Israel Prevents 'Very Big' Terror Attack

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli security forces nabbed two Palestinians before they could carry out a "very big" terror attack on Wednesday.

Police Spokesman Gil Kleiman said Israeli security services received a warning that a terrorist cell was on its way to carry out an attack, so they set up roadblocks and heightened security along the "seam line" between the West Bank and Israel.

Border policemen caught the two Palestinians in the Israeli Arab city of Kafr Qasem. They were carrying a 20-pound bomb, which was packed with shrapnel, police said. Kafr Qasem is near the West Bank and not far from the Israeli city of Petah Tikva.

The device was detonated in a controlled blast described as a "very powerful explosion," Kleiman said.

Elsewhere, in the Gaza Strip, two Hamas militants were reported killed in a shootout with Israeli troops at an outpost in the town of Beit Hanoun.

According to the Israeli army, the gunmen took positions in a building and fired anti-tank missiles and light weapons at the Israeli outpost. One Israeli soldier was lightly wounded. The army said it returned fire and hit two Palestinians, killing at least one of them.

Hamas said the attack was in revenge for Israel's killing of West Bank Hamas leader Abdullah Kawasme on Saturday in Hebron. Hamas pledged that "the flag of jihad [holy war] and resistance will remain raised until the end of the [Israeli] occupation," wire reports said.

Hamas also claimed responsibility for firing a Qassam rocket at the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Wednesday. No one was injured in that attack.

Less than five miles away from the Beit Hanoun firefight, PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas met with Washington's latest Middle East envoy, Ambassador Paul Wolf , on Wednesday.

Wolf, who is here with a team of State Department and National Security Council advisors, is trying to make progress on implementing President Bush's "road map" to peace.

Meanwhile, Abbas was still waiting on Wednesday to hear if Hamas and other militant groups would agree to temporarily halt terror attacks against Israel. The ceasefire is a key component of Abbas' security plan.

Israel has targeted Hamas for the last two weeks. Israeli analysts said it was Israel's attempted assassination of senior Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi that prompted Hamas to even consider a temporary stoppage of attacks.

Secretary of State Colin Powell called Hamas an "enemy of peace" when he was here last week.

President Bush is expected to ask the European Union to place the entire Hamas organization on its list of terrorist organizations when he meets with EU representatives in Washington on Wednesday. If the EU goes along with the request, it would include a financial freeze on Hamas' assets.

Bush is scheduled to host European Commission President Romano Prodi, rotating EU President Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solano.

The U.S. and EU - as well as the other Quartet members who penned the road map - are banking on a Hamas ceasefire to bring about a temporary calm in which implementation of the road map can begin.

While the U.S. State Department lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, the EU currently only lists the Izzadin al-Qassam military wing of Hamas as a terrorist group, while the so-called political wing has not been banned.

According to Solano's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach, EU ministers and heads of state have expressed their concern about the cash flow to the terrorist group and are looking for ways to cut off the funding.

"It is a policy of the EU to look at the possibilities of curbing and controlling the external financial support to Hamas," Gallah said in a telephone interview.

Gallah said that the EU was analyzing the possibility of taking measures without putting all of Hamas on the terrorist list, but the group could be put on the list any time because the analysis was ongoing.

Arabic specialist Dr. Mordechai Kedar of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv said that dividing Hamas between a military and political wing is not realistic because there is no such thing as a "political" wing of Hamas - as the group claims.

"There is no political level in Hamas," Kedar said. "There is a strategic and tactical level. They don't do politics. Their politics is bombing."

What they have done, he said, is taken a term from political studies and imposed it on a terrorist organization.