In an effort to curb what the IDF is admitting is a "new terror wave," troops on Sunday clamped down on northern Samaria just as elite police units nabbed two terror suspects hiding in a Beit Shean factory.
Both workers at the factory, the suspects, security officials said, had planned to meet terror elements inside Israel who were supposed to supply them with a bomb for their planned attack. They were caught following a massive manhunt in the North on Sunday involving police helicopters and large forces which set up road blocks throughout northern Israel causing large traffic jams. Nabbed unarmed, the two were taken into custody by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
In the afternoon, a 17-year-old Palestinian was caught at the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus in possession of a 2-kilogram pipe bomb. Sappers destroyed the bomb in a controlled explosion and the youth was transferred to the Shin Bet for interrogation. Head of the Ha'amakim Region Asst.-Cmdr. Yaacov Zigdon denied any connection between the two incidents. Shots were also fired late Sunday at an Israel car traveling near Nablus. No one was injured in the attack.
While the Nazareth District slapped a gag order on the investigation, security officials said that Islamic Jihad as well as the Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades had recently escalated their terror activity and were doing all they could to perpetrate large-scale attacks against Israeli targets.
Meanwhile Sunday, the army raided Palestinian cities throughout the West Bank in search of terror suspects and maintained a complete closure on Nablus, Tulkarm and Jenin imposed over the weekend in response to the suicide attack near Kedumim which killed four Israelis.
Terror groups, a Central Command source said, have increased their efforts to carry out attacks by over 50 percent in the last month alone. On Sunday, the Shin Bet recorded 76 terror threats including 10 concrete alerts. To curb the new wave, the officer said, the army was operating "unrestrained" in Palestinian cities and had stepped up its arrest operations to prevent additional attacks.
"There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a new terror wave," the officer said. "We have stepped up our arrest raids and have tightened the inspections at the checkpoints to prevent terror infiltrations."
While soldiers were thwarting suicide attacks on an almost daily basis, the officer said that the army did not at this stage plan on launching a widespread operation similar to Defensive Shield launched in 2002 to dismantle Hamas terror infrastructure in the West Bank.
"We are stepping up our raids on Palestinian cities and there is no place we won't go into," he said. "But at this stage we don't plan to begin using tanks in Palestinian cities like we did in 2002."
Meanwhile Sunday, the IDF continued shelling Kassam launch sites in the northern Gaza Strip where two Palestinians were reported injured after hit by tank shell shrapnel. Earlier in the day, a Kassam rocket was fired from Gaza and landed in an open field in the Western Negev.
The army is hoping that it's new tactic - firing at precise launch sites and at targets inside Gaza City - will effectively curb the Kassam rocket fire. But, senior officers said, if the operation failed, a ground operation might be the only way to stop the rockets.
"We don't want to have to go in to Gaza," one senior officer said. "But if there is no other option, we will launch a ground operation as a last resort."
Yigal Grayeff contributed to the report.