Image via AP/Markus Schreiber
A Hamas terror cell plotting to assassinate Israel's hawkish right-wing foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in a stated bid to "bring about the end to the war in Gaza" has been foiled by the country's Shin Bet security service, it was announced on Thursday.Four Palestinian men have been arrested in connection with the plan to attack Lieberman's car with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) while he travelled with his ministerial convoy.
According to the Shin Bet statement all the terror plot suspects are from villages near to Bethlehem, close to Nokdim — a guarded Israeli settlement in West Bank where Lieberman owns a home.Lieberman, who said Israeli soldiers did a "good job" in the summer war in Gaza that killed that more than 2,100 Palestinians, many of whom were civilians, is well known for his hardline views on the Israel-Palestine conflict.Only one Israeli cabinet minister has previously been assassinated by a Palestinian. Former tourism minister, Rehavam Ze'evi — like Lieberman a right-wing politician — was shot outside a Jerusalem Hyatt hotel in 2001 by gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.According to Israel's security service the terror cell's members had carried out surveillance on Lieberman's movements and then attempted to purchase an RPG. All four arrested men have been charged in a military court in West Bank with conspiracy to cause bodily harm and trade in armaments.The Thursday announcement of the detentions — which were actually made weeks ago — comes in the wake of a spate of terror attacks and a climate of growing tension.In total a series of hit-and-runs, shootings, and stabbings by Palestinians have killed ten of Israelis over the last month, with the most recent attack by two knife-wielding gunmen on a synagogue leaving four Rabbis and a policeman dead.About a dozen Palestinians have also been killed, including a teenage boy who was kidnapped and tortured by three Jewish extremists before being burned to death.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the recent wave of violence on both Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas for inciting terrorism.While Abbas condemned the latest attack on a synagogue Hamas praised it, but stopped short of claiming responsibility.According to Israeli police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld most the recent violence has been the work of "lone wolves," indicating that the operations were the work of individuals or small isolated cells, rather than ordered and organized by leaders of a terror network.Two of the men arrested in connection with the plot to kill Lieberman were Hamas activists according to the Shin Bet, including 37-year-old Ibrahim Zir, who previously served time in Israeli prisons for Hamas membership and subversive activity.In a statement Hamas spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri, said he had "no information" about the Lieberman assassination plotters but reaffirmed the group's position that: "[The] leaders of the Occupation who are responsible for the killing of children and women… are legitimate targets for the resistance."The mounting violence has prompted a step-up by the Israeli government in its campaign against terrorism, including the reintroduction of a controversial policy of punitive demolition of the family houses of terror suspects and perpetrators. The practice, halted at the end of the second intifada in 2005 after its deterrent effect was questioned, has been widely criticized by human rights organizations as collective punishment.Other additional security measures include a plan to relax laws on carrying guns for self-defense, the deployment of more than 1,000 extra police in Jerusalem and additional checkpoints.Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem