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Israel arrests senior Hamas leader in West Bank

Terror group and its rival Fatah both claim arrest of Hassan Youssef for ‘renewed activity’ is aimed at interfering with Palestinian reconciliation talks

Hamas official Hassan Yousef at his office in Ramallah, July 30, 2015. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
Hamas official Hassan Yousef at his office in Ramallah, July 30, 2015. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Hassan Youssef, the leader of Hamas in the West Bank and one of the terror group’s founding members, was arrested Friday morning at his house in Ramallah by Israeli security forces.

In response to a query by The Times of Israel, a security source confirmed the arrest and alleged that Youssef had been involved in “renewed Hamas activity.” No public charges have yet been filed.

The Shin Bet domestic security service, which is responsible for counterterrorism activities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, declined to comment.

Since helping found the Hamas terror movement in the 1980s, Youssef has been arrested numerous times and spent years in Israeli prisons. While still behind bars in 2006, he was elected to the Palestinian parliament.

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)

Hamas has consistently claimed that Youssef is only active in its political wing, not its military wing, and has no involvement in terrorist activities. Both branches of the terror group avowedly seek to destroy Israel.

In a statement condemning Youssef’s arrest, Hamas claimed that Israel had arrested the West Bank commander for purely political reasons.

The rival Fatah and Hamas movements have been at odds since 2007, when a bloody struggle for control of Gaza led to Hamas expelling the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority from the coastal enclave. Several rounds of unity talks over the past 13 years to reconcile Fatah and Hama have failed to bridge the gaps between them.

After reconciliation talks in Istanbul in late September, the two rival movements agreed to set a date for Palestinian legislative elections within the next six months. Such announcements have fizzled out before, but this has not stopped senior officials in both Fatah and Hamas from claiming this time is different.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, right, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, at a video conference with deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri, who is in Beirut, July 2, 2020. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

“We hereby affirm that the arrest Sheikh Hassan Youssef by the occupation will not stop the path of unity for which he worked for the past two months,” Hamas said in a statement.

Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub also condemned Youssef’s arrest, accusing Israeli authorities of what he called “tampering” with the ongoing Palestinian reconciliation talks

“This arrest is a continuation of the occupation’s approach to arresting dozens of our Palestinian people every day, and a continuation of the continuous aggression against our people for decades. It comes within the framework of attempting to tamper with Palestinian affairs and influence the achievement of national unity,” Rajoub said.

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