The military is expanding its activity in the West Bank to target Hamas’s civil infrastructure, a senior IDF officer said Wednesday, amid reports that Israeli forces were looking to widen a crackdown on the group in the wake of the kidnapping of three teenagers.
On Tuesday night, Israeli forces raided 10 Hamas institutions across the West Bank, confiscating documents and computers. The institutions include Hamas-linked charities in Hebron, Nablus and Jenin, as well as the offices of Hamas’s Al-Aqsa radio station in Ramallah and Hebron.
“Our campaign is aimed at Hamas all across the West Bank, targeting both its civilian and its military operations,” the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
The IDF’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, has been collecting information on Palestinian institutions suspected of having links to Hamas for years, as part of an operation called Biur Hametz, a reference to the pre-Passover tradition of burning unleavened bread.
The documents captured Tuesday night prove the institutions’ function as fronts for the recruitment of operatives and money laundering, the officer said.
“We have attained much information linking these bodies to Hamas,” he noted. “This is one of the most important battles against the movement.”
Israeli forces have been engaged in a sweeping crackdown of Hamas for nearly a week, after three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frankel, 16, were kidnapped south of Jerusalem Thursday.
The officer refused to comment on whether the Palestinian Authority is a partner in the Israeli campaign, but speaking to Muslim foreign ministers on Wednesday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas indicated that the Palestinian Authority would take revenge against the perpetrators of the kidnapping, who he said acted against Palestinian national interests.
“Whoever carried out this act wants to destroy us,” Abbas said. “Therefor, we will speak with him differently and treat him differently, whoever it is. We cannot bear acts like this; we cannot confront Israel militarily or otherwise.”
IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that the main effort of the army’s operation in the West Bank is “intelligence gathering and converting the intelligence to focused operational activity against the perpetrators.”
“In parallel, there are full circles of Hamas, which operate in Judea and Samaria, which have grown.. And if they chose to carry out this sort of attack, then we are now acting against this organization, massively, very significantly, across all of the West Bank.”
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.