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Israel busts major Hamas cell in West Bank, arrests 50 members

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An undated photograph showing Israeli forces arresting a suspect believed to be involved in a major Hamas cell planning terror attacks on Israeli targets in the West Bank and Jerusalem. (Israel Defense Forces)
An undated photograph showing Israeli forces arresting a suspect believed to be involved in a major Hamas cell planning terror attacks on Israeli targets in the West Bank and Jerusalem. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli security forces arrested dozens of members of a Hamas cell that was in advanced stages of planning major terror attacks on Israeli targets in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Shin Bet security service says.

The Israeli effort to uncover the cell has been ongoing for several months, first coming to light with a round of initial arrest raids in September, including one in which two Israeli soldiers were seriously injured and several Palestinian suspects were killed in gunfights.

According to the Shin Bet, over 50 Hamas operatives were arrested across the West Bank for suspected involvement in the cell and large quantities of weaponry was seized, including the materials needed to make four explosive belts for a suicide attack.

“You thwarted a large infrastructure, some of which you know was ready to go with explosive belts or more, also grenades and other explosives,” IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi tells the military commanders whose units took part in the raids.

According to the Shin Bet, the Hamas cell was led by Saleh al-Arouri, a senior leader in the terror group in the West Bank, and — from afar — by Zacharia Najib, a member of the organization who was released from Israeli prison in the 2011 Gilad Shalit exchange and exiled to Turkey, where he allegedly continues to operate on behalf of Hamas today.

The Shin Bet says al-Arouri invested hundreds of thousands of shekels into the cell’s activities and offered a prize of $1 million if the cell successfully carried out a kidnapping.

“This was a major preventative effort that thwarted dangerous terrorist infrastructure, which was planning serious attacks. The goal of the terrorist activities, which were undertaken by Hamas operatives abroad and in Gaza with operatives in the territory of the West Bank, was to destabilize the region, while exacting a heavy price from local residents,” a senior Shin Bet officer says, referring to the toll on Palestinians in the West Bank.

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