Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence service says it foiled a Hamas terror cell's plan to kidnap and kill Israelis, the Jerusalem Post reports.
The terrorists wanted to use the bodies of their victims to negotiate the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. A similar motivation encouraged the Hamas affiliated terrorists behind the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenage boys that sparked a wider summer conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
"The infrastructure was at an advanced state of planning, and [the operatives] began preparing a hiding place for the bodies of the kidnapped victims," the Shin Bet said.
"This case reconfirms that Hamas still aspires to carry out serious terror attacks, even now, in order to further egg on the recent wave of terror into a violent intifada," the Shin Bet statement added.
The Hamas cell featured six people, including three Israeli citizens living in Jerusalem, the Times of Israel reports. The cell's leader is Maher Qawasmeh, from Hebron, was previously jailed for two years for helping coordinate Hamas terrorist attacks.
Another cell leader, Ziad Abu Hadwan, from Jerusalem's Old City, was jailed for participating in violent demonstrations on the Temple Mount and immediately joined the terrorist cell upon release in October.
The suspects met several times in Hebron in 2015, while Qawasmeh trained the Jerusalem operatives in creating improvised explosive devices. The operatives also intended to acquire firearms to carry out shooting attacks in the capital, eventually settling on kidnapping and murdering an Israeli citizen, according to Israeli security forces.
The operatives "examined caves, and dug pits in various area in the Hebron area, as part of their plot to hide the body of the kidnap victim. They divided their roles in the cell. They said they plotted to carry out the kidnapping through the use of two vehicles, with the kidnap vehicle driven by the Jerusalem-resident Amar Rajbi, 22, who is also a resident of the Old City," said Shin Bet.
The operatives sought to exploit Rajbi's fluency in Hebrew in order to lure and kidnap an Israeli.
Referring to confessions by the suspects, the Shin Bet said that the other cell members began to buy chemicals and fertilizers in order to make bombs, but were unsuccessful in their efforts.
Despite suffering from economic difficulties and a growing Salafi-Jihadist threat in Gaza, Hamas continues to invest significant resources in trying to attack Israeli civilians in order to escalate the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism into a full-blown violent uprising.