Terror cell planning ‘imminent attack’ killed in West Bank drone strike, IDF says

Military says squad leader targeted in Balata camp received financing and instructions from Iran; soldier seriously wounded; another strike carried out in Tulkarem

People stand next to a destroyed car that was targeted in an Israeli airstrike in which the IDF says it killed three members of a Palestinian terror cell near the West Bank's Balata camp, on January 17, 2024  (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)
People stand next to a destroyed car that was targeted in an Israeli airstrike in which the IDF says it killed three members of a Palestinian terror cell near the West Bank's Balata camp, on January 17, 2024 (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)

Members of a cell headed by a top terror leader in the West Bank who were planning a “large imminent attack” were killed in a drone strike overnight, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security agency said Wednesday.

Five Palestinians were reported killed in the airstrike, and another five were killed in a separate strike hours later during clashes between IDF troops and gunmen in the West Bank.

The IDF and Shin Bet identified the cell leader as as Abdullah Abu Shalal, calling him the head of “one of the main terror networks” in the West Bank.

A joint statement said Abu Shalal and the other members of the cell were targeted in the strike near the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, following intelligence about their intention to carry out a major attack imminently.

The attack was believed by the IDF and Shin Bet to have been intended to be carried out in an Israeli city.

The statement said Abu Shalal had received financing and instructions from Iran, as well as terror groups in Gaza and overseas.

The Palestinian Authority health ministry said four other people were killed in the strike. The other members of the cell were not immediately identified.

The military said Abu Shalal was responsible for a string of recent attacks, including a shooting attack last April in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in which two Israelis were injured, and the planting of a bomb in October that wounded a soldier.

The military said that after the strike on the terror cell, weapons were found in the car in which they were traveling. Images published by the IDF showed a machine gun, two handguns, magazines, and several explosive devices.

Weapons recovered from the vehicle of a terror cell following an airstrike in the West Bank’s Balata camp, January 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hours after the strike in Balata, the IDF said it carried out another airstrike, against a group of Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, amid a counter-terrorism operation.

The IDF said the suspects were shooting and hurling explosive devices at troops operating in Tulkarem. One reservist was seriously wounded by the gunfire, it said.

The Palestinian Authority health ministry said five people were killed in the Tulkarem strike. Images on social media showed a number of wounded or killed Palestinians next to a heavily damaged vehicle that was apparently hit.

The IDF said that in the Tulkarem operation, dozens of suspects had been questioned, seven were arrested, and engineering vehicles uncovered explosive devices hidden under the roads.

It said the raid was still ongoing as of Tuesday afternoon.

Violence in the West Bank has soared since Hamas’s October 7 massacre. In response to the deadliest attack in the country’s history, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip, where the terror group has ruled since 2007, and secure the release of the hostages seized that day.

On Monday, two West Bank Palestinians killed an elderly woman and injured 17 people, including at least seven children and teenagers, in a car-ramming and stabbing attack in the central city of Ra’anana.

During the attack, the perpetrators — residents of the southern West Bank town of Bani Naim, close to Hebron who were working in Israel illegally — seized three vehicles and rammed pedestrians in several locations in the city, also stabbing one or more of their victims, according to police, medics and eyewitnesses.

Overnight Tuesday, the IDF said troops mapped out the homes of the two Palestinian terrorists who carried out the deadly ramming, ahead of a potential demolition.

In all, 26 wanted Palestinians were detained in overnight West Bank raids, the IDF said.

Israeli security forces work at the site of a Palestinian car-ramming and stabbing attack at a bus stop, in Ra’anana, Jan. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Since October 7, troops have arrested more than 2,700 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,300 affiliated with Hamas. According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, some 300 West Bank Palestinians have been killed in that time. Based on military estimates, the vast majority of those killed since October 7 were shot during clashes amid arrest raids.

Security chiefs have warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several times in recent days that the West Bank is on the brink of a major eruption in violence, Israeli television reported last week.

According to Channel 12 news, the warnings were relayed by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other senior military commanders, who said Israel risked a new front in the West Bank amid the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and ongoing clashes on the northern border with the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Besides Netanyahu, the report said the other members of the war cabinet — Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz — were also warned of the prospect of major unrest in the West Bank.

The heightened concern comes on the heels of Israel’s withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues from the PA in addition to refusing to allow some 150,000 Palestinian workers to return to their jobs in Israel and the settlements.

Netanyahu has reportedly refused to hold security cabinet votes to reverse both decisions, due to pressure from his far-right coalition partners, who wish to weaken the PA.

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