The Palestinian security services in recent weeks uncovered a Hamas cell in Hebron planning terror attacks against Israel including shootings and kidnappings, senior Palestinian officials told the Times of Israel.
The first arrests were made by Palestinian intelligence units several weeks ago and since then there have a number of further arrests of Hamas operatives in the West Bank city.
Israeli sources confirmed the arrests.
The Hebron cell was operated by the terror group’s so-called West Bank bureau, which is situated in Gaza but overseen by Hamas operatives originally from the West Bank and deported to Gaza as part of the prisoner exchange for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.
The bureau is headed by Abd el-Rahman Ghanimat and Mazen Fuqha.
Ghanimat was formerly a member of the notorious “Surif squad” — a terrorist cell headed by Ibrahim Ghanimat responsible for a series of attacks against Israelis in the 1990s.
Abd el-Rahman Ghanimat was serving five life sentences when he was released under the Shalit deal.
Since the first arrests were made, Hamas media outlets have reported that Palestinian Authority security forces have each week arrested a few activists who identify with Hamas. In one incident a Hamas-affiliated student and member of the student union of the Palestine Polytechnic University Was arrested at the entrance to the campus.
The West Bank bureau is thought to be responsible for all Hamas attacks in the West Bank, with a number of cells aside from the Hebron group raided by PA security.
Saleh al-Arouri, a top Hamas commander exiled to Turkey and now living in Qatar, has directed several attempts to carry out attacks and is even pushing for the establishment of an infrastructure to carry out suicide bombings. The recent discovery of a bomb-making factory in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis is just one example of these efforts.
The group has also been accused of using Palestinian residents of Gaza who hold permits entitling them to travel to the non contiguous West Bank as couriers to transfer money to fund attacks.
Though Arouri has left Istanbul, Israeli defense officials say a Hamas presence in the city similar to the West Bank Bureau continues to direct attacks against Israelis.
In February, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Turkey was allowing them to continue operating, and said it could hold up any possible detente between Jerusalem and Ankara.
“The Turks support Hamas, and this needs to be discussed,” he said. “I am not sure that it will be possible to reach an arrangement of relations with Turkey.”