Plans by a terrorist cell in Bethlehem to fire mortars into Jerusalem have been thwarted, security officials announced Monday.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the IDF found a mortar launcher with eight shells aimed at Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood.
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Members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said plans to attack neighborhoods in central Jerusalem were also uncovered.
"As far as we know, this is the first time high-trajectory weapons aimed at Jerusalem have been located," Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told the committee.
Security officials confirmed that the 60-mm. mortar launcher had been stolen from an IDF base.
"The disengagement from Gaza has shifted the terrorist groups' focus to the West Bank," a Shin Bet official said. "They have created a new terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank and are constantly trying to obtain new weapons to use against Israel."
The Fatah-Tanzim cell members were captured the same day they had planned to launch the mortars, security officials said. The cell worked out of Palestinian Authority buildings in Bethlehem, they said. It was led by Jabar Fuaz Id Ahras, a local resident suspected of involvement in the 2003 murder of two soldiers at a roadblock on the Bethlehem bypass road between Jerusalem and Gush Etzion near the tunnels.
Jabar, security officials said, commanded the Shahada Aksa Brigades in Bethlehem and was behind several recent terrorist attacks, despite repeated Israeli requests to the PA that he be arrested and turned over to the IDF.
The cell members told security forces they planned to fire mortars at Gilo and an IDF base near Bethlehem. The group also planned to detonate a bomb near an IDF jeep on patrol.
The cell members said terrorist activists in the Gaza Strip provided them with technical instructions and funding.
Diskin told the committee the Fatah-Tanzim group had increased its terrorist activity since the Hamas victory in the PA elections.
"I don't see them using these types of rockets on Jerusalem," said committee member Ran Cohen (Meretz). "Even Saddam Hussein, when he had missiles pointed everywhere, had none aimed at Jerusalem. Terrorists are trying to harm Israel in any way possible, but even they would not take the chance of hitting a holy Islamic site in Jerusalem."
Diskin said Hamas represented a long-term strategic threat to Israel. Although the Shin Bet believed Hamas would attempt to prevent terrorist attacks in the short run, he called Hamas's proposed 10-year hudna
(cease-fire) a "honey trap."
Diskin said Hamas's ultimate goal was still Israel's destruction.
"Whoever understands the ideology behind Hamas, understands that it has not 'changed its skin,' and will continue to believe in the need to destroy the State of Israel," he said. He said he did not expect Hamas' s victory to change the behavior of Islamic Jihad.
"We must all be concerned about the threats that the Shin Bet head spoke about," committee chairman Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said. "Israel must stop playing ping pong... and nip the threat in the bud."
Diskin told the committee that "the election results did not surprise us all. Compared to [Fatah], Hamas was much more organized. The Palestinian vote was against corruption and against Fatah."
"Although Hamas has complex dilemmas, they should not be underestimated. They have a very intelligent leadership that does not act hysterically," Diskin warned.