JERUSALEM – In what security officials are calling a “very sensitive” case, Israeli soldiers say they arrested an Arab at a West Bank roadblock near Jerusalem with a mortar shell and launching mechanism.

Although hundreds of mortars and Qassam rockets have been fired at Jewish communities in and near Gaza the past few years, a mortar launched from the West Bank – parts of which are within firing range of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – would mark a significant escalation in Palestinian terrorism.

Israeli Defense Forces soldiers reportedly stopped the Arab man Sunday at a routine Bir Zeit checkpoint a few miles north of Jerusalem when they found a standard mortar and launcher inside the vehicle. The man immediately was taken into custody and brought to Jerusalem police headquarters for questioning.

It was unclear whether the man intended to fire the mortar at West Bank towns, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or was transporting the explosive for use or storage by area militants.

Spokesmen for both the IDF and Jerusalem police told WND the case was being investigated and they could not comment.

The arrest follows a WorldNetDaily exclusive interview this week in which the spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees warned his group transported its missile technology from Gaza to the West Bank and is planning to fire rockets and mortars at Jewish homes in the West Bank, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The Committees is a network of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah terrorists responsible for many of the rockets that have been fired from Gaza.

“If there is need, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and everywhere in Israel can become our target. Israelis must also know that we have already transferred the knowledge and the technology of producing rockets to the West Bank,” Committees spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Al said.

Abdul-Al boasted his group has “improved [our] capacities in shooting these rockets. Even the Israeli officers agreed that the improvement is at all levels. To begin with, the distance that these rockets can reach, the capacity of explosives and their accuracy. In the last five years, there is no doubt that our abilities have improved.”

WND also recently reported a research center associated with Hamas announced last month in a published study the terror group views Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza as a victory for “Palestinian resistance” and will now continue the next phase of its “war to destroy the Jewish state” by focusing on rocket and mortar attacks in the West Bank.

According to the Al-Mustaqbal Research Center in Gaza, Hamas and other “Palestinian resistance groups” will extend their rocket-producing capabilities to the West Bank since Israel’s security barrier in the area has made terrorist infiltrations and suicide bombings difficult.

“After the construction of the fence, [suicide attacks] have become extremely difficult. … However, Qassam attacks cannot be stopped easily. … [T]he fence is useless against such attacks,” states the study, which said Palestinian groups will move mortars and rockets into the West Bank “in large quantities.”

Israeli security sources say there are growing indications terror groups already have the ability to fire rockets and mortars in the West Bank. The IDF has uncovered several rocket factories in the Jenin and Tulkarem areas. Tulkarem is just a few minutes’ drive from Tel Aviv. Some parts of the West Bank are within Qassam firing range of Jerusalem.

Last month, the IDF killed three Islamic Jihad terrorists reportedly planning to fire Qassam rockets or mortars at north West Bank Jewish communities. Following the killings, the head of Israel’s Security Services, Yuval Diskin, told reporters his office is closely tracking Palestinian rocket abilities in the West Bank, and that the Israeli intelligence community viewed the area as the next central front in the war on terrorism, following the Gaza withdrawal.

In March, the IDF destroyed a large Qassam laboratory in the Samaria village of Al-Yamoun. Earlier, the army arrested 11 members of a Hamas cell in Samaria who admitted during interrogation to producing Qassam rockets and constructing a laboratory for the manufacturing of heavy explosives.

For some Israelis, the news of rocket threats in the West Bank hit close to home.

Sachar Atari, a Jerusalem college student, told WND, “Almost all Israelis have never been to Gaza. So when the rocket war was happening there, it felt like it was a world away. Most of them don’t realize how close Gaza is. But the West Bank scares people because they know it’s so close. Our highways run alongside it. I can drive there in 10 minutes. It’s right in our own backyard.”

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