Shin Bet Arrests Hamas Men Implicated in Cop's Murder

Suspects admitted to planning last month's Hebron-area attack.

The members of a Hamas cell suspected of being behind the murder of an Israeli policeman in the South Hebron Hills last month were arrested in a joint operation by the Shin Bet security service and Israel Defense Forces six days ago. A gag order on the arrest was lifted Monday.

The scene of the June shooting attack in the South Hebron Hills that took the life of Yehoshua Sofer
Emil Salman

Yehoshua Sofer was killed on June 14, when gunmen fired on a police car driving along Route 60 toward Hebron, near the settlement of Otniel. The gunmen fired from a number of weapons at a police vehicle transporting officers from Be'er Sheva to the Hebron police station.

Two other officers in the car sustained injuries in the attack.

The gunmen were not known to the security forces, but several days after the attack the Shin Bet managed to identify them. On June 22, in a combined operation with elite IDF troops and the police anti-terror squad, 20 Palestinians were arrested in the village of Dir Samt. Among those arrested were members of the Hamas cell also in the planning stages of more attacks in the Hebron and Gush Etzion areas.

Four members of the Hamas cell are believed to have been involved in the shooting, with one serving as a look-out and the other three firing from a pre-planned position using AK-47s. The cell apparently started its activities a year ago and had practiced shooting in south Mount Hebron, and began surveillance of IDF and police traffic on the road.

The members of the cell are said to be in their early 20s, with some who've been arrested in the past for terror-related activities. One of them had served several months of a seven-year sentence.

During questioning, the members of the cell reportedly admitted to participating in the attack and even reenacted it. They led investigators to the cache where they'd hid three AK-47s used in the incident, and provided more details about future attacks they had planned.

The Hamas militants are suspected of planning to kidnap a soldier or an Israeli citizen in Gush Etzion.

One of the members of the group stayed in Jerusalem last month when his daughter underwent eye surgery at Hadassah Hospital. In Jerusalem, he bought skullcaps and a wig for the kidnappers' use. His wife and daughter were in Jerusalem with special permission for the operation, which was paid for by a private Israeli philanthropic organization. He was caught in Jerusalem when arrested for not having proper authorization to be in the city.

Sofer is the only person to have been killed in a terror attack in the West Bank so far this year and the security services attribute the drop in casualties to the eradication of the terrorist cells and the arrest of most of the top masterminds among the militants.

Meanwhile, Dalia Sofer, the mother of the dead policeman - who was killed just a few months before he was to marry Einav Blum - said yesterday in tears that nothing could console her.

"We should behave like they do in Arab countries, an eye for an eye. Just as my son is underground, the terrorists should be put there too. Do not give them food, no visitations, nothing."

"It is a relief that they have caught the cowardly murderer. Let them interrogate him well, learn about those close to him and prevent the next attack," said Yossi, Sofer's father.