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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Shin Bet smashes Hamas terror cell


The Shin Bet security service recently uncovered an eight-member Hamas terror cell operating in the villages of Rantis and Beit Likiya, west of Ramallah.

The cell members, seven of whom were recently taken into custody, were involved in two suicide bombings last September 9 - at the entrance to an army camp at Tzrifin, and at Jerusalem's Cafe Hillel - killing 16 people. Cell members also set off a bomb that killed a female soldier near the old Tel Aviv bus station on July 12.

The cell members include a number of East Jerusalem residents and Palestinians living in Israel, some illegally.

The eighth member and the network's head, Salah Mussa, was arrested last September. He admitted his part in the Jerusalem and Tzrifin attacks, but concealed the existence of others operating under his command, who later carried out the Tel Aviv attack.

Some 30 kilograms of explosives were captured along with the members of the cell.

Over the last few months, the Shin Bet has also arrested nearly 200 Hamas activists in the Hebron area, but the group's leader, Imad Kawasmeh, has not been caught. Security forces believe Kawasmeh is responsible for dispatching the double suicide bombers to Be'er Sheva two weeks ago.

In Nablus yesterday, a Palestinian woman was arrested on suspicion of planning a suicide bombing.

Some of the Hamas members in Hebron were caught with stolen Israel Defense Forces weapons, including the rifle belonging to one of three soldiers killed in an attack at a junction east of Hebron in January 2003. Those arrested were in the initial stages of planning to kidnap Rabbi Moshe Levinger, leader of Hebron's Jewish settlers.

The Hamas cell had been planning a number of suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which did not take place. The cell's operatives sent a suicide bomber to Jerusalem's Cafe Caffit, but he changed his mind and left the area. Two other terrorists who were to blow themselves up at the same location also changed their minds. Cell members were also responsible for drive-by shootings and the throwing of grenades at cars in the Hebron area in recent months, injuring two Israelis.

Both the Hebron and Ramallah terror cells were in contact with Hamas abroad, particularly with the organization's headquarters in Damascus, headed by Khaled Mashal. The leadership abroad sent money and general directives but did not deal with the specifics of the planned attacks. "