A Hamas cell planned to detonate a roadside bomb against Israeli army troops along a major route linking Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, the Shin Bet security service revealed Monday.
Member of the cell were among a larger group of 15 suspects, all from the West Bank village of Bayt Ur a-Tachta, who were arrested recently. The other suspects are being held for throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at passing Israeli cars on Route 443, part of an upsurge in attacks on the road.
The highway, one of only two arteries linking Tel Aviv and the capital, runs through the West Bank for 16 kilometers, from the Maccabim Checkpoint to the outskirts of Jerusalem.
After months of near total quiet, the route has witnessed a flare-up of violence, including 20 Molotov cocktail attacks during the first two months of the year.
In early February, the Israel Police unit Magen, concerned by the unpredictability of the attacks, ruled the road off limits to Israeli government ministers under its protection.
Masab Ibrahim Badran, 27, admitted under questioning that he had founded the Hamas cell and that its members had practiced assembling an explosive device. The other two members of the cell are Muhammad Rabah Omar, 31, and Salah Khaled Suleiman, 26.
The most recent round of arrests, the Shin Bet said, showed that many of those involved in the violence along Route 443 were former inmates who had “reverted to their old ways, and were even upgrading their terror activity to the point of executing a shooting attack or a roadside bomb.”
The road, on which five Israelis and one East Jerusalemite were killed during the Second Intifada and which was at the center of a court case regarding Palestinians’ freedom of movement within the West Bank, is considered a strategic route by both the IDF and the Police.