IDF forces located and killed terrorist Muhammad Shehadeh and three other senior terrorists, aged 35 to 48, in the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Bethlehem Wednesday.
Arab sources said Shehadeh was the mastermind behind the deadly terror attack on the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem a week ago. Israeli security officials flatly denied the claim.
The IDF announced Wednesday that "in a joint IDF and Border Police arrest operation this evening in Bethlehem, Border Police Special Forces identified several Palestinian gunmen in a vehicle. The force fired at them and identified killing four gunmen. An MP5 9mm submachine gun, and two M16 assault rifles were discovered on their bodies. The four were wanted senior terrorists from the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization."
Muhamad Shehadeh Abed Ta'amari, 45, was the head of the Islamic Jihad in Bethlehem and was involved in several terrorist attacks in which many Israeli civilians were wounded and killed, including:
November 2, 2000- The car bombing on Shomron Street in Jerusalem that killed two civilians.
March 27, 2001- The car bombing on Talpiyot Street in Jerusalem that wounded 5 civilians.
December 5, 2001- The suicide bombing attack in the Hilton Hotel in Jerusalem that wounded six civilians.
March 17, 2002- The suicide bombing attack in the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem that wounded 31 civilians.
April 1, 2002- The shooting attack in the Har Homa neighborhood in Jerusalem that killed an IDF soldier.
The three other wanted terrorists, Ahmed Halil Salem Balbul, 48, Imad Hasin Mahmud Camel, 35, and Isa Marzuk Saleh Zuhara, 36, were a part of the Islamic Jihad leadership in Bethlehem and were also involved in extensive terrorist activity from the beginning of the Intifada.
The IDF report did not mention Shehadeh's role in planning the attack on Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva last Thursday. In the attack, an Israeli Arab resident of the Jabal Mukabar neighborhood in the eastern section of the capital slaughtered seven teenagers and a young adult rabbinic student as they learned Talmud just before the start of a Purim party at the yeshiva. The murderer, Ala Abu Dheim, was killed by an armed part-time student and an off-duty IDF officer who lived nearby.
According to Arab sources, one of the terrorists killed with Shehadeh was affiliated with Fatah, which is led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
A PA source said that a large IDF force operated in the center of Bethlehem Wednesday afternoon. Several other Arabs were injured in the IDF raid, according to the source. One of the injured was reportedly Muhammad Balboul, a senior fugitive.
Gil Ronen contributed to this report.