An Islamic Jihad member, who took part in the planning of a 2012 Tel Aviv bus bombing during Operation Pillar of Defense, was killed in an exchange of fire with the IDF at a cave hideout near the West Bank village of Bil’in, security forces announced on Tuesday.
Muhammad Asi, of the Palestinian village of Bet Likya, was one of the planners of the bus attack that injured 29 civilians in Tel Aviv, the IDF said.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) spent months tracking down his location, before homing in on his hideout in the cave, where he had been staying for several weeks.
Launching an operation to apprehend him early on Tuesday, the Shin Bet, IDF, and Israel Police circled the cave, a senior army source said, and came under fire. Soldiers fired two LAV anti-tank missiles in response, killing Asi.
Hours before the armed clash, two of Asi’s “soldiers” – Islamic Jihad members Muhammed Sais, of the Binyamin region of the West Bank, and Abduallah Abu-Asi, of the village of Na’ama – were arrested and taken for questioning.
“We reached Asi after receiving intelligence information,” the IDF source said. “He began firing on our soldiers from the cave. Following an exchange of fire, he was killed. Our forces are still operating in the area and the investigation is continuing,” he added.
Weapons were recovered from the cave afterwards.
In January, the military advocate- general’s office filed an indictment with the West Bank Military Court of Judea against the alleged mastermind of the bus bombing, Ahmad Salah Ahmad Musa, a 25-year-old resident of Beit Likya.
Addressing the general increase in Palestinian violence in the West Bank, the source said the army was “doing a lot” to prevent a rise in motivation for terrorism from turning into attacks.
“We need to adapt quickly to stop the momentum of violence,” the source said. He added that the IDF has enough resources in the West Bank sector to prevent violence from spiralling out of control.
“Our focus is on carrying out security operations quicker, and adapting ourselves to a quickly-changing reality” he said.
It would be wrong to view each terrorist incident as isolated, even if there is no direct organizational linkage between them, he added.
In December, Muhammad Abed Mafarja, 18, a resident of Taiba, was charged with dozens of counts of attempted murder for planting a bomb on board the bus.
Originally from the West Bank, Mafarja was able to move within the Green Line and acquire Israeli identification documents after a family reunification.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday warned that an “infectious wave of terror attacks” was being seen in the West Bank over the past month, but said he did not see signs of a third intifada.
Speaking during a tour of Hebron, Ya’alon said that six terror attacks had taken place in the West Bank over the past month, but added that they were carried out by individuals and did not have an organization such as Fatah or Hamas behind them.
“Some of the attacks were clearly nationalistically motivated and some of them – even if they began as intended criminal robberies – we’re treating them as nationalistically-motivated attacks too, due to the intolerable ease with which the attackers stabbed a girl or murdered a Jewish man when they were caught carrying out a robbery,” Ya’alon said, referring to the stabbing of a nine-year-old Israeli girl in Psagot and the killing of IDF officer Col (res.) Sraya Ofer at his Jordan Valley home.
Ya’alon said Palestinian Authority incitement was contributing to the atmosphere of violence.
He said however, that the defense establishment does not see signs of a popular uprising.
“We don’t see the motivation for this or preparations for this and we are doing everything in our power to prevent it.”
Ya’alon said that “popular terror attacks” such as rock throwing and Molotov cocktail throwing had gone down in recent months.
Ben Hartman, Yonah Jeremy Bob, and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.