Security forces uncovered a Hamas terror cell in Hebron planning attacks on Israeli targets, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced Monday.
The suspects plotted to carry out a combined explosives and shooting attack on an IDF position in the Hebron area.
The cell was led by a Hamas member in Gaza who had been released under the prisoner exchange deal to free captive soldier Gilad Schalit.
The security suspects "planned to carry out various terror attacks, but were arrested before they could put their plans into action," security forces said. A pipe bomb was seized during counter-terror raids in the West Bank against the cell.
Most of the suspects have a record of being active in local Hamas terror cells in Hebron, according to security forces.
The suspects include 23-year-old Manjad Junidi, of Hebron, who was arrested in November on suspicion of heading the cell in Hebron and recruiting members. During questioning, Junidi confessed to being in touch with Basel Heimuni, originally from Hebron, who was released to the Gaza Strip under the Schalit deal.
Security forces also named Muhammad Sh'idam, 25, of Hebron, as a cell member, who is suspected of manufacturing a pipe bomb, and plotting a shooting attack.
The suspects have been charged at the Judea Military court with membership in an illegal organization, conspiracy to cause death, possession and manufacture of arms, creating an explosives device, and importing enemy funds.
Security sources said the arrests signify the ongoing threats posed by Hamas's infrastructure in the West Bank, and attempts by Hamas in Gaza to resurrect its terror capabilities in the West Bank.
In May 2012, Hebron resident Fadi Abu Daoud, 25, was arrested on suspicion of being in contact with Khaled Taha, who was also released in the Schalit deal, and of plotting to follow Taha's instructions to set up a terror cell of suicide bombers and gunmen. Daoud confessed to meeting with Taha in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, Israel released 1,200 prisoners in exchange for the release of Schalit, who was being held captive in Gaza.
Earlier this year, a security source toldĀ The Jerusalem Postthat Israel was preventing Hamas from setting up a military infrastructure in the West Bank, but that was not stopping the organization's rise in popularity on the Palestinian street.
"We don't wait until there is a military infrastructure in Hebron and Nablus that is on the way to carrying out attacks. We stop this before it happens. It's hard for the organizations to take off," the source said.
At the same time, Hamas has been trying to form student cells at Palestinian universities, and has also attempted to capitalize on its confrontation with Israel in November to gain more support in the West Bank.