Israel arrested more than 50 Hamas terrorist operatives and thwarted multiple plans to carry out terror attacks inside the Jewish state and in the West Bank, Shin Bet – Israel’s internal intelligence agency – announced on Monday.
The agency discovered the network, which it says spanned the West Bank, several weeks ago, but announcement of the arrests was held until after the release of an Israeli couple jailed in Turkey on espionage charges.
The extensive Hamas terrorist network was reportedly established and led by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy Hamas political bureau chairman who resides in Turkey. Arouri is also one of the founders of the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, illustrating the fact that Hamas’ political and military wings are intertwined.
Another senior Hamas official, Zakaria Najib – a former East Jerusalem resident now living abroad – assisted Arouri in establishing the terrorist network.
The Hamas West Bank terror cell reportedly consisted of members hailing from Hebron and Jenin, but also from Ramallah, which is the official seat of the Palestinian Authority led by Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli authorities revealed that one of the terrorist network’s leaders was Hijazi Qawasmi, a 37-year-old Hamas official from Hebron, which is known as a hub for Islamist radicals. During a meeting abroad, Arouri offered Qawasmi $1 million if he would kidnap Israeli civilians.
The major Israeli anti-terror operation comes on the heels of a recent lethal Hamas terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s old city and the British government’s decision to designate all of Hamas as an outlawed terrorist organization.
A Shin Bet official described the Israeli operation as “an extensive and significant thwarting of a dangerous terrorist infrastructure that had planned a series of severe terrorist attacks.”
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi praised the latest operation as a major success against terrorism.
“You thwarted a large infrastructure, some of which you know was ready to go with explosive belts… grenades and other explosives,” Kochavi said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid demanded that the Turkish government closes Hamas’ offices in Turkey.
“Hamas’ offices in Istanbul will be shut down. We must prevent these heinous acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens everywhere and under any conditions,” Lapid stated.
The foreign minister urged other countries to follow the United Kingdom’s decision to outlaw the entire Hamas organization, including its political wing.
“The countries of the world must act like Britain and outlaw Hamas,” Lapid said.
Unlike most of the Western nations, Turkey currently does not recognize even the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist organization. Under the leadership of President Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish government has established close ties with the leadership of Hamas. In August 2020, the United States condemned Erdoğan for hosting senior Hamas officials including Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Hamas Political Bureau.
At the time, the U.S. State Department issued a strong rebuke of Turkey’s close cooperation with the terrorist organization Hamas.
“President Erdoğan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” the U.S. State Department stated.
Bilateral relations between Turkey and Israel have been seriously undermined by the Turkish government’s support of Hamas, which openly calls for Israel’s destruction.
Last week, an Israeli couple arrested after photographing Erdoğan’s palace in Istanbul was released from Turkish prison and returned home to Israel. While a step in the right direction, it is unlikely that relations between an Erdoğan-led Turkey and Israel will improve any time soon.
Turkey has become somewhat of a haven for exiled leaders of terror groups. Egypt has also called on Turkey to crack down on Muslim Brotherhood leaders who sought refuge there after the coup in Egypt in 2013 which ousted their leader Mohamed Morsi from power as president of Egypt.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.