Israel has arrested dozens of members of a Hamas terror network operating throughout the West Bank in recent weeks who were planning a series of attacks against Israeli targets, senior Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel. The network, they said, was funded and directed by Hamas officials in Turkey who have set up a de facto command center in the Muslim country.
The network was similar in its operational characteristics to one uncovered in August during the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the officials said Thursday night, adding that according to information received from Israel, this terror ring was even larger. Its operatives had already attempted several attacks against Israel, they added, but they had all failed.
As with the previous network, the man behind the terrorist grouping was Saleh al-Arouri, a Hamas leader who was deported from the West Bank to Turkey in 2010, the sources said.
Arouri, they said, built up and funded the network, and has effectively established a Hamas command post in Turkey which is leading terror efforts in the West Bank. Arouri is reportedly aided by dozens of operatives, some of whom were deported by Israel in the wake of the Gilad Shalit prisoner deal in 2011.
The officials accused Turkey as well as Qatar — the current home of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal — of enabling Hamas to operate freely within their territories to carry out attacks against Israel and undermine the Palestinian Authority.
In August, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said it had arrested over 90 operatives and thwarted a Hamas coup attempt in the West Bank aimed at toppling PA President Mahmoud Abbas and starting a third intifada uprising.
The Palestinian sources, however, maintained Thursday that the two networks were more concerned with carrying out attacks against Israeli military and settler targets in the West Bank. A rough Israeli response and the consequent weakening of the PA was a secondary objective, they said.
The officials added that several Hamas operatives connected to the recently uncovered network were also being held in PA detention facilities.
On Thursday the Shin Bet said it foiled a Palestinian plan to assassinate Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman during the summer war. A group of Hamas members from near Bethlehem in the West Bank planned to purchase a rocket-propelled grenade, which would be shot at Liberman, who lives in an Israeli settlement in the area.
The group gathered intelligence on Liberman’s convoy to carry out the attack, according to the Shin Bet, and turned to Hamas officials in the area for help in acquiring the RPG. Israeli officials said they also uncovered during the interrogations Hamas plans to fire weapons and carry out hit-and-run attacks against settlers and Israeli troops in the area.
The Times of Israel could not immediately ascertain whether the cell plotting against Liberman was connected to the terror network described by Palestinian officials.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.