Three members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group who were killed during an overnight arrest operation in the West Bank were on their way to carry out an attack in Israel, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said Saturday.
Earlier, security officials said that a number of scenarios were being examined, with the most probable being that the cell planned to cross into Israel from the West Bank and carry out a shooting attack similar to the one earlier this week in Bnei Brak in which five people were killed.
“I just visited the Yamam fighters, who at pre-dawn eliminated a cell of terrorists that was en route to commit an attack inside Israeli territory,” Shabtai told reporters from the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where several officers hurt in the incident were hospitalized.
Less likely scenarios were thought to be that the cell planned to infiltrate into a settlement in the West Bank and kill a family, or to carry out a shooting attack on a passing vehicle. The latter was thought to be of low probability due to a reduced number of vehicles with Jewish passengers on Shabbat in the West Bank.
Officials described the three cell members as “ticking bombs” who were ready to carry out an attack.
The three were killed and four Israeli troops injured during an arrest operation in the Jenin area of the West Bank in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday morning. Police said the terror suspects opened fire, sparking a gun battle.
One of the Israeli officers was severely injured and taken by helicopter to Rambam hospital. He underwent surgery and was hospitalized in intensive care, where he was said to be in stable condition. He was later identified as a senior officer with many years of experience in counter-terror operations.
Three other troops were lightly hurt, including one who was released from the hospital later on Saturday morning, officials said.
Hours after the clash, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group said the three killed were members of its military wing and named them as Saeb Abahara, 30, from the village of Yamun near Jenin; Khalil Twalba, 24, from Jenin; and Saif Abu Libdeh, 25, from Tulkarm.
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According to the Ynet news site, Abu Labada was previously jailed on terror offenses, including possession of a weapon, and Abahara was imprisoned for criminal acts.
Hours after the attack, Israeli forces surrounded a home in the town of Shuweika near the West Bank city of Tulkarem, according to Palestinian media reports.
Footage posted online showed several armored vehicles in the area, and the military later said that one person — suspected of being a member of the cell killed overnight — was arrested.
An M16 rifle and ammunition which he was said to have been carrying, were seized during the rare daytime raid.
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The military said that security officials believed the suspect wanted to carry out an attack to avenge the deaths of the cell members.
“The arrest was made in broad daylight, and it is estimated that the wanted person was seeking to respond to the elimination of the squad through another attack,” the military said.
Separately, a suspect was shot and arrested by troops near Arraba, where the overnight gun battle took place, according to Palestinian media reports.
It was unclear what condition the suspect was in.
— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) April 2, 2022
In the wake of the overnight operation, Palestinian Islamic Jihad vowed revenge and said that it would continue its attacks against Israel.
An official from the terror group said that the killing of the three was a dangerous escalation, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
“The resistance will not sit idly by and will not be patient for much longer in the face of these crimes,” said Tarek Az Aldin.
The overnight gunfight broke out when terror suspects opened fire on an Israeli team from the Border Police’s elite Yamam counter-terror unit that attempted to arrest them.
The Shin Bet internal security service said the suspects were in a vehicle when they engaged with the Israeli troops in the village of Arraba, southwest of Jenin.
“Information was received of a terror squad on its way to commit an attack,” police said, adding that the group was also involved in recent terror activities against Israeli security forces.
The suspects had been under Shin Bet surveillance for several hours ahead of the shootout, and Israeli troops found firearms and grenades in their vehicle.
Police released images of the weapons said to have been in the suspects’ vehicle, including an M16 assault rifle, at least two 30-round magazines and a hand grenade.
A will was found in the terror suspects’ vehicle, in which one wrote that attacks against Israel must be continued.
The handwritten note was signed in the name of Islamic Jihad.
בחיפוש ברכב של המפגעים נמצאה הצוואה בה עודדו את חבריהם להמשיך ולבצע פיגועים כנגד ישראל
בנוסף, בשעות האחרונות מופץ סרטון בו אחד המפגעים מקריא את הצוואה. pic.twitter.com/hML4fBXtWk
— Amir Bohbot אמיר בוחבוט (@amirbohbot) April 2, 2022
The arrest operation was a joint effort involving Yamam, the Shin Bet and the IDF, police said.
The incident came amid soaring tensions in Israel and the West Bank, including in the Jenin area.
A series of three deadly terror attacks killed 11 people in Israel in a week, including a shooting that killed five people on Tuesday, putting Israeli security forces on heightened alert footing. The escalation has come as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began — often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.
One of the three attacks was carried out by a Palestinian from the Jenin area; the two others by Israeli citizens claiming an affiliation with the Islamic State.
Additionally, on Thursday, a 28-year-old Israeli man was seriously wounded when he was assaulted by another passenger on the bus, a Palestinian armed with a screwdriver, near the West Bank settlement of Neve Daniel, south of Jerusalem.
Also on Thursday, at least two Palestinian gunmen were killed in a firefight with Israeli troops when commandos entered Jenin in a rare daytime raid as part of a large-scale anti-terror operation following the recent attacks. At least 14 other Palestinians were wounded in the incident and dozens were arrested in the operation.
In response, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group threatened to escalate violence against Israel.
On Friday, Palestinian Authority health officials said a 29-year-old Palestinian man was killed by live Israeli fire during clashes with soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron. The IDF confirmed that troops opened fire and hit a man in Hebron, saying that he “threw a firebomb at troops, endangering their lives.”
Israel has ramped up security measures in response to the attacks and deployed additional forces to the West Bank, Gaza border and major cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Friday reports said Israeli security officials have concrete warnings of imminent terror attacks and have foiled a number of other planned attacks in recent days.
The Kan public broadcaster said Friday that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi ordered the military to prepare for a month-long escalation.
Israeli officials have sought to head off tensions ahead of Ramadan amid fears that the violence could snowball into the same type of unrest that rocked Israel in May 2021, when Hamas began shooting rockets into Israel, sparking an 11-day war with Gaza and days of rioting between Arabs and Jews inside Israel.