ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Cell planned attack inspired by Hamas October 7 massacres

IDF carries out airstrike on terror cell at Jenin mosque planning ‘murderous attack’

2 said killed in what may be the 1st fighter jet attack in West Bank in 20 years; military, Shin Bet say Hamas, Islamic Jihad gunmen used al-Ansari mosque as base of operations

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

An entrance to an underground storage site for alleged weapons and explosives in a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, July 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
An entrance to an underground storage site for alleged weapons and explosives in a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, July 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces carried out an airstrike, apparently from a fighter jet, on a tunnel used by terror group members at a mosque in the northern West Bank city of Jenin early on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security agency said.

According to a joint statement, members of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups were sheltering at what the IDF and Shin Bet called an “underground terror route” at the al-Ansari mosque in Jenin, ahead of carrying out an imminent terror attack.

The cell was believed by the IDF to have a large number of firearms and explosives, and planning to carry out a deadly terror attack inspired by Hamas’s October 7 massacres in southern Israel. It was unclear how many members were part of the terror cell.

The Shin Bet and military said the terror operatives were using the mosque as a base to plan and carry out attacks, including the recent detonation of an explosive near Israeli troops along the West Bank security barrier. No Israeli forces were hurt in the blast on October 14, and police said officers killed at least four gunmen.

The Palestinian Authority health ministry said two people were killed and several others were injured in the Israeli strike.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a Sunday morning press conference that the terror cell was planning a “murderous terror attack inside Israel.”

He said the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell was a “ticking time bomb” and was therefore struck while hiding in a tunnel under a mosque. “Hamas desecrates holy places in the hope that we will attack them. They use the symbols of Islam as a human shield,” he added.

The military said the strike was carried out by “an aircraft” without specifying if it was a drone, combat helicopter, or fighter jet. The strike was believed to have been carried out by a fighter jet due to the type of munition that was used to target the underground tunnel. If true, it would be the first strike by a fighter jet in the West Bank in at least two decades.

The al-Ansari mosque had been raided by Israeli forces during a major operation in Jenin over the summer, uncovering what was called “terror infrastructure” and armaments.

At the time, the IDF said that troops found two interconnected tunnel openings. Explosives, weapons, and other military equipment were found inside the holes and scattered across the mosque.

While attention has largely been focused on Israel’s borders with the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, tensions have risen considerably in the West Bank since thousands of Hamas gunmen surged into southern Israel from Gaza on October 7, slaughtering some 1,400 Israelis, most of them civilians. Israel has launched a campaign to eliminate the terror group, with over 4,300 people killed in its airstrikes in Gaza so far, according to unverified numbers announced by health authorities in the Hamas-run Strip.

Hamas has repeatedly urged Palestinians in the West Bank to rise up against Israel in support of its cause.

The West Bank has seen clashes between IDF forces and Palestinians in recent days, and several attempted Palestinian terror attacks, according to the army. According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, at least 90 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers since October 7.

Smoke rises during a military raid in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, in the West Bank on October 19, 2023. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The IDF said Sunday that troops had arrested 727 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 480 affiliated with Hamas, since the war in the Gaza Strip began on October 7.

On Saturday, the IDF said troops demolished the home of Hamas terrorist Maher Shalloun — in the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp — who was charged with killing dual American-Israeli citizen Elan Ganeles on the Route 90 highway in February.

Since Hamas’s mass incursion into southern Israel, during which the group also abducted at least 210 hostages of all ages, Israeli forces have held the West Bank under a tight grip, closing crossings into the territory and checkpoints between cities, measures they say are aimed at preventing attacks.

The renewed crackdown comes with Israel concerned about the conflict escalating into a multi-front war, particularly the possibility of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror organization joining the battle.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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