Israeli security forces arrested a Palestinian man from the Gaza Strip last month, suspecting him of planning a bombing attack on a bus in southern Israel on behalf of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, the Shin Bet security service said Thursday.
The agency said that Fathi Ziad Zakot, 31, from the southern Gazan city of Rafah, had a valid permit to enter Israel for work. He was arrested on October 30 and an indictment was filed on Thursday at the Beersheba District Court, whereupon the Shin Bet released information about the case.
According to the Shin Bet, Zakot was recruited by a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad sometime in September, and later underwent training by an explosives expert who taught him how to build a bomb.
Zakot entered Israel several times while remaining in contact with members of the terror group. After entering on October 19, Zakot obtained wires, batteries and other materials used to build an explosive device, according to the indictment.
The Shin Bet said the materials were seized when Zakot was arrested.
Zakot was charged with various weapons offenses, belonging to a terrorist organization, planning and training for an act of terrorism, and contact with a foreign agent, among several more charges.
The indictment comes amid an ongoing debate in Israel about allowing large numbers of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Israel to work, a move that the army has historically supported as a stabilizing measure by boosting the Gazan economy, and the Shin Bet has generally opposed, fearing that it would be abused by Hamas or other terror groups to carry out and coordinate attacks against Israeli targets.
Israel recently raised the quota of work permits for Gazan Palestinians to 17,000, expanding a policy that defense officials view as a means of maintaining quiet on the country’s southern front.
“Israel will not allow the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip to exploit the civilian channel to advance terror attacks, and will act against these attempts with severity while viewing Hamas [which governs Gaza] as the responsible party,” a Shin Bet official said.
In response to the attempted bombing, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, known by its acronym COGAT, revoked some 200 permits from Palestinians with ties to Zakot.
“The findings of the investigation illustrate once again that the terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip are investing a lot of effort in establishing terrorist infrastructures that undermine regional stability, including taking advantage of work permits issued by Israel for the purpose of advancing military activity,” the Shin Bet said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said terror groups were taking advantage of the work permits.
“The attempt by terrorist organizations to take advantage of the employment of laborers in Israel for the purpose of attacks endangers the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of residents in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
The announcement came a day after two bombs were detonated at two bus stops near entrances to Jerusalem, killing a teenager and wounding more than 20 others.
Bombings on buses and in public places were a hallmark of the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005, but mostly subsided over the last 17 years, which Israeli officials attributed to increased security measures, including the West Bank security barrier, and better intelligence.