Israel's Shin Bet dismantles Hamas cell in West Bank

Israel's domestic security agency has revealed that it has arrested 40 members of an alleged Hamas terror cell in the surroundings of the West Bank city of Nablus and foiled a planned attack against Israel.

The operation was conducted with the help of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Israeli police. The Shin Bet security service claimed that the cell was being directed by Hussam Badran, a Hamas spokesman based in Qatar, who is himself from Nablus.

Badran contacted members of the cell using "email channels", the agency said. A number of senior Hamas members were arrested in the operation, including several who had been detained before, Israeli Ynet News reported.

The agency revealed that the cell was conducting its activities using various methods, including couriers. The group was funded in part by the smuggling of gold jewellery from Jordan into the West Bank, which was then laundered by a gold merchant in Nablus. A total of four million shekels (€950,000) in cash and gold was recovered throughout the operation.

"Once again [we're seeing] the many means the Hamas leadership in the [Palestinian] territories and abroad use to build a wide, well-funded infrastructure capable of carrying out independent actions," a Shin Bet statement said.

"All of this is done in order to strengthen the organisation's hold on the area and to prepare the ground when the time comes to carry out terror attacks," it added.

Indictments against a number of those arrested are to be made within the week, the agency confirmed.

The arrests and dismantling of the cell took place over several months earlier this year and the details have only now been made public following an increase in attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, which has led to calls from Israeli settlers for the Israeli military to do more to protect them, according to the Times of Israel.

In the last two weeks, two Israelis have been killed and several more wounded in four shooting incidents and two stabbings. Attacks against Israeli settlers are not uncommon in the West Bank, where they are perceived to be illegally settling on Palestinian land.

Ron Gilran, vice president at the Tel Aviv-based risk consultancy The Levantine Group, says that the presence of such a large cell shows that Hamas is continuing to carry out large-scale attacks in the West Bank in the hope of weakening the Palestinian Authority, their partners in a fragile unity government.

"This is a biggest infrastructure to be exposed this year. It shows that there is a real effort by Hamas to rebuild in the West Bank and carry out attacks," he says. "Hamas is really trying to pull something out, likely out of the perception that if a big attack is carried out, it will really create a much more volatile situation on the ground."

"It could force a significant IDF response. That in itself would really compromise the ability of the PA to control the situation on the ground," he adds. "This is the real end-game of Hamas, they want to weaken the PA."

As of 2013, 358,953 Israelis live in Occupied Palestinian Territories, defined as illegal by international law, excluding East Jerusalem.

Last year, an Israeli crackdown on Hamas members in the West Bank following the kidnap and murder of three Israelis hitchhiking in the Palestinian territory by two Hamas members sparked the next round of conflict between Israel and the Gaza-based Islamist faction, which has controlled the coastal enclave since elections in 2006.