A group of 16 east Jerusalem residents was arrested by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israel Police on suspicion of belonging to a Hamas cell operating in the capital’s eastern neighborhoods and the Temple Mount, the security service stated on Tuesday.
The Shin Bet said the suspects include activists from the northern branch of the Israel Islamic Movement, who were involved with Hamas at the Temple Mount compound.
The 16 suspects are “prominent operatives with Hamas in east Jerusalem and members of its operations branch, and among the leaders of its activities at the Temple Mount,” the Shin Bet said.
The suspects named include 39-year-old Rami Zachariya Ibrahim Barakeh, a senior Hamas member in east Jerusalem who has served a prison term for membership in the organization. Three other main suspects include a resident of Abu Tor and two brothers from the Old City, all of whom have served prison terms for belonging to Hamas.
The Shin Bet said that while investigating the cell they found that the Islamic Movement was operating educational courses on the Temple Mount and paying people to maintain a presence there, in order to “increase the tension and cause disturbances, especially during Jewish holidays.” They added that the courses were a major contributing factor to recent disturbances in the vicinity of the Mount.
The Shin Bet added that the study program was operated in line with Hamas directives, citing an online video showing Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh praising the study program and saying that his organization is funding it.
The security organization said that the investigation revealed “another effort by Hamas to expand its influence among the Palestinian population in Jerusalem and the West Bank, during which the organization uses Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and the cooperation of other Islamic movements.”
In April, the Shin Bet and Israel Police shut down two Hamas offices in east Jerusalem, both of which they said were part of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and managed from Nazareth and Umm el- Fahm. One of the groups, the Al-Quds Development center had been closed by Israel In 2010, after information surfaced that it was being used to organize Hamas activities in Jerusalem. It reopened in 2012 after the time-limited ban on its activities expired.
After learning that Amara al-Aska assists Hamas operations as well, the Shin Bet moved to close it, and this “led to violence against forces and visitors to the Temple Mount,” the agency said. One of the goals of the center was to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, the Shin Bet added.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.