Israel’s military has determined the growth of Hamas in the West Bank.
Military sources said the army’s Central Command has been tracking the growth of the Hamas presence throughout the West Bank. They said the growth over the last six months was being quietly facilitated by the Palestinian Authority.
“The PA has been distinguishing between Hamas mobilization for popular violence and terrorism,” a source said. “To us, it is clear that these two things go together.”
The PA significantly reduced operations against Hamas since November 2012. They said recent PA arrests were meant to assuage Israel and the United States rather than block the influence of the Islamist opposition.
The drop in PA operations came during the Hamas war with Israel in November 2012. The sources said the PA did not want a confrontation with tens of thousands of Hamas supporters during the missile war with the Gaza Strip.
Since then, the sources said, the PA has not restored arrests and other operations against Hamas to pre-war levels. They said this has allowed Hamas to openly mobilize in mosques, universities and youth organizations.
As a result, Palestinian violence in the West Bank has risen sharply.
Over the last four months, firebombs, grenade attacks and shootings that targeted Israelis were reported to have increased by up to 50 percent.
“We think many of these attacks were initiated by Fatah, but supported or even financed by Hamas,” the source said.
Still, Central Command determined that Hamas was struggling with the establishment of its military wing. The sources cited arrests that stemmed from cooperation between PA security agencies and the Israel Security Agency.
“We can’t find open evidence of Hamas terrorism, but all the signs point to building a base that would eventually support such activities,” the source said.
The sources said Hamas rose in popularity in wake of the prisoner exchange in 2011, in which the Islamist movement freed an Israel Army sergeant for 1,200 Palestinians. The prisoner release sparked renewed Hamas efforts to capture student governments of West Bank universities.
By December 2012, the PA took the unprecedented decision of allowing Hamas rallies throughout the West Bank. The rallies attracted tens of
thousands and led to battles with Israeli soldiers.
“This was a huge victory for Hamas, and it is hard to imagine that they will agree to end their newly-gained freedom,” the source said.