Hamas attempts to gain control of the Temple Mount and recruit new Israeli-Arab operatives in east Jerusalem have been foiled by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), a senior security official announced on Monday. According to the Shin Bet, Hamas, over the past few years, has invested millions of shekels in Jerusalem charities and religious institutions, as well as in construction on the Temple Mount, in an effort to bolster its presence and standing in the capital. The official said that Hamas recently paid to enlarge a library and several prayer halls in Solomon's Stables, as well as for the renovation of a public restroom facility on the disputed holy site.
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"Their goal is to gain full control over the Temple Mount," a high-ranking Shin Bet official said Monday. Hamas, he said, has also tried to infiltrate its members into the Temple Mount as part of the maintenance and religious staff who care for the site and preach, give tours and teach Koran classes there.
Hamas, the official said, had taken advantage of financial troubles in the Jordanian Wakf, which is responsible for the holy site, to bolster its presence there. The wakf has been suffering from financial constraints since 2000, when the Temple Mount mosques were closed to paying visitors.
Officials said the Hamas takeover of the Temple Mount was a "strategic" move and was aimed at bolstering the group's standing in the Palestinian territories and throughout the Muslim world.
The Shin Bet also focused its operations in curbing the flow of money into Hamas. A senior Hamas official, Yakub Abu Assab, was arrested for allegedly running a courier service that transferred funds from the West Bank and abroad to the Hamas headquarters in Jerusalem. Israeli efforts to stop Hamas also included the arrests of Hamas parliamentarians, including Khaled Abu Afa, former Hamas minister for Jerusalem affairs.
During a year-long operation, Shin Bet arrested 11 Hamas officials based in Jerusalem, 10 of whom hold Israeli identity cards. All 11 detainees were due to be indicted for membership in a terror group and for financing illegal terror activity.
The Jerusalem Hamas operations received their funding from the Union of Good - an umbrella charity organization based in Saudi Arabia that has been outlawed by Israel - which used money changers, bank accounts in the West Bank, and couriers to send the money to local charity organizations, which then transferred cash to the Hamas headquarters in Jerusalem. In the last 18 months, Hamas's Jerusalem headquarters received more than NIS 1 million in this fashion.
The Hamas activities on the Temple Mount were coordinated with the Islamic Movement, headed by Sheikh Ra'ad Salah. The activities also included organizing events during Ramadan such as large-scale post-fast meals, the purpose of which was to recruit support for Hamas and give the organization a foothold on the Temple Mount.
In addition to Hamas's efforts to take over the Temple Mount, in recent years the movement increased its activity in east Jerusalem, where it had set up religious institutions and used what seemed to be innocent festivities to brainwash Muslims with Hamas ideology.
To implement its goals, Hamas had also set up a number of institutions of a semi-religious nature to front illegal activities. According to security officials, there are no longer active Hamas institutions in Jerusalem.