PA security raids Hamas cell planning attacks against Israelis
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PA security raids Hamas cell planning attacks against Israelis

Terror operatives in Hebron being directed from Gaza by 'bureau' of former West Bankers exiled as part of Shalit exchange

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Hamas members at a funeral in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2016. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)
Hamas members at a funeral in the southern Gaza Strip on March 4, 2016. (AFP/SAID KHATIB)

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.

Hamas operative Saleh al-Aruri (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)
Hamas operative Saleh al-Aruri (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

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.”

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