In the past three weeks, 14 potential suicide bombers have been arrested by the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in the West Bank, deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky revealed Wednesday. According to Kaplinsky, the majority were arrested in northern Samaria.
In recent weeks, the IDF has stepped up its activities against terrorists operating in the West Bank and currently continues widespread operations in the Nablus area, where three Palestinian fugitives including an expert bomb maker have been killed, a bomb factory has been blown up and senior terror commanders have been nabbed.
In Kabatiya south of Jenin, troops uncovered an empty Kassam rocket, a 40-kilogram bomb and fertilizer used to manufacture explosives hidden in a cave near the town. The findings only served to strengthen existing security assessments that, after the disengagement from Gaza, terror groups would shift their efforts from Gaza to the West Bank in an attempt to improve their capability and manufacture Kassam rockets there, placing major cities and towns in Israel under a direct threat.
In October, security forces arrested three Popular Resistance Committee operatives from Gaza who planned to establish a Kassam rocket network in northern Samaria and attack towns and cities in the heart of the country.
Responding to Kaplinsky's comments made before a closed forum in Haifa, Shin Bet sources were quick to stress that the capture of the 14 potential suicide bombers did not necessarily mean the bombings had been thwarted. "While potential suicide bombers were arrested, only after the bomb to be used in the attack has been found and all those involved in planning the attack have been caught can we say an attack was actually thwarted," sources said.
Kaplinsky estimated that Hamas would shift its focus and future activities on two separate levels. On the one hand, it will consider imposing a long-term cease-fire, but on the other hand it intends to strengthen its capability and prepare for the renewal of violence.
"Israel is preparing to harshen its response to attacks, and the IDF is also preparing to strengthen its might if anarchy prevails in the Palestinian-controlled areas," Kaplinsky said.
Since the beginning of the year, security forces have captured four explosive belts at checkpoints in northern Samaria, and two Palestinian teens were caught at the Beit Iba checkpoint wearing explosive belts. On January 24, security forces operating in Kabatiya arrested a senior Islamic Jihad commander who planned a suicide bomb attack in Israel. The same day in Jenin, security forces arrested a female potential suicide bomber.
Meanwhile two Kassam rockets were fired at Israel Wednesday, one exploding in an open area south of Ashkelon and the other near Kibbutz Netiv Ha'asara. No one was wounded in either attack. IDF artillery units responded by shelling northern Gaza areas.
A stray IDF-issued shell was discovered in the kibbutz in the afternoon. While it failed to explode, it generated an IDF investigation.
The probe into the incident discovered that the shell had apparently been fired some months ago, when an artillery battery was located nearby. The battery has since been moved, and the IDF said the chances of it happening again are very slim. The investigation is still ongoing.
Another probe conducted by the army relates to Palestinian reports claiming that a six-year-old Palestinian boy was seriously wounded in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza by a stray IDF shell. Southern Command officials said that, while the incident occurred at the same time IDF artillery units fired in response to the first rocket attack, the shells fired were duds and aimed at open areas identified as Kassam rocket launching sites.