Israeli troops on Monday afternoon arrested two Palestinian men who crossed into Israel carrying two handguns and ammunition from the northern West Bank, the soldiers’ commander said.
An investigation is underway to determine if they were part of a gun-smuggling operation between Israel and the West Bank or, less likely but still possible, were planning to use the weapons in a terror attack, the officer, Cpt. Tiran Molla, told The Times of Israel.
Soldiers monitoring security cameras in the West Bank’s Efraim Brigade spotted the two men breaching the security fence near the Route 5 highway east of the city of Rosh Ha’ayin.
Molla’s Home Front Command search-and-rescue unit, which is stationed in the area, was called to the scene and arrested the pair inside Israeli territory, he said.
During a search, Molla’s soldiers noticed that the bag the men were carrying was suspiciously heavy.
“I put on gloves and opened the bag — in front of a camera and in front of the suspects. It was a schoolbag, a second-grader’s bag,” Molla said over the phone on Monday night.
Inside the backpack, Molla found two handguns and assorted ammunition. The two men were also in possession of three cellphones and a large amount of cash, he said.
The military launched an investigation into the incident, along with the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police.
While the circumstances of the case indicate that the men were likely part of an arms-smuggling operation, the Israel Defense Forces has not yet dismissed the possibility that the men were planning to carry out a shooting attack.
“You can’t know,” Molla said. “But I know that their goal was not a positive one in any way.”
Separately, overnight, the IDF arrested 18 Palestinian suspects who were accused of taking part in terrorist activities, rock-throwing and rioting, the army said.
In addition, a pistol was found and confiscated in the northern West Bank’s Menashe Regional Brigade. It was handed over to the Shin Bet for investigation, the IDF said.