Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his security forces to investigate an Israeli revelation Monday that Hamas was planning a coup in the West Bank aimed at toppling him and starting a third intifada.
Abbas indicated the report could severely impact the unity pact signed between Fatah and Hamas in June, saying it represents “a grave threat to the unity of the Palestinian people and its future,” the Palestinian news Agency Wafa reported.
The PA president also said the it could have “extremely dangerous” regional implications.
Israel’s Shin Bet security service said Monday it thwarted a Hamas coup attempt in the West Bank aimed at overthrowing Abbas and starting a new round of violence.
The Shin Bet said it arrested more than 90 Hamas operatives in May and June, confiscated dozens of weapons that had been smuggled into the West Bank, and seized more than $170,000 aimed at funding attacks. It produced photos of the confiscated weapons and cash and a flowchart of the Hamas operatives who had been questioned, and said they planned a series of massive attacks on Israeli targets, including the Temple Mount, in order to start a widespread conflagration. Indictments are expected to be filed against at least 70 of the suspects.
The Shin Bet said terror cells were set up in dozens of Palestinian West Bank towns and villages — including in and around Jenin, Nablus, eastern Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Hebron.
Many of those recruited for the cells were students studying chemistry and engineering, and academics, according to the investigation.
The Shin Bet said the plot was orchestrated by senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri, who is based in Turkey and enjoys the support of the local officials there.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 from forces loyal to Abbas. It is currently negotiating in Cairo over a ceasefire to formally end the past six weeks of Israel-Hamas conflict.
The Israel-Hamas fighting was preceded by Israeli arrests of hundreds of Hamas members in the West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June. The Shin Bet said it uncovered the West Bank coup plot due to information gleaned from those arrests.
The three teens — Eyal Yifrah, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel — were slain on June 12 in the West Bank. Their killings were followed by the slaying of a Palestinian youth in what was likely a revenge attack. Hamas stepped up rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, leading to Israeli airstrikes from July 8 at the start of what was called Operation Protective Edge. Nine days later, Israel sent in ground troops to destroy Hamas’s underground cross-border tunnels constructed for attacks inside Israel.
Detailing what it said was the thwarted bid to topple the PA in the West Bank, the Shin Bet said Monday that Hamas military cells in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, run through headquarters in Turkey, sought to execute a string of attacks against Israel, overthrow the PA, and establish a second front against Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
The Shin Bet revealed that during a three-month operation, it arrested 93 activists and confiscated 24 rifles, six pistols, seven rocket launchers, a large amount of ammunition, a getaway car, and funds amounting to over NIS 600,000 (some $170,000). It said that the infrastructure for the unusually “severe” string of attacks was based, also, on a “forward front in Jordan.”
Using a network of couriers to Jordan and Turkey, the Shin Bet said, the Hamas activists transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars of funds into the West Bank, with the intention of purchasing arms, and preparing safe houses, warehouses for weapons and laboratories for manufacturing rockets.
The leader of the operation, Riad Nasser, a resident of the village Dir Kadis, was recruited by al-Arouri, the head of West Bank operations for Hamas abroad, the Shin Bet said. Al-Arouri was one of the founders of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing
The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff reported in June that, according to an Israeli security official, al-Arouri was behind the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teens on June 12.
Udeh Zaharan, a resident of Zarka in Jordan and a former Israeli security prisoner, funneled the money into the West Bank via a network of couriers, the Shin Bet said.
Other key operatives included Majdi Mafarja, a resident of Beit Likiya, who has a doctorate in computer science and was recruited in Malaysia. According to the Shin Bet, he was arrested on May 22 and admitted during interrogation that he had served as courier for apparently encoded messages for the military wing of Hamas.
Salah Barakat, an Israeli citizen and resident of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa, was arrested on July 1 and admitted, too, to passing messages from the Hamas diaspora to the operatives in the field.
Muhammad Kafaya, a former leader in the Hamas student union in Abu Dis University, was arrested on June 27. He turned over 19 rifles and five handguns.
The Shin Bet called the network “one of the most widespread we have known,” and said that its existence pointed to the danger of Hamas operations abroad, particularly in light “of Hamas’ strategic intentions of toppling the PA.”
JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.