(photo credit: YAAKOV LAPPIN)
Security forces have arrested members of a Hamas terror cell in connection with the slaying of a veteran police officer during an ambush on his van in the West Bank last month. News of the arrests was released for publication on Monday.
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Several bullets struck the vehicle during the June 14 attack on Route 60 in the South Hebron Hills, piercing windows and claiming the life of F.-Sgt. Yehoshua “Shuki” Sofer, 39, who served in the Hebron police sub-district for 14 years and was shortly due to be married. Two officers were wounded in the attack.
A week later, an intelligence tip enabled the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the IDF and Judea and Samaria Police to jointly arrest a number of Hamas operatives in their twenties from the village of Dir Zamat. Some had already served prison sentences in Israel for Hamasrelated activity.
Two weeks before the attack, a leader of the cell accompanied his daughter to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, where she underwent surgery to remove an eye tumor. The surgery was funded by an Israeli aid organization.
On Monday afternoon, Sofer’s parents and other relatives were invited to the headquarters of the Hebron sub-district police in Kiryat Arba, where its commander, Dep.-Cmdr. Yitzhak Haim Rahamim, handed them their son’s sidearm.
“This is in memory of a dear, beloved officer,” Rahamim said, as he gave the weapon to Yossi Sofer, the slain officer’s father. “I would like to emphasize that we will not be deterred from continuing to fulfill our duties in Judea and Samaria,” he added.
After the ceremony, Sofer said his son “loved the police with all his heart and soul.”
“Driving here revealed how dangerous the route is,” he continued, referring to the road on which the attack took place. “Anything can jump out at you. There can be no comparing police service here with service in the center of the country.”
Police have set up a memorial corner in the station, with photographs of the slain policeman.
The Shin Bet revealed that several years ago, the arrested operatives had established a terror cell that stockpiled weapons and hid them in nearby hills. Among the weapons found were three Kalashnikov assault rifles that were used in the Route 60 attack.
IDF sources said Hamas was continuing to try to reestablish its terror infrastructure in the West Bank but was encountering difficulties due to continued IDF operations and increased activity by Palestinian Authority security forces.
The cell members held training sessions throughout 2009 and had considered kidnapping or killing Israeli civilians or security personnel before targeting the police van, which was making its way from Beersheba to Jerusalem, as it did each morning, Rahamim told journalists during a briefing held outside the police station.
“It was a four-man cell, with three gunmen and a lookout,” he said.
The cell laid an ambush and at 7:15, as the vehicle approached the village of Dir Razah, three members opened fire, killing Sofer. The group then fled the scene. Later, they set their car on fire and hid their weapons, using a second vehicle to flee to a neighboring village.
During the investigation, the men led security forces to their weapon cache and reenacted the shooting.
The group had planned to carry out additional attacks, including the
kidnapping of Israeli citizens or soldiers. Its members carried out a
number of surveillance missions in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and
purchased kippot and a wig, which they had planned to use as disguises
in coming attacks, security forces said.
Rahamim said police would work with the IDF to reexamine routes used by
police vehicles, and stressed that the IDF had final say on such
matters. He said the army would also have final say on whether to
introduce armored police vehicles to the area.
“Hamas attempts to send its terrorist claws to every corner,” Public
Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said on Monday. The minister
added that he had vowed to Yossi Sofer after the shooting that security
forces would spare no effort in capturing those responsible.
“The Israel Police will continue to meet its challenges and bring
terrorists to justice,” Aharonovitch said.
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