Raids that targeted alleged members of a Hamas cell in the West Bank overnight Saturday, and killed five Palestinian suspects, prevented a major terror attack reminiscent of the Second Intifada, officials told Hebrew-language television networks.
The cell planned to conduct a sequence of kidnappings and murders across the country, defense officials told Channel 13 news. The group did not, however, have the capability to commit suicide bombings, the network said.
Officials estimated to Channel 12 that the cell had also been planning a major attack in Jerusalem, similar to those seen during the violent uprising in the early 2000s, without elaborating further.
The arrest operation began after the Shin Bet realized that the group was apparently set to carry out the attack imminently, the network said.
The Israel Defense Forces believes some members of the Hamas cell are still on the loose. In total, some 20 suspected members of the cell have been arrested in recent days, according to the military.
Officials suspect there was a direct line of communication between the cell and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, Channel 12 said. The cell was well organized and decentralized, the network added.
The operations against the cell in the West Bank will likely continue in the coming days, officials told the Kan public broadcaster. But still, the IDF believes it largely prevented the group’s attacks, according to military assessments.
According to the IDF, at least seven suspected members of the Hamas cell were arrested during arrest raids overnight Saturday, and at least five other suspected terrorists were killed after they opened fire at IDF troops. Five guns were also confiscated in the raids, along with large amounts of ammunition. Several other members of the group had been arrested on the preceding nights.
The IDF is also investigating the circumstances in which two soldiers were seriously injured in a shootout and increasingly believe that they were hit by friendly fire, after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at them.
“This is a significant achievement, a night of a series of preemptive raids of the utmost importance that prevented — from our understanding — significant terror attacks. Such attacks could have been carried out in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Afula or anywhere else,” IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said on Sunday afternoon, speaking from the Israel Defense Forces’ Menashe Regional Brigade headquarters in the northern West Bank, following a situational assessment.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett confirmed that the Hamas cell was planning to carry out terror attacks imminently.
“Security forces acted tonight in Judea and Samaria against Hamas terrorists who were poised to carry out terror attacks in the immediate future,” Bennett said in a statement, en route to New York to speak at the United Nations General Assembly, using the biblical term for the West Bank.
The IDF refused to comment more specifically on what the alleged Hamas cell was suspected of planning to do, but said that most of the members were arrested with weapons in their possession and that some of them had opened fire at Israeli troops during the raids.