Israeli security forces yesterday announced the arrest of around 30 Hamas activists in the Ramallah area, suspected of heading a command cell which aimed to increase the strength of Hamas in the West Bank.
The Shin domestic security service announced that the arrests were the result of a joint operation with the army and police. A Shin Bet announcement said, “It emerged that the headquarters sought to renew Hamas’s activities and rebuild the organization in the Ramallah area… ahead of future elections in the Palestinian Authority.”
The statement said that the group sought to recruit members and establish Hamas cells at universities in Ramallah and Abu Dis, with significant funds being transferred through student bodies, some of which was earmarked for Hamas prisoners and their families. The Shin Bet said that the group was led by Murad Muhammad Khaled Abu Baha, who oversaw several regional subordinates. Members of the group apparently communicated with the aid of couriers, nicknames, memory sticks and secret meetings. Two of the suspects are reported to have confessed to having taken part in the October 2000 lynch of two IDF reservists who mistakenly entered Ramallah and were beaten to death by a Palestinian mob.
Although the Palestinian Authority (PA), dominated by Fatah, administers the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, it has limited powers in areas under overall Israeli security control, allowing Israeli authorities to make such arrests. The PA itself, also wary of Hamas attempts to increase its influence in the West Bank, arrested dozens of Hamas activists in the area in September. Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and Hamas have grown over the past week in the Gaza border region, with dozens of rockets having been fired into southern Israel, prompting Israeli air strikes on strategic positions in the Gaza Strip.