Palestinian Authority officials believe they have identified the mastermind of the Hamas cell that carried out the recent shooting attacks at the Ofra settlement and Giv'at Asaf outpost. According to the PA, the mastermind is Jassar Barghouti, a member of the infamous Barghouti clan.
The senior officials told Ynet on Monday that Barghouti is part of the "West Bank headquarters" of Hamas, which operates from the Gaza Strip to launch attacks in the West Bank under the leadership of Hamas second-in-command Saleh al-Arouri, who founded the group's military wing, and Hamas politburo member Maher Obeid.
Last week's attacks claimed the lives of two IDF soldiers—Sergeant Yosef Cohen and Staff Sergeant Yovel Moryosef—and Amiad Israel Ish-Ran, a baby boy who died just days he was delivered prematurely due his mother's gunshot wounds. A third soldier who was wounded in the Giv'at Asaf attack is still fighting for his life.
Jassar Barghouti is the uncle of Saleh Barghouti, one of the members of the cell that carried out the attack at Ofra, who was killed last week in an exchange of fire during an arrest operation by the Israel Police counter-terrorism unit Yamam.
Barghouti was one of the senior members of the Hamas military wing in the Ramallah area during the Second Intifada, at the start of the millennium. He was one of the perpetrators of a shooting attack in the village of Ein Yabrud near Ramallah in 2003, in which three IDF soldiers were killed.
Sources say that Jassar Barghouti was also responsible for setting up and directing the Hamas cells in the West Bank villages of Bir Zeit, Kubar and Mazra'a al-Gharbiyya, all areas in which he grew up and was therefore deeply familiar with the local population.
The sources, who are familiar with the security situation, say Jassar Barghouti is responsible for setting up and recruiting the firing squad that carried out the two deadly attacks last week, using his familial connections to Saleh Barghouti.
Barghouti is responsible for directing other deadly attacks on Israelis. He was arrested and sentenced to nine life terms but released in 2011 he was released as part of the prisoner exchange for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
As Barghouti was seen as one of the most dangerous prisoners freed in the deal, Israel conditioned his release on immediate deportation to the Gaza Strip. After being deported to the Gaza Strip, Barghouti became involved the Hamas "West Bank headquarters."
The Barghouti family includes Omar, a senior Hamas operative and the father of Saleh Barghouti. He is a well-known 60-something resident of the village of Kobar, near Ramallah, where Jassar Barghouti also resides. Omar spent numerous years in Israeli prisons after he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1978 for the murder of an Israeli. He was released in the 1985 Jibril prisoner swap and since then has been in and out of administrative detention.
The clan also includes Nael Barghouti, a veteran security prisoner in Israel. Nael, Omar's brother, was also charged in the 1978 murder. A former Fatah associate, Nael switched his loyalty to Hamas while behind bars. He too was released in the Shalit deal and is considered a legend among Palestinians. Less than three years after his release, however, he was arrested again after being charged with violating the terms of his parole and returned to prison.