Some 30 Hamas activists have been arrested in recent months on suspicion of establishing a branch of the Islamist organization in the Ramallah area, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced on Monday.

The men set up a headquarters for Hamas in the West Bank city traditionally seen as a Fatah stronghold, and operated in the areas of the Binyamin region of the West Bank, according to security forces.

“During questioning of suspects by the Shin Bet it emerged that the headquarters sought to renew Hamas’s activities and rebuild the organization in the Ramallah area... ahead of the future elections in the Palestinian Authority,” security forces said.

The Shin Bet identified Murad Muhammad Khaled Abu Baha as head of the cell, naming several regional subordinates.

Maher Ayoub Abd Dalashiya was alleged to be the money man, and Matzav Muhammad Ahmed Sarur was responsible for recruiting students.

The recruitment drive involved the establishment of student cells at West Bank universities in the Ramallah and Abu Dis areas. Hamas transferred large funds through student bodies, and some of the money was earmarked for Hamas prisoners and their families, according to the Shin Bet.

The suspects also tried to set up student cells in Hebron and Bethlehem, although these efforts were interrupted by the arrests.

“The investigation also revealed that members of the headquarters were in touch with the Hamas leadership abroad in order to exchange information and bring money into the area,” the Shin Bet added.

According to investigators, the communications were hidden with great care and involved the use of couriers, nicknames, memory sticks and secret meetings.

In addition, two of the suspects confessed to having taken part in the October 2000 lynch of two IDF reservists who mistakenly entered Ramallah and were beaten to death by a frenzied Palestinian mob.

The IDF’s West Bank prosecutor charged the suspects with a number of crimes at the Judea Military Court.

Some of the accused were indicted for filling leadership roles in an illegal organization, while others were indicted for being members of, participating in or carrying out operations on behalf of an illegal organization.

Additional charges included contact with the enemy and providing funding to the enemy. All of those involved were remanded to police custody until the end of the proceedings.

Hamas is getting stronger in the West Bank, but is focusing its activities on indoctrinating Palestinians in its extremist ideology and creating social assistance programs, an IDF source from the Judea and Samaria Division said last week.

The West Bank branch of Hamas is focused on Da’wa – social aid programs mixed with indoctrination – in order to build up its base of supporters, the source added. It is also preoccupied with a program called Kutla, which entails the recruitment of university students through the spread of jihadist ideology.

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