Israeli security forces uncovered an active Hamas terror cell in East Jerusalem that planned a series of attacks, including against far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, authorities said Tuesday.
According to the Shin Bet security agency and Israel Police, the five men planned a shooting attack against Ben Gvir and other Israeli targets, as well as kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, and a bombing attack on the Jerusalem light rail using a drone.
The security authorities said the cell was led by Rashid Rashak, “a prominent Hamas operative, a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem.”
He was also accused of establishing a network of Hamas supporters who led recent clashes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount last month.
Shin Bet and police said Rashak planned, together with Mansour Safadi, another Hamas operative from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor, a shooting attack or suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem.
Authorities seized a drone that was intended to be armed and used in an attack on Jerusalem’s light rail.
The investigation found that the cell planned to hide in the West Bank cities of Hebron or Jenin after committing the attacks, the Shin Bet said.
According to Channel 12 news, the cell monitored Ben Gvir’s home in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron, and logged the times he left — especially by foot.
The five were arrested last month, and were charged with several terror offenses, according to indictments published Tuesday. The other three suspects were named as Mohammed Salima, Hamza Abu Naab, and Safian Ajlouni.
Channel 12 said one of the main suspects was initially detained ahead of clashes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. During that interrogation, he confessed to the attack plans, the network said.
Responding to the announcement, Ben Gvir blamed left-wing activists, as well as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, for the Hamas plot.
“The writing was on the wall. The incitement of the leftists against me and the statements of Bennett and Lapid toward me did their part, and it turns out that a squad of terrorists planned to try to harm me and my family,” Ben Gvir said on Twitter.
“Words can kill!” he added.
Last month, Bennett ordered that Ben Gvir be prevented from marching at Jerusalem’s Old City’s Damascus Gate, a site of frequent violence, after the Shin Bet warned it may lead to “significant harm” to Israel’s security.
Ben Gvir’s march was planned amid sky-high tensions in the region, with near-daily clashes between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount and Gazan groups threatening to renew rocket fire. Officials feared allowing the march to go ahead could spark a repeat of the May 2021 war between Israel and Hamas-led fighters in Gaza.
On Sunday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned Israel against allowing right-wing Israelis to conduct the annual Jerusalem Day “Flag March” in Jerusalem’s Old City next week.
The foiled attempt by the Hamas cell came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, against a backdrop of terror attacks that have left 19 dead since March 22. In a rare move, Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for one of those attacks — a terror shooting that left an Israeli security guard dead at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Ariel.