PA said to nab Hamas-led cell that was readying to carry out attacks in Israel

Terrorists were planning bombings, Israeli TV says; PA security official won”t confirm or deny report

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

File: Palestinian security forces in Hebron, November 14, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
File: Palestinian security forces in Hebron, November 14, 2017. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority security forces recently collared a six-person Hamas-led cell in Nablus that was preparing to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel employing explosive devices, Channel 12 news reported earlier this week, without citing a source.

The PA security forces first arrested the commander of the cell, a Hamas terror group operative whose deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, transferred $50,000 through the United Arab Emirates, and then nabbed its remaining five members, the report said.

The entirety of the cell, which was receiving orders from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, did not belong to Hamas, the report added, stating that its commander had recruited persons unaffiliated with the terror group in an effort to make it more difficult for the PA security forces and Israeli intelligence to identify them.

A PA security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he could not confirm or deny the details of the report, but noted Ramallah’s security forces constantly work to crack down on all Hamas terror activity in the West Bank.

“We have very clear orders to stamp out Hamas military activity and we are always making efforts to that end,” he told The Times of Israel on Monday. “We confiscate every transfer of funds to Hamas from Gaza or abroad. We also regularly arrest its members we suspect of planning operations and take away their weapons.”

A view of Nablus in the northern West Bank. (Adam Rasgon/The Times of Israel)

Since Hamas ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from Gaza in 2007, Ramallah has made substantial efforts to wipe out Hamas’s military and financial infrastructure in the West Bank.

The security official said the PA security forces were taking action against Hamas’s military activities to protect Palestinians, but also Israelis.

“We are undertaking this work to safeguard our people and make certain they live in a stable environment. We have no interest in allowing the West Bank to turn into another Gaza,” he said, adding that Ramallah also wants to ensure Hamas harms no Israeli.

Since shortly after Hamas took over Gaza, Israel and Egypt have maintained a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave, which have contributed to a humanitarian crisis there.

Israel holds that the limitations are kept in place in order to prevent Hamas from transferring weapons or the means to build them into Gaza.

In the past 12 years, Israel and Hamas and other terror groups have fought three wars in and around Gaza.

The official said that recent tensions between the PA and Israel have not affected Ramallah’s willingness to confront Hamas activities in the West Bank.

“We remain committed to doing this work,” he said. “We are not politicians, but rather professionals concerned with ensuring safety and stability here.”

Israel’s security cabinet decided last week to approve withholding NIS 500 million ($138 million) of tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority.

The decision was a move to start implementing a new law that permits Israel to withhold tax money from Ramallah over payments the PA makes to security prisoners, their families and those of dead attackers.

Israel collects sales, customs, and excise taxes on behalf of the Palestinians every month, and transfers them to the PA’s coffers.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned Israel for moving to withhold the funds, arguing that the Israeli decision amounts to “piracy” of Palestinian funds.

Israeli officials have defended the move, arguing that the PA’s policy of paying security prisoners, their families and those of slain terrorists incentivizes violence and terrorism.

Abbas has also said the Palestinians would not accept any of the taxes Israel collects on behalf of the PA, if it does not transfer the full amount to Ramallah.

If the PA follows through, it could place itself in dire financial straits, as it would be turning down its largest source of income.

Citing Palestinian officials, Reuters reported last week that Israel currently collects and transfers NIS 800 million ($222 million) in total taxes to the PA every month. Avi Dichter, the chair of the Knesset Defense Committee, has said Israel would spread out the withholding of the tax money over 12 months, meaning approximately 5 percent of each month’s NIS 800 million would be withheld.

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