PA arrests 30 for planning attacks, in bid to calm West Bank

Officials say many detainees are Hamas members, point to cartoons as inspiring terror; Palestinian coroner who examined bus driver says he never said hanging was murder

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Illustrative photo of Palestinian security forces (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Palestinian security forces (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority has arrested some 30 suspects over the last 72 hours thought to be planning terror attacks, primarily against settlers, as well as operatives involved in incitement against Israelis, senior Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

The wave of arrests was primarily focused in Hebron, where some 20 Palestinians were detained, most of them Hamas operatives. Additional arrests were made in Nablus and Ramallah.

According to the sources, several of the detainees sought to perpetrate attacks similar to those of the past few days, with weapons other than firearms for example, while others planned more complex attacks.

The arrests thwarted the attacks, the sources said, most of which were in the preliminary stages of planning.

The sources stressed that the arrests are part of the PA’s larger goal to restore calm in the area, and were done under the general directive of PA President Mahmoud Abbas to prevent bloodshed and violence.

They added that Abbas clarified at every opportunity his opposition to violence and killing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and several other high-level politicians have repeatedly accused Abbas of fanning tensions in the capital and encouraging terror.

On Tuesday morning, two East Jerusalem Palestinian terrorists, armed with a gun and axes, killed four Jews at prayer in a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, and a Druze policeman who tried to stop them. Netanyahu and other senior Israeli figures blamed Abbas and the PA for incitement leading to this and other recent terror attacks.

In past weeks, the official Fatah Facebook page has posted several calls for “days of rage” in the capital, as well as posts and cartoons hailing the attacks on Jewish Israelis.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Abbas to halt calls for “days of rage,” in the wake of a deadly terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue.

A senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel Thursday that incitement against Israel is running wild on social media, but claimed that this was not the case on the PA’s official media outlets. He said that several of the newly arrested detainees had been inspired to try to carry out attacks by the videos and clips circulating online.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with members of the Palestinian leadership on November 8, 2014, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (photo credit: STR/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with members of the Palestinian leadership on November 8, 2014, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (photo credit: STR/Flash90)

The source added that it is clear that the defense establishment in Israel knows that Abbas seeks to quiet tensions, rather than incite.

“This is apparent from the statements of Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen, but also from conversations we’ve had with the IDF and representatives from the Israeli defense establishment,” he said.

Cohen said Tuesday that Abbas wasn’t interested in calling for terror attacks, either overtly or covertly, in what was interpreted as a departure from the government’s stance.

He later added, however, that “the recent incitement by Palestinian Authority leaders, led by Abbas, on issues connected with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, contribute to and affect the high level of violence in the field, especially in Jerusalem.”

Tensions in the capital ratcheted up on Sunday after an Arab bus driver was found hanged in a bus depot in Jerusalem. Israeli officials ruled the death a suicide, but relatives and colleagues said they thought Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni, 32, had been murdered by Jewish extremists, pointing to what they said were signs of violence on his body. An Israeli autopsy established that there had been no foul play and pointed to suicide, but the family rejected the finding.

The official said that the PA discussed the autopsy of the Palestinian bus driver earlier this week with Palestinian examiner Dr. Saber al-Alul, who said at the inquiry that he could not say with certainty at this stage whether the death was a suicide or not, but clarified that contrary to Palestinian media sources, he never said that the Egged driver had been murdered.

Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni, the Egged bus driver found dead on November 16, 2014 (photo credit: Facebook)
Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni, the Egged bus driver found dead on November 16, 2014 (photo credit: Facebook)

The director of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute — where the autopsy took place — told Army Radio Wednesday that al-Alul concurred that it was a suicide, adding that the Palestinian forensic examiner had stopped taking his calls.

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