20 arrested in East Jerusalem for pre-Ramadan 'incitement'

Police: 13 Arab Israelis suspected of plotting attacks on behalf of Hamas

Members of alleged cell, mostly from northern city of Sakhnin, accused of obtaining weapons and receiving instructions from Palestinian terror group on preparing explosives

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Weapons captured by police from an Arab Israeli terror cell in the northern city of Sakhnin, in a video published March 10, 2024. (Israel Police)
Weapons captured by police from an Arab Israeli terror cell in the northern city of Sakhnin, in a video published March 10, 2024. (Israel Police)

Israeli authorities were set to charge over a dozen Arab citizens accused of planning to carry out attacks on behalf of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service said in a joint statement Sunday.

The 13 suspects, mostly from the northern city Sakhnin, are suspected of purchasing weapons from operatives in the West Bank, according to the statement.

Authorities said the plot had been unraveled during a months-long covert investigation. According to Army Radio, Hamas intelligence documents captured by troops in the Gaza Strip helped lead investigators to the suspects.

Indictments against the suspects, some of whom were involved in rioting during the May 2021 Gaza war, were to be filed at Haifa District Court on Sunday.

Two men, Muhammad Khaled and Muhammad Yousef, were accused by police of leading the cell and recruiting the other members.

One of the suspects, Muhammad Khalaila, maintained contact with Hamas operatives in the Gaza Strip who provided him with instructions on how to manufacture explosives and told him to recruit additional members, the statement said.

Authorities said four firearms, ammunition, and other equipment were seized in raids on the cell. Some of the weapons originated from the Israel Defense Forces, the statement said.

Additionally, Suheib Jalbush, a West Bank Palestinian accused of weapons dealing was also arrested for his involvement in the plot.

Authorities did not say where or when the arrests took place.

Police have been on high alert for violence amid rising tensions around the Ramadan holy month, which begins this week.

Israeli border police officers walking on Jaffa street in central Jerusalem, on March 6, 2024. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Police said separately that 20 East Jerusalem residents had been arrested on suspicion of incitement and support for terrorism over the past two weeks.

Some indictments have been made and the investigation is ongoing, they noted, accusing terror groups of attempting to stir up unrest in the capital around Ramadan by spreading “false information regarding the reality in Jerusalem, the Old City, and in particular the Temple Mount.”

In the past, rumors of Israeli attempts to change the sensitive status quo at the Temple Mount, which Muslims refer to as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, have threatened to upend any semblance of calm in Jerusalem.

This year’s Ramadan comes as Israel is fighting with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The war erupted when Hamas launched a devastating assault on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Terrorists also abducted 253 people and took them as hostages to Gaza. Israel responded to the attack with a military campaign to destroy the terror group, topple its regime in Gaza, and free the hostages, over half of whom remain in captivity.

Muslims offer prayer on the first Friday of Ramadan outside the Dome of Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, March 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, where two biblical Temples once stood, and Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, making the site a central flashpoint of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims crowd the site for prayers each Ramadan, as religious fervor is heightened. While Israel has imposed restrictions on Palestinian access during times of heightened security tensions, it has refrained from limiting the access of the country’s Muslim minority.

Police and Shin Bet chiefs, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, held intense deliberations on the framework for access to the Temple Mount complex amid concerns it could set off further violence.

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