Mass arrests of Palestinians reveal identities of bombers

JERUSALEM, Sept. 23 (JTA) – Israel’s recent mass arrests of suspected terrorists have netted a dramatic payoff. The arrests, according to Israeli officials, helped the Shin Bet security service identify four of the five suicide bombers that carried out two recent terror attacks in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later placed a portion of the blame for the attacks on the Palestinian Authority, maintaining that the bombers had been released from Palestinian jails as part of a “revolving door” policy in which militants are let go shortly after their detention by Palestinian officials. The four men identified by the Shin Bet on Tuesday lived in the West Bank village of Ashira Eshamaliya, in the Nablus area, according to Israel Television. The village is in an area in which the Palestinian Authority has control over all civil affairs, including public order, but in which Israel has overall security control. The identifications made by the Shin Bet bolstered Netanyahu’s charge that the bombers had not come from abroad, as Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has maintained. Israeli officials said the breakthrough in the bombing probe came as a result of a recent wave of arrests of suspected Hamas terrorists and activists in the Nablus area and elsewhere in the West Bank. Some 500 Palestinians have been detained since the two bombing attacks. Three hundred of them were placed under administrative detention orders. More than 100 suspected activists were arrested this week alone. A senior official in the IDF central command was quoted as saying that one purpose of the crackdown was to “destroy, once and for all, the Hamas infrastructure in these areas. “However, it is clear to us that without cooperation from Palestinian security forces, we will not be able to do that.” After the Shin Bet announced the end of an identification effort that has taken weeks, Netanyahu said Tuesday that forensic specialists had received the “final confirmation we needed of visual confirmation from a family member.” Alleging that the bombers had been released from Palestinian jails, Netanyahu added that they had “topped a list of 88 wanted fugitives we submitted to the Palestinian Authority and demanded that it arrest. “If they had, we could have saved the lives of many innocent civilians.” The Shin Bet identified the four as Muayeh Jarara, 23; Bashir Sawalha, 24; Tawfik Yassin, 25; and Yousuf Asholi, 22. Two of those whom the Shin Bet said it had identified blew themselves up July 30 in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, killing 15 Israelis and wounding at least 170 others. Two others carried out the Sept. 4 bombing in the nearby Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, killing five and wounding more than 190. The third bomber in the second attack has not yet been identified. Israel Television reported that the four were wanted by Israel after being involved in a shooting attack two years ago near Nablus, in which an army doctor and soldier were wounded. At the time, the four fled to the Palestinian self-rule area in Nablus, where they were arrested by Palestinian police. Palestinians officials maintain that the four had broken out of prison. Shin Bet officials suspect that the explosives used in the two bombings were manufactured at a Hamas bomb-making factory uncovered earlier this year in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. At the time, Israeli security officials were quoted as saying that they suspected a number of bombs made at the factory were already in the hands of terrorists and would be used in coming attacks. In a related development, Israeli security forces disclosed last week that they had uncovered a terrorist cell whose members included two residents of eastern Jerusalem who allegedly had planned to carry out a bomb attack in Jerusalem’s indoor shopping mall. The two men, who were brought before the Lod Military Court last week, were charged with attempting to plant a bomb in the Malha shopping mall. The indictment sheet said Mahmad Hamda and Iman Mahmad Suleiman went to the mall with bags stuffed with clothing and nails to see if they would be caught by security. They allegedly left the bags near the ticket counters at the mall’s movie theater. No one notified the guards. The two were also charged with an attack last year at the old Tel Aviv central bus station in which they put two bombs inside garbage cans. Fourteen people were wounded in the explosions. According to reports, the cell to which they belonged also planned to kidnap Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and another senior Israeli figure with the intention of swapping them for the release of Hamas prisoners held by Israel. Security was stepped up around Olmert after the cell’s discovery.

NEXT STORY