Israel arrests several senior Hamas officials in West Bank raids

Arrests in Hebron area include a former Palestinian minister, as security forces prepare for upcoming anniversary events marking founding of terror group

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Hebron on December 9, 2019.  (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinian protesters in the West Bank city of Hebron on December 9, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli forces arrested a dozen senior figures in the Hamas terror group overnight in a sweep of the West Bank city of Hebron and surrounding areas.

The arrests were a preemptive measure in preparation for coming Palestinian celebrations over the weekend to mark the anniversary of the founding of Hamas in 1987, according to Hebrew-language reports Thursday morning citing the military.

Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to a Times of Israel request for comment.

The Hamas-linked al-Rai news site reported that unnamed “local sources” said the arrests included Issa Al-Jabari, a former minister of local government for Hamas who has been in and out of Israeli prisons for years, and Abdel Khaliq al-Natsheh was identified as a Hamas leader.

Other arrested included Jamal al-Natsheh, Jawad al-Natsheh, Amr Qawasmi and Mazen al-Natsheh, according to al-Rai.

There were clashes between security forces and Palestinians during the arrests but no injuries reported, according to Hebrew-language media.

Hamas spokesman Adbel Latif al-Qanou told Gaza-based news site Sawa that the arrests constituted “an abortive attempt to harm [Hamas’s] young people and base and break the will of its leadership.”

As part of the preparations for unrest expected over the coming days, security forces have been boosted in the West Bank and along the Gaza border area.

A Palestinian hurls stones with a slingshot during clashes with Israeli troops along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of the Bureij refugee camp, December 6, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Hamas is the de facto ruler in the Gaza Strip, but maintains a smaller presence in the West Bank, which is ruled by rival Fatah. Israel’s security cooperation apparatus with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority often includes operations to crack down on Hamas, which is reportedly hoping to boost its presence in the West Bank via planned Palestinian elections early next year.

Israel and Hamas maintain a fragile unofficial ceasefire along the border with the Gaza Strip, which has seen frequent bouts of violence including a retaliatory bombing of Hamas targets on Sunday in response to three rockets fired out of the Palestinian territory at Israel.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza in exchange for Hamas and other terror groups in the coastal enclave maintaining relative quiet in the border region.

Last Friday saw Palestinian protests along the Gaza border resumed following a three-week hiatus after a large-scale battle between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in Gaza, last month.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said Friday Israel had a “special opportunity” to reach a long-term ceasefire with terror groups in the Gaza Strip, even as Palestinians in the enclave resumed the weekly protests.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this article.

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