The man behind a Hamas terror cell uncovered by the Shin Bet domestic security agency in the West Bank is former Hamas interior minister Fathi Hamad, Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel Wednesday.
Hamad, considered one of the strongest Hamas figures in the Gaza Strip, often operates independently of the organization’s political branch.
Hamad was instrumental in pushing the “West Bank branch” terror cell of suicide bombers, directed by him and other Hamas figures in Gaza, according to sources.
On Wednesday, Israeli officials from the Shin Bet security service announced they had busted a Hamas terror ring in the Palestinian town of Abu Dis planning suicide bombings and other attacks.
The use of suicide bombings by Hamas have not been seen since the Second Intifada over a decade ago, and it remains unclear how other Hamas officials treated Hamad’s initiative.
“The West Bank branch” was founded by officials in Hamas’s military wing, and is comprised of former prisoners released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit swap that were deported to the Gaza Strip.
Heading the branch is Abd el-Rahman Animath, of the Tzurif cell that kidnapped IDF soldier Sharon Edri, and Mazen Fuqah, a former Jenin resident who was responsible for suicide bombings during the Second Intifada.
Hamad is well-known as one of the most radical figures in Hamas today. He is suspected of a string of bombings near the houses of Fatah operatives, and is thought to be in contact with Salafi organizations and Islamic State fighters in the Sinai Peninsula.
He assists the “West Bank branch” both with funding and military instruction.
While the Shin Bet released information on the busted terror cell on Wednesday, details of the group have reached the Palestinian Authority over a week ago. Hamad is also one of the central figures opposing reconciliation with the PA.
As part of his role in the Hamas government, he was responsible for its security services in Gaza and is influential within the Hamas military wing.
The Shin Bet, alongside the IDF and Israel Police, have thus far arrested 25 Hamas operatives, the majority of them students at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, who they suspect were preparing to attack Israeli targets, the agency said in a statement. The arrests were carried out over the past few weeks.
The service also uncovered a makeshift laboratory in Abu Dis, in East Jerusalem, which was being used to create the explosives necessary for bombing attacks. It said the cell was controlled by Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.
“This case reveals and highlights again the involvement of the military arm of Hamas from the Gaza Strip, which operates continuously with the intent of carrying out mass-casualty attacks within Israel and the West Bank,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.