December 1, 2015 / 5:24 PM / 2 years ago

Israeli broadcaster says Palestinians bust West Bank bomber cell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's national broadcaster on Tuesday said Palestinian authorities had prevented a bomb attack on Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank, a report suggesting the strength of security ties despite public feuding over a two-month wave of unrest.

Israel Radio said six Islamic Jihad militants from the town of Tubas were in Palestinian custody, accused of filling a gas balloon with explosives in order to blow up a military target, an attack that would have marked a major escalation in violence.

Contacted by Reuters, officials in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's U.S.-backed administration and Islamic Jihad spokesmen had no immediate comment on the report, which cited unnamed Palestinian sources.

A surge in Palestinian knifings, car-rammings and occasional shootings of Israelis since Oct. 1 has put Abbas in an awkward position as he tries to curb the grassroots violence in West Bank areas under his authority while publicly condemning Israel's policies.

Israeli forces have killed 97 Palestinians, most of them identified by Israel as assailants. Many Palestinians see their dead as heroes of a struggle for statehood failed by peace diplomacy. Palestinian attacks, usually by individuals lashing out spontaneously, have killed 19 Israelis and an American.

Israeli security forces shot dead two knife-wielding Palestinian assailants earlier on Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, Israeli authorities said..

Israeli security officials declined to confirm or deny the reported Tubas arrests. But one official with the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency sought to play down any impression that Abbas was serving Israeli interests.

"When the Palestinian Authority takes action to foil attacks, it does not do so out of love for Israel," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Having lost the Gaza Strip to rival Hamas Islamists in a 2007 civil war, Abbas was working to curb the spread of kindred groups in the West Bank and knew any armed mobilization by them against Israel would be combustible, the Shin Bet official said.

"If such an attack were to happen, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) might be compelled to enter their (Palestinian) cities, and the Authority does not want that," the Shin Bet official said.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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