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Israeli Shin Bet break up Hamas 'operations' in West Bank

The Israeli intelligence service said it has arrested dozens of Hamas members who had set up headquarters in Nablus
Supporters of the Hamas movement take part in a rally, after a deal hailed by Israel and Hamas as 'victory' in the 50-day war on 29 August 2014 in Nablus (AFP)

The Israeli internal intelligence service, the Shin Bet, revealed this week that it had arrested 40 Palestinians over the past three months suspected of being involved in setting up a Hamas command centre in the West Bank city of Nablus.

In a statement, the Shin Bet said the Palestinians arrested were establishing an infrastructure in the city and the surrounding villages to carry out “terror attacks” against Israel in the West Bank.

“This case reveals once again the intense efforts made by Hamas leadership, here and abroad, to establish a widespread organisational activity in the Samaria area,” the statement read. “This is intended to strengthen Hamas’s hold in the area and prepare the groundwork for the day it can resume terror attacks.”

At least six of those arrested reportedly are acting as regional commanders of Hamas in six towns and villages. They are believed to have helped promote Hamas activities through charities, media, and education.

The Shin Bet, sometimes referred to by its acronym Shabak, believes that the command centre in Nablus was set up with the help of Husam Ali Badran, a Hamas spokesperson who now lives in exile in Qatar. Badran was a former prisoner that was released in a 2011 prisoner swap, which saw one Israeli soldier freed by Hamas in exchange for 1,024 Palestinian prisoners.

Badran was responsible for transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to Nablus in order to finance operatives, military supplies and equipment, and run the base there, acccording to Shin Bet.

Before his arrest in April 2002, Shin Bet said, Badran was the commander of Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank and oversaw the execution of a number of operations within Israel. According to the Israeli army, he was responsible for killing over 100 Israelis and injuring hundreds of others in the second intifada.

The Israeli intelligence said that Badran is now working in Turkey under Saleh Arouri, who also lives in Turkey. Arouri was responsible for Hamas operations in the West Bank until he was forced to leave to Syria in 2010, after spending 15 years in Israeli prisons for his Hamas related activism.

“It appears that Hamas wants to resume operations in Samaria,” said defence minister Moshe Ya’alon, referring to the biblical term for the West Bank. “This is the overseas faction operating from Istanbul, Turkey after moving there from Damascus.”

In an address to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee on Tuesday, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen said that Hamas was improving its military capacity in preparation for the next possible conflict with Israel.

He added that Hamas was diverting construction materials intended for the reconstruction of the Gaza’s strip civil infrastructure to building tunnels underground, some that lead into Israel. Hamas is still building rockets and also increasing training for land, sea and air operations, Cohen added.

Yet despite these efforts, Cohen maintained that for the year 2015, attacks by Palestinians against Israelis in the West Bank, which tripled since 2012, were carried out by “lone wolves”- individuals unaffiliated to any Palestinian armed faction or group.