The Israeli internal security service, Shin Bet, announced last night that it had arrested two men believed to have recruited, trained and dispatched the last two Palestinian suicide bombers, who killed 10 bus passengers in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem.
At least 30 other activists of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, have been picked up on suspicion of belonging to cells planning further operations. Shin Bet said it has also unearthed a Hamas bomb factory in the West Bank town of Nablus and removed large quantities of material used for making explosives. All those detained were living in the West Bank or Arab East Jerusalem, areas still under Israeli control.
The two senior Hamas members accused of master-minding the bombings were named in a briefing to Israeli military reporters by the anonymous head of the Shin Bet as Abdul Issa, a resident of the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, and Hassan Ismail, a Gaza man studying at Nablus's Al Najar University. Issa was said to have prepared both bombs. He was arrested on Saturday, but by then he had already delivered the device to an intermediary.
Israel has also identified the Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem bombers. Contrary to earlier suspicions that a woman was involved, Monday's suicide raid on a Jerusalem suburban bus was said to have been carried out by a man, Soufian Sabah, aged 26, from a village in the Hebron area. The bomber of a bus in Tel-Aviv last month was named as Labib Azam, aged 22, from a village near Nablus.
Issa and Ismail were said to have been taught by the master bombmaker, Yehiya Ayash, known as "The Engineer", who fled the West Bank for Gaza after another of his pupils killed 21 Israelis in a suicide bombing at Beit Lid, near the seaside resort of Netanya, in January. The Israeli and Palestinians security services are still looking for him.
The Shin Bet believes it has dealt a severe blow to the military wing of Hamas, but has no illusions that it has broken the back of the suicide campaign. TheTransport Minister, Yisrael Kessar, announced he would ask the army for hundreds of national service men and women to ride as guards on buses.
Israel reopened its border with the Gaza Strip yesterday but extended until Sunday the closure of the West Bank. Officials also sealed off the Palestinian enclave of Jericho.