. 

According to a senior Shin Bet official, “The activity was funded and overseen by senior Hamas officials, headed by Arouri, deputy chairman of the Hamas movement and head of its West Bank sector.”

“The purpose of intensified terrorist activity planned by Hamas operatives abroad and in Gaza vis-à-vis operatives in the West Bank is to destabilize the area, while imposing a heavy price on local residents.”

The operation thwarted “a dangerous terrorist infrastructure that had planned a series of serious attacks,” the official said, “before it was too late.”

Hamas expected these attacks to undermine the Palestinian Authority’s control of West Bank cities and worsen its relationship with Israel.

Defense officials said the network’s high level of planning, the attacks it intended to carry out and the sophistication of its operations were all exceptional compared to other Hamas activity

Israel has uncovered in the West Bank over the last decade. Despite having made contact with Hamas commanders overseas, the West Bank operatives retained relative freedom of action, and their relationship with senior commanders in Turkey and the Gaza Strip was cooperative rather than rigidly hierarchical.

Israel has also been worried by the PA’s unwillingness to confront

Hamas in recent months, ever since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled planned parliamentary elections in April and Israel fought a mini-war with Hamas in Gaza in May. 

But last week, following a mass funeral in Jenin for a veteran Hamas operative who died of the coronavirus, Abbas became furious at the heads of the PA security services in the city and dismissed them. He also demanded that their replacements take action against armed men in the Jenin refugee camp, for the first time in a long time. 

So far, the PA security services have taken only initial steps in this direction. But Israel hopes to see more determined action soon.

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