Israel arrests senior Hamas commander in the West Bank

Military says Jamal Tawil encouraged recent riots, was working to revive terror group’s Ramallah headquarters; Hamas denounces the detention, vows to continue fighting

Illustrative: An Israeli soldier arresting a suspect after a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on March 18, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: An Israeli soldier arresting a suspect after a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, on March 18, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli security forces early Wednesday arrested a senior Hamas member, Sheikh Jamal Tawil, in Ramallah over his alleged work on behalf of the terror group, the Israel Defense Forces said.

According to the military, Tawil was arrested in a predawn raid by the IDF’s elite Duvdevan Unit and the Shin Bet security service.

“Tawil is a senior figure in the Hamas terror group in the West Bank, who recently took an active part in organizing riots, inciting violence and reforming Hamas’s headquarters in Ramallah,” the IDF said.

Hamas denounced the arrest of its senior operative, saying it would not prevent further activity by the terror group in the West Bank.

“The arrest of Sheikh Jamal al-Tawil will not silence the voice of the resistance in the West Bank. The sons of Hamas and its commanders are all soldiers of the resistance, and they will continue the path of freedom and liberation whatever the sacrifices,” Hamas said in a statement.

Tawil, who is believed to have planned a number of suicide bombings during the Second Intifada, has been arrested many times, spending much of his life in and out of Israeli prison. Tawil’s daughter Bushra, a Hamas-linked Palestinian journalist, has also been held in administrative detention since late December, according to the Palestinian prisoner rights group al-Dameer.

Tawil’s arrest came amid a general crackdown on Hamas activities in the West Bank in recent days, as well as large-scale arrest raids in response to widespread protests and violent riots during last month’s Gaza conflict.

More than ten Hamas activists were arrested in the pre-dawn hours on May 20 alone, including prominent Palestinian legislator Naif Rajoub, a Shin Bet spokesperson told The Times of Israel at the time. It is unclear how many were later released.

Hamas this week called for Palestinians to hold a “Day of Rage” on Friday in order to confront what it called “settlers’ aggression” and the “storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem.

“This aggression will be met by our people with further resistance and confrontation,” the terror group said in a statement Tuesday.

Despite the ceasefire mostly holding between Israel and the terror group in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas leadership was apparently still pushing for further unrest in the region.

Israel and Hamas concluded 11 days of fighting last month during which the terror group launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns, and Israel launched hundreds of retaliatory airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

Since the ceasefire took effect on May 20, there has been no rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel. However, on Sunday night a Palestinian who crossed from the Strip stabbed a security guard, lightly injuring him outside an Israeli town near the enclave. On Monday, a fire in southern Israel was apparently sparked by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip.

In the days after the ceasefire was declared, senior Israeli defense officials said they were not sure how long the truce would last, describing it as unstable.

In this May 10, 2021 photo, rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In the most recent round of fighting, the Palestinian terror groups tied the rocket fire from Gaza to the unrest in Jerusalem, connected to both clashes on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 253 Palestinians were killed during the fighting, including 66 children. Palestinian terror groups in Gaza have said 80 of the total casualties were combatants, though Israel says the true figure is higher. Thirteen people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, were killed. Israel says some of the Gaza fatalities were caused by Gaza rocket fire that fell short and landed in Gaza.

In recent days, the head of Egypt’s intelligence services, Abbas Kamel, has led a wide-scale push to broker a comprehensive, long-term ceasefire, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other top Israeli officials, as well as with Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Yahya Sinwar (R), Hamas’ political chief in Gaza, embraces General Abbas Kamel (L), Egypt’s intelligence chief, as the latter arrives for a meeting with leaders of Hamas in Gaza City on May 31, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Israel has made large-scale Gaza reconstruction contingent upon Hamas releasing from captivity two Israeli civilians and handing over the remains of two IDF soldiers. Hamas is unlikely to do so without Israel agreeing to free a large number of terrorist operatives from its prisons.

On Monday, Sinwar said the group is ready for “immediate negotiations” to reach a prisoner exchange with Israel and told reporters cryptically to “write down the number 1,111.”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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