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Israel arrests 11 Nablus university students for pro-Hamas activism

Arrests come as West Bank sees uptick in clashes between Palestinians and Abbas’s forces; Hamas co-founder Hassan Yousef arrested by Israel

Palestinian students who support the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign rally for the student council at Birzeit University, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 26, 2016 (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Palestinian students who support the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign rally for the student council at Birzeit University, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on April 26, 2016 (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Israeli security forces have arrested 11 students from An-Najah National University in Nablus suspected of supporting the Hamas terror group on campus, an Israeli military spokesperson said on Tuesday.

According to the Israeli army’s Arabic-language spokesman, the 11 suspects were members of the university’s Islamic Bloc, a Hamas-affiliated organization that exists on many Palestinian campuses.

The spokesman, Lt. Col. Avihay Adraee, said the students were suspected of transferring funds to Hamas, organizing pro-Hamas rallies and spreading propaganda for the terror group “under the supervision and guidance of senior Hamas officials.”

Israeli security officials have expressed increasing concern that Hamas may be gathering strength in the West Bank as the Palestinian Authority faces rock-bottom approval ratings and rapidly dwindling legitimacy.

Israel and the PA — which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank — cooperate to crack down on Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups. Hamas avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction, and it fought a bloody civil war with the PA’s dominant Fatah faction in 2007.

The West Bank has recently seen an uptick in violent clashes between Palestinians on the streets and PA security forces. The PA has sought to disperse events at which Hamas flags were raised over the past few days, clashing with Palestinians in Tulkarem on Sunday when supporters gathered to greet a Hamas member who had just been released from Israeli prison.

Palestinian Authority forces also clashed with locals during the Monday funeral of Nablus resident Jamil Kayyal, who was allegedly killed by Israeli forces during a raid the previous night. The Israeli army said that Kayyal, 31, had been part of a group that had thrown Molotov cocktails at troops as they entered the city.

After the attempted dispersal, a few hundred Palestinians were seen marching through the streets calling the Palestinian security forces “snitches” for Israel.

Israeli forces also arrested senior Hamas official Hassan Yousef, one of the terror group’s West Bank leaders, on Monday morning, according to the Shin Bet security service. Yousef has been in and out of Israeli jail for years; he had just been released in July after spending nearly a year behind bars without charges.

A spokesperson for the Shin Bet said that Yousef had been arrested on Monday for “renewed terror involvement.”

Hassan Yousef speaks to the media after his release from an Israeli prison, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 19, 2014 (Majdi Mohammad/AP)

The Palestinian Authority has suffered deteriorating legitimacy for months. In April, PA President Mahmoud Abbas indefinitely delayed scheduled Palestinian national elections that would have been the first in 15 years. While Abbas blamed Israel, most observers agreed that he sought to avoid an embarrassing loss to his rivals in his own Fatah faction and Hamas.

Hamas saw skyrocketing approval ratings among Palestinians following its May battle with Israel. Palestinians contrasted the so-called “resistance” pursued by the terror group — which fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns from its Gaza stronghold — with Ramallah’s policy of coordinating with Israel, which many Palestinians say has failed to achieve their demands.

Israeli officials have vowed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority by easing its ballooning deficit and making some policy concessions. But none of the steps taken thus far appear to have shored up the PA’s waning popularity.

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