The Shin Bet security service on Thursday said it recently uncovered a Hamas terror network in the West Bank that was acting on orders from the group’s leaders in Gaza, with plans to conduct large-scale bombing attacks against targets in the West Bank and Israel.
According to the Shin Bet, members of the various terror cells prepared to manufacture explosives and were instructed to “select crowded sites as targets for the attacks.”
The internal security service said this effort was different from previous attempts by Hamas to carry out attacks in the West Bank in recent years “in terms of scope and the potential of danger from them.”
This network was also run not by Hamas members released from Israeli prisons as part of a 2011 deal to retrieve captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit — as other cells have been — but by senior leaders from within the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas operation was uncovered with the arrest of Oweis Rajoub, 25, an alleged member of the terrorist group from the Palestinian village of Dura, near Hebron, on September 23, the Shin Bet said.
The goal of the West Bank cells was to conduct large terror attacks against Israeli military and civilians targets at the same time as rockets and mortar shells were being fired from the Gaza Strip, in order to challenge Israel on two fronts simultaneously, the internal security service said.
“He told me once: Either the operation will start a war or it will end a war,” Rajoub told interrogators of his Hamas handler.
According to the security service, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group has made it a priority to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank in order to “undermine the stability” of the area.
In a statement, a senior Shin Bet official said the agency had arrested “hundreds” of young Palestinians — both men and women — in the West Bank who had been recruited by Hamas.
“Continued activity by the secret network for carrying out attacks, which is operated by the senior military wing leadership, constitutes a central and dangerous element for instability and is an immediate and substantial threat to the region,” the Shin Bet said.
In a highly irregular move, the security service released video footage of one of Rajoub’s interrogations, in which he says he was contacted by a Hamas operative in the Gaza Strip and offered money in exchange for his assistance in creating the terror network.
Rajoub said “trains, buses, hotels, restaurants” were identified as potential targets for the bombings.
The coordination and planning between the operatives in the West Bank and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip were conducted, in part, by Palestinians traveling from the coastal enclave to hospitals in Israel. Gazan businessmen with permits allowing them to travel to the West Bank were also reportedly found to have passed messages between the two groups.
Rajoub said he was first contacted by the Hamas operative, whom he identified as Abu Hazem, near the end of Ramadan, earlier this summer.
“He said he’d help me with my debts, with my life, with everything,” Rajoub says on camera.
In August, Rajoub received a cellphone from his Hamas handlers. A few days later, he was told to go to Bethlehem to meet with a woman who gave him “trousers into which a cloth strip had been sewn on which instructions for using his phone had been written,” the Shin Bet said.
According to the security service, the woman was Na’ama Mikdad, 53, a mother of nine, from the Gaza Strip, who had been given a travel permit to accompany her sister who had cancer and received medical treatment in Israel on August 9.
With the phone and the instructions on how to use it, Rajoub began working with an explosives expert to create the bombs needed for the attacks, the Shin Bet said.
He also recruited two men from the village of Yatir, Yazan and Sayaf Azafra, according to the security service.
The type of explosives that Rajoub planned to use were of a different variety than have been used by Hamas in the West Bank before, the Shin Bet said.
According to the security service, Rajoub and his cell planned to conduct their bombing attack in October, but the 25-year-old was arrested in September, foiling their plot.
The Shin Bet said Mikdad and her sister — the nieces of a Hamas military commander, Muhammad Abu Kuwaik — also knowingly passed along messages to another Hamas member in Ramallah: Fouad Dar Khalil, who had been imprisoned by Israel for 14 years for taking part in a shooting attack on an Israeli car.
Unlike Rajoub, who was told to carry out bombings in the West Bank, Khalil was instructed by a Gaza-based Hamas member, Ashraf Sabah, to recruit a number of other operatives to conduct attacks inside Israeli territory, the Shin Bet said.
Khalil was also arrested by the security service on October 18. Indictments against the suspects in these cases are expected to be filed shortly, the Shin Bet said.