JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Shin Bet security service said Thursday it had uncovered a vast Hamas network in the West Bank that was planning large-scale attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem.
The Shin Bet said it arrested more than 30 Hamas militants who planned to kidnap Israelis and carry out attacks against Jerusalem's light rail and its largest soccer stadium, among other targets. It said the men were trained and recruited in Jordan and Turkey and that various arms and explosives were recovered.
While the Islamic militant group Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, the West Bank is run by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The arrests come amid Israel's worst sustained bout of violence in nearly a decade. Eleven Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks over the past month, including five people who were killed with guns and meat cleavers in a bloody assault on a Jerusalem synagogue last week. Most of the violence has occurred in Jerusalem, along with deadly attacks in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
In Qatar, Hamas spokesman Husam Bardan didn't deny the Israeli claims. "We are proud of our resistance enterprise and we are proud of every single fighter in our movement," he said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated the Shin Bet for thwarting the attacks, saying that if carried out they could have exacted a heavy casualty toll.
"This is one operation that has been published but there are many more that remain secret," he said of Israel's intelligence work. "These foiling activities are against terrorists and against Hamas, which challenges the existence of a Jewish nation-state and the existence of Jews in general."
Israel battled Hamas militants in Gaza during a 50-day war last summer. On Thursday, the Israeli military said an army vehicle patrolling the border fence came under fire from Gaza. It said Israeli forces fired back at the source of the gunfire. There were no injuries on the Israeli side, and no immediate comment from officials in Gaza.