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(photo credit: AP)
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed Sunday the recent arrest of three Popular Resistance Committee operatives from the Gaza Strip who planned to establish a Kassam rocket network in northern Samaria and attack key Israeli towns and cities located in the heart of the country. The three were caught together with an Egyptian Beduin guide near Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev on October 5, having entered Israel bribing Egyptian border guards to turn a blind eye.
Southern district police revealed that a fifth person, an Israeli Beduin who they suspect was to have transported the three PRC operatives to the West Bank, was also arrested. Details of the arrests were made public after the lifting of a gag order on Sunday.
The arrests once again demonstrated the vulnerability of Israel's southern border and the constant attempts by terrorists to smuggle weapons and operatives into Israel.
According to a senior Shin Bet official, the three PRC members, identified as Sharif Ziadah, 34, Kamel Issa, 33, and Kazem Dieb, 27, received thousands of dollars in funds as well as instructions from both Hizbullah and Hamas operatives, and were caught carrying a USB memory drive containing information prepared by Hizbullah on the manufacture of bombs.
The three infiltrated into Israel using a new route, the official said. To get out of the Gaza Strip, they burrowed underneath the cement barrier along the Philadelphi corridor that divides Egypt from the Gaza Strip. On the Egyptian side, Egyptian security forces confronted the three, but after negotiations and a bribe of NIS 100 and 20 Jordanian dinars they were permitted to remain in the Egyptian Sinai. There they met up with an Egyptian Beduin guide identified as Salem Barekat who led them into Israel at a point near Mitzpe Ramon, where the four were arrested by Israeli security forces the following day.
Security officials said that the three PRC operatives and the Egyptian did not resist arrest, despite the fact that Ziadah carried a loaded handgun.
According to the Shin Bet, Ziadah was the cell commander, and later confessed his involvement in Kassam rocket attacks and numerous bomb and shooting attacks, including the bomb attack on a Merkava tank in February 2002 near Netzarim in the northern Gaza Strip in which three IDF soldiers were killed. He also underwent special training and is considered to be a bomb expert.
Issa confessed his role in directing a West Bank cell in 2004 that was involved in launching shooting attacks against Israelis, and planned to carry out suicide bomb attacks. He also admitted to being involved in attacks in the Gaza Strip against Israeli targets.
Dieb told security officials that he was sworn into the Hamas and was trained by the organization. He is considered to be a bomb expert, specializing in the construction of Kassam rockets. He also admitted to being involved in the development of anti-aircraft weaponry and various types of bombs.
Two senior PRC commanders who remain at large in Gaza and are considered to have masterminded plans to establish the rocket infrastructure in the West Bank were identified as Jamal Samahdna, 42, of Rafah, and Abed Koka, 43.
Samahdna, established the Popular Resistance Committee in the Gaza Strip at the outbreak of the Al Aksa intifada in September 2000 and was involved in numerous fatal attacks against Israeli targets. Koka, who in the past was a member of Hamas and an officer in the Palestinian Authority's security forces, was responsible for manufacturing weapons for the committee and headed the cells involved in making and firing the Kassam rockets.
The suspects are expected to be indicted at the Beersheba district court on Monday.