(Israeli soldiers hunt for terrorists in Samaria. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

A cell of more than 20 terrorists planning multiple Israeli cities has been arrested after a complex operation involving the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Israeli police.

The cell, operating from Nablus, in Samaria, was planning a suicide bombing in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, as well as a more sophisticated remote bombing in Israel’s biggest city, Tel Aviv, and another bombing in Itamar.

The terrorists were arrested at the end of April but the information was only publicized now due to its sensitive nature. The cell had been operative since October 2017. Over the course of a months-long investigation, security forces found large quantities of explosives, including a notably high quality device with a heavy payload which could be detonated remotely. In total, over 25kg of explosive materials were discovered, as well as equipment used for explosives production.

“In recent months, the Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police uncovered a Hamas terror cell, extraordinary in its size and level of activity, which operated in the Nablus area,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

The Israeli security forces disposed of the materials in a controlled explosion. They also discovered a firearm and bomb-manufacturing instructions during the search.

(Bomb parts discovered by Israeli security forces. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The bulk of the terrorists arrested were affiliated with Hamas. Some were well-known to the authorities, having taken an active role in terror plots against Israel over the years, such as assembling, smuggling, and ordering the parts necessary for explosive materials and bombs.

As well as conspiring to carry out bombings in central Israeli cities, the terrorists also planned to bomb the Itamar community and commit shooting attacks in the Samaria region.

According to the indictment, the idea to attack Israeli cities originated when one of the Hamas men spoke to a member of a terror group operating in Syria, the Al-Nusra Front, using the Telegram messaging app. The Hamas man was offered $100,000 in order to manufacture and detonate a bomb near Israelis or Israeli military facilities. Among other charges, he also stands accused of planning to shoot Israelis and helping bring in “enemy funds” into the Judea and Samaria regions.

A senior Shin Bet official told the press that the discovery of such a cell underlines the need to counteract Hamas in Judea and Samaria. “Hamas invests in terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria in order to promote serious terror attacks in Israel”, he explained.

(Explosives found by Israeli troops. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

During the course of the investigation, security forces discovered another Hamas cell which was plotting to carry out more assaults, and managed to break it up before it could attack. The plans demonstrate Israel’s need for constant vigilance as Hamas exhibits an on  going desire to carry out traditional terror attacks against Israeli civilians, even during a period of relative calm.

In April, another series of complicated overnight operations brought the arrest of 19 wanted terrorists, including 15 members of Hamas active in the Ramallah area. At the time, the IDF indicated that Hamas had funneled funds to the cell in order to carry out numerous attacks against Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted in a statement: “The Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police thwarted a Hamas terror cell which tried to carry out explosive attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from Nablus from inside Judea and Samaria,”

The incident, Netanyahu said, highlighted Israel’s need to maintain security control throughout the West Bank, “Hamas is trying to harm us both from Gaza and from Judea and Samaria. That is the reason that we will continue to maintain security control over the entire area west of the Jordan”, he added.