Israeli law enforcement authorities have uncovered a smuggling ring led by Israeli citizens that brought automobiles into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the Shin Bet security service said Wednesday.
More than 100 vehicles are believed to have been brought into the Strip over the past nine months “for use by Hamas,” specifically its military arm, the Shin Bet said.
The agency named Sa’ed Musleh, Faris Musleh and Noah Musleh as the central figures in the ring.
The trio was arrested on September 1, but Israeli security forces were continuing their investigation to determine who else was involved in the scheme, the Shin Bet said.
The agency did not say when they would be formally charged.
The three men are members of the same family, though it was not immediately clear how they were related to one another. They were all from Segev Shalom, a Bedouin town southeast of Beersheba.
The smuggling ring was uncovered in a joint operation by the Shin Bet, Israel Police and the Defense Ministry’s Crossing Authority.
According to the Shin Bet, members of the smuggling ring would break the cars down into parts and hide the pieces inside cargo heading into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
In one such attempt at the crossing, however, these dismantled and concealed vehicles were spotted and confiscated.
“This method did not surprise the defense establishment, and it displayed the creativity with which Hamas operates, with its abettors, in an attempt to equip itself and become stronger,” the Shin Bet said.
During their interrogations, the suspects said they “knew that they were working for people who belonged to Hamas,” according to the Shin Bet’s statement.
Israel has maintained a naval blockade of the Hamas-ruled coastal strip since the terror group violently took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel says the measure is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring weapons from overseas.
The Defense Ministry’s Crossing Authority also keeps a close watch on the trucks bearing humanitarian aid and consumer products that enter Gaza — sometimes hundreds a day — in order to monitor and track the goods entering the Strip and prevent them from winding up in the hands of terrorist groups.
Israeli forces have uncovered numerous attempts to smuggle contraband into the Gaza Strip through both the Kerem Shalom crossing and naval routes from Egypt.
On Tuesday, the Shin Bet revealed that it had in custody a 24-year-old Gaza man, Khamis Jihad Said Ara’ishi, who had smuggled explosive material into the Strip that is believed to have been used by Hamas to create weapons.
Last month, the Defense Ministry’s Crossing Authority also uncovered a shipment of commando knives, along with graphite strips — a potential ingredient in rocket fuel — that had been hidden in a truck headed for Gaza.