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Israel Arrests Gang Members in Hamas Crackdown - 2002-08-21

Israeli secret police have arrested five members of what they say is a Palestinian cell responsible for carrying out eight terror attacks. Included in the list of attacks was the bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem last month that killed nine people, five of them Americans.

According to the Israeli secret police, Shin Bet, the cell was part of the militant Islamic group Hamas. They say it was responsible for the deaths of at least 35 people in some of the deadliest attacks in nearly two years of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Shin Bet believes that although it was only formed last year, the group carried out one of the boldest terror operations when it sent a suicide bomber into Jerusalem's Moment Cafe last March.

Nine people were killed in the blast at the cafe, which sits just across the street from the official residence of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

That attack was followed up with another suicide bombing at a billiard hall in Rishon Lezion in central Israel in May in which 15 people were killed and 45 wounded.

Later the same month, the cell is believed to have set off a bomb attached to a fuel tanker at the country's main fuel depot near Tel Aviv, which only narrowly failed to ignite the entire facility and inflict widespread casualties.

Of the five members of the cell, four were east Jerusalem residents who enjoyed freedom of movement within Israel. Ten other people believed to be connected to the cell were also arrested.

One of the cell members was described as a painter who had been employed at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is alleged to have planted the bomb in the school's cafeteria and detonated it with a cellular phone.

Shin Bet said the man, Mohammed Odeh, a 29-year-old father of two, was asked to come and help re-paint the scorched interior of the cafeteria he was alleged to have destroyed.

The night before the bombing, the secret police say he jumped over the university's fence and placed the explosives under a bush. They say he entered the campus the next morning with his employee's pass, retrieved the bomb and planted it in the cafeteria.

Security officials said the cell was uncovered on Saturday as a group of men were on their way to carry out another terror attack at an unspecified location in central Israel.

One Shin Bet official said that the cell was linked to a wider Hamas military command structure in the West Bank.