18 attempts in four months to kidnap Israeli soldiers

Central Command chief says Hamas mainly behind upsurge; Palestinian prisoners plan protests Sunday after death of inmate through heart failure

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Avi Mizrahi, former commander of the IDF's Central Command (photo: Flash90)
Maj. Gen. (res.) Avi Mizrahi, former commander of the IDF's Central Command (photo: Flash90)

Hamas and other Palestinian groups have made 18 attempts in the past four months to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinian security prisoners, an Israeli general said Saturday.

Avi Mizrahi, outgoing commander of the IDF’s Central Command, said Hamas was behind most of the attempts.

The general, interviewed on Channel 2’s Meet the Press, was speaking amid a dramatic upsurge in violence surrounding Palestinian security prisoners, several of whom are hunger-striking.

Hamas leaders have repeatedly urged their followers to try to replicate the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who was grabbed in a raid into Israel from Gaza in 2006, held hostage by Hamas in the Strip for five years, and released in October 2006 in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners, including arch-terrorists.

On Saturday, unrelated to the hunger-strikes, a Palestinian prisoner died in Israel’s Meggido Prison, apparently of a heart-related health issue. Palestinian prisoners throughout the country were reported to be planning protests over the death of Arafat Jaradat, 30, on Sunday. Jaradat, who died of heart failure, had previously been injured by an IDF rubber-bullet, according to some reports.

Despite the escalation of protests, Mizrahi said he did not believe Israel was witnessing the beginning of a third Palestinian intifada. “We have all the means to see” if a more major uprising were unfolding, he said. “There’s no interest and no ‘fuel’ to motivate something like this,” he said.

During the violence on Saturday, several Palestinians were injured in clashes with settlers at Qusra in the West Bank. There were also demonstrations in Hebron.

In Israel, hundreds of Islamic Movement activists, community leaders, and locals attended a protest in Nazareth to show solidarity with Palestinian prisoners hunger-striking in Israeli detention.

Saturday’s march was attended by several Israeli Arab MKs, among them Balad MK Hanin Zoabi. Zoabi said Israel’s policies on security prisoners “will lead to an explosion” of Palestinian protest.

Demonstrators are principally demanding the release of hunger-striking prisoners Samer Issawi, Ayman Sharawneh, Tareq Qaadan, and Jafar Azzidine. Issawi has been on hunger strike for over 200 days.

Issawi and Sharawneh were previously jailed for long prison sentences for terrorist activities, but were released in 2011 as part of the prisoner exchange deal that secured the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Both men were since re-arrested for violating the terms of their release. Issawi — whose original convictions included attempted murder, for actions including opening fire on an Israel bus with an AK47 — was sentenced to eight months for the violation on Thursday.

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