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IDF prepares to raze home of terror leader in attack that killed Israeli teen

Family of Rina Shnerb, who was killed in August bombing attack, praises security forces for crackdown on PFLP terror operatives

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

The family of Rina Shnerb (pictured in the center) address reporters outside the Ofer military prison on December 18, 2019. (Screen capture/Arutz 7)
The family of Rina Shnerb (pictured in the center) address reporters outside the Ofer military prison on December 18, 2019. (Screen capture/Arutz 7)

The Israel Defense Forces cleared for publication on Wednesday that it had mapped the home of a senior Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member who is suspected of leading a squad that carried out a terror attack earlier this year at a West Bank spring, killing an Israeli teenager.

The preparatory step taken before demolishing the structure was carried out on October 31 in the home of Walid Muhammad Hanatsheh, 50, after he was arrested earlier that month, the IDF said.

The army also added that it had mapped the homes of Qassem a-Karim Rajah Shibli, 25, Yasan Hasin Hasni Majamas, 24, for demolition in recent months.

The IDF statement came hours after security forces announced that they had arrested some 50 members of the PFLP — the group deemed responsible for a fatal August 23 bombing in the West Bank.

Rina Shnerb, 17, was killed by the bomb at a natural spring near the Dolev settlement that she was visiting with her father, Rabbi Eitan Shnerb, and her brother, Dvir, both of whom were seriously wounded.

IDF soldiers map home of Walid Hanatsheh for demolition on October 31, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Speaking outside of a hearing for one of the suspects at the Ofer military court, Eitan Shnerb thanked the security forces for nabbing the suspects involved.

He also called for those responsible to have their homes destroyed and be given the most severe punishments possible.

“Killers who murder such sweet little girls do not deserve to see daylight and should rot in jail without parole or a pardon,” Rina’s father said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu similarly lauded security forces for the arrests in a statement, saying, “Israel’s long arm reaches anyone who wishes to harm us, and will continue to do so.”

According to the Shin Bet security service, the explosive was planted at the site and triggered remotely by a PFLP cell led by Samer Mina Salim Arbid, 44, who was arrested shortly after the attack.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday that security forces learned during their investigation that the squad responsible for the attack installed a security camera at the Ein Bubin natural spring and were planning to set off the IED earlier, but weren’t sure that the two individuals who had arrived were Jewish so they decided to wait. Later, the Shnerbs arrived at the spring and the suspects detonated the explosive.

During its investigation, the Shin Bet, working with the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police, uncovered a large network of PFLP operatives, who also allegedly conducted shooting attacks against Israeli targets “and were planning to carry out other significant terror attacks in the near future,” the security service said.

Mourners carry the body of 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb, who was killed by a bomb in a terror attack while visiting a spring near Dolev in the West Bank, during her funeral in the city of Lod on August 23, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP); inset: Rina Shnerb (Courtesy)

Indictments have already been filed against the majority of the members of the network, with more expected to be charged shortly, the Shin Bet said.

According to the security service, this large PFLP network of terrorist operatives was led by Hanatsheh.

The Shin Bet said several other senior PFLP members in addition to him were arrested in its raids, including Khalida Jarrar, 56, the head of the terror group’s operations in the West Bank; Abdel Raziq Faraj, 56, who oversaw Hanatsheh’s efforts and allegedly approved Arbid’s Dolev bombing; and Itaraf Hajaj, 43, who is responsible for PFLP’s activities in Ramallah and helped recruit operatives for the organization.

All three of them have served time in Israeli prisons on multiple occasions over their terrorist activities.

Samer Arbid, the suspected ringleader of a terror cell believed to be behind a deadly bombing attack that killed Israeli teenager Rina Shnerb in August 2019, in an undated photograph. (Twitter)

According to the Shin Bet, Hanatsheh gave the go-ahead to Arbid to form a cell and carry out the attack.

Arbid, a longtime PFLP member, recruited the members of the cell and personally set off the bomb that killed Rina Shnerb and injured her father and brother.

The other three suspects believed to be directly responsible for the explosive attack — Shibli, Majamas and Qassem Barghouti, whose age wasn’t given — were also arrested as part of the raids, the Shin Bet said.

According to the Shin Bet, besides the Ein Bubin bombing, Arbid’s cell also carried out two shooting attacks that resulted in no casualties: an attack on a bus in December 2017 near the Ofra settlement and another on a car near the Ariel settlement in March 2019.

Rabbi Eitan Shnerb speaks to the media at the Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem, a day after being wounded in a terrorist bombing near Dolev that killed his daughter Rina and wounded his son Dvir, August 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Arbid was critically injured during his questioning by Shin Bet officers, who had been given special permission to use so-called “advanced” interrogation techniques as he was believed to have information about an imminent attack.

Unconfirmed reports in Hebrew-language media said that Arbid, who did not deny the allegations against him, suffered a heart-related problem during the interrogation. Arbid’s lawyers have accused the security service of torturing their client, who has since recovered.

The Justice Ministry has launched an investigation into Arbid’s injuries, specifically probing the degree of force along with the tactics used by the Shin Bet interrogators.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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