The Shin Bet security agency on Wednesday accused the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group of directing a recent attempt to smuggle explosive material out of the coastal enclave.
The Defense Ministry announced earlier this month that guards at the Kerem Shalom Crossing found several kilograms of “high-quality” explosive material hidden in a shipment of clothes being exported from the Gaza Strip to Israel. Citing initial assessments, the ministry at the time said the explosives were intended to be used for terror activity in the West Bank.
The September 4 incident led the military to order a halt to commercial deliveries from Gaza to Israel, before resuming nearly a week later.
The Shin Bet blamed the smuggling attempt on Arafat Natash and Muhammad Abu Awwad, both of whom originally hail from the West Bank but were expelled to Gaza as part of a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas. Citing their pasts, the security service asserted their alleged involvement was an effective “fingerprint” indicating the “West Bank headquarters” of Hamas was behind the effort.
According to the Shin Bet, the explosives would have “allowed the elements that hold it to carry out mass terror attacks” if it had reached its destination.
The agency also said the shipment was sent by a Gaza-based transport company that regularly sends goods through the crossing and arranged with the help of a woman named May Mansour. A statement from the Shin Bet did not specify if the firm or Mansour were aware of the seized shipment’s contents.
“The cynical exploitation by Hamas elements of the route for transporting goods from the Gaza Strip directly harms the regular fabric of life for residents of the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria,” a security source said, using the West Bank’s biblical names.
“These same citizens pay the heavy and immediate cost of the crossing’s closure, the economic harm that comes with it and the [increased] rigorousness of issuing permits for future goods,” the source added.
The Shin Bet announcement came amid rising tensions along the Gaza border, with Palestinians staging riots along the security fence the past three days.
The riots, according to military assessments, come as Hamas seeks to resolve a dispute it has with Qatar over monthly funding the Gulf nation provides to Gaza.
Hamas apparently launched the riots on the Gaza border to pressure Israel, which would in turn pressure Qatar to solve the issue.
While the IDF believes Hamas is not interested in a war with Israel, a mistake by the terror group amid the border riots could draw an Israeli response and, in turn, rocket launches from Gaza at Israel.
In response to the recent riots, as a warning, the IDF struck a Hamas observation post near the border on Friday. Additionally, the Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip has been shuttered for several days.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.