The Shin Bet announced Tuesday morning that in late March it broke up a Hamas cell in Qalqilyah that had planned to detonate a car bomb in Tel Aviv during Pesach, apparently at the time of the seder, on the holiday's first night.
According to the details released by the security service, the driver, a suicide bomber, had managed to cross into Israel in a vehicle laden with about 100 kilograms of explosives. However, once he reached Tel Aviv, and for reasons that are still unclear, he changed his mind and returned to Qalqilyah.
Nineteen members in the cell have been arrested by the security forces. No names of the suspects were released for publication.
"The picture that emerges in interrogations of the members of the cell clearly signals that the Hamas organization in Qalqilyah has shifted from the stage of 'force building' to the operational stage and the carrying out of attacks, including suicide attacks inside Israel. According to information, they continue to work on planning and execution of significant attacks, including ones in the immediate future," the Shin Bet announcement read.
This latest incident has further boosted the evidence that Hamas has resumed its terrorist activities following a long hiatus that began with the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip last November.
Egypt recently arrested a Hamas suicide bomber who was trying to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel through Sinai.
Hamas militants were also involved in a number of sniper attacks targeting Israelis driving close to the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip. In one of the attacks, an Israel Electric Corporation employee was moderately wounded.
It is believed that behind the attacks is Ahmed Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, who opposed the establishment of the unity government between his party and Fatah. Jabari is particularly dissatisfied with the fact that he and his men are not being awarded the positions of power they believe they deserve.
The degree to which Jabari and the Qalqilyah-based cell are linked is unclear. During the past two years, most of the Hamas cells operating in Samaria had followed orders originating in the Gaza Strip.
The suicide bomber, a member of the Qalqilyah cell, managed to enter Israel because he holds an Israeli identity card. Although a resident of Qalqilyah, he is married to an Israeli Arab from Taibeh - and received residency status as part of the program of reuniting families. The vehicle he was driving had Israeli license plates, and had collected intelligence on possible targets for an attack.
The terrorist changed his mind, returned to Qalqilyah, and left the vehicle in the backyard of a home. Arrests of suspects began shortly after his return, and then the vehicle exploded. There were no casualties as a result of the explosion.
The Shin Bet has described the explosion as a "work accident," euphemism for a technical malfunction.
The Qalqilyah cell is the largest Hamas grouping to have been exposed in the West Bank in recent years. The last time a Qalqilyah-based Hamas cell carried out an attack in Israel, 21 teenagers were killed in a blast at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv, in June 2001.