TEL AVIV – Senior Palestinian Authority officials said they believe the mastermind behind last week’s terror attacks against Israelis in the West Bank is a Hamas terrorist who was released from an Israeli jail in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange deal for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
PA sources told the Hebrew-language Ynet news site that Jasser Barghouti, who belongs to the notorious Barghouti terror clan, was operating a Hamas headquarters in the West Bank that Israeli officials suspect was responsible for orchestrating the deadly shooting attacks that claimed the lives of two soldiers and critically wounded several more civilians.
Included in the toll was a seven-months pregnant woman whose baby died after being prematurely delivered in an emergency c-section.
Jasser’s nephew Salih Barghouti is believed to have carried out Sunday’s attack near Ofra. He was subsequently killed during a shoot out between Israeli security forces and Palestinian gunmen in Ramallah last Wednesday. Israeli forces are still searching for the perpetrators of another shooting attack the following day near that outpost of Givat Assaf. His brother, Omar Barhouti, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978 for the murder of an Israeli but was released in 1985 in another prisoner swap.
In 2003, Jasser Barghouti received nine life sentences for his role in the deaths of nine Israelis in terror attacks during the Second Intifada.
He was one of 1,000 security prisoners released by Israel as part of the deal with Hamas for the return of abducted soldier Shalit. Two other notable prisoners released in the deal include Mahmoud Kawasme, who went on to fund and orchestrate the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in 2014, and Yahya Sinwar, who last year became the leader of Hamas in Gaza.
Deputy Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri, who founded the terror group’s military wing, also set up a West Bank Headquarters that was specifically tasked with recruiting the freed Shalit prisoners to terror operations.
Jasser Barghouti worked directly under Hamas’s West Bank chief, Maher Obeid, and used his vast family ties to establish several Hamas cells in towns in the area, PA officials said.
According to Israeli defense officials, Hamas has tempered its terror activities in the Gaza Strip in an effort to reach a ceasefire deal with Israel but has chosen instead to ramp up violence in the West Bank.
A senior officer in the IDF Central Command said last week that Hamas was “the most violent group in [the West Bank], and it is trying to carry out terror attacks all the time.”