Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday called on Turkey to shut down the offices of the Hamas terror group operating in the country after Israel announced the arrest of a sophisticated 50-member West Bank cell run from Istanbul.
Hamas offices in Istanbul will be closed. We must prevent these heinous acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens everywhere and under any conditions, said Lapid, a day after another Hamas terrorist carried out a deadly terrorist shooting in Jerusalem.
He urged other nations to follow the lead of the UK, which last week announced its intention to ban Hamas in its entirety and stop distinguishing between its political and military wings.
The countries of the world must act like Britain and ban Hamas, he said.
Lapid spoke shortly after the Israeli security agency Shin Bet revealed that it had dismantled a large Hamas cell, arresting 50 of its operatives.
According to the Shin Bet, the Hamas cell was led from Turkey by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the terrorist groups’ political bureau, and Zacharia Najib, a member of the organization who was released from Israeli prison during the exchange of Gilad Shalit in 2011, where they would continue to operate on behalf of Hamas.
Al-Arouri and Najib both live in Turkey, which has long had close ties with Hamas, which is politically linked to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Given ties to Turkey, Israel is said to have delayed announcing the arrests, initially scheduled for 10 days, until it succeeds in securing the release of an Israeli couple held in Turkey on charges of espionage, reported the Kan public broadcaster.
Mordy and Natali Oknin, bus drivers in the central city of Modiin, were released last week after being held for eight days on suspicion of espionage after photographing Erdogan Palace.
After their return to Israel, the government specifically thanked Erdogan for his role in their release and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog both had appeals with the Turkish leader.
Kan said Israel delayed reporting on the arrests, which began with a series of raids in September, for fear of embarrassing Erdogan and hampering efforts to free the Oknins.
The final announcement came a day after a Hamas terrorist carried out a deadly shootout in Jerusalem, killing Eli Kay, a 26-year-old South African immigrant, and injuring two others.
Kan reported that Hamas gunman Fadi Abu Shkhaydam had visited Turkey several times in recent months and had met with senior Hamas officials there.
Kan, citing security officials, said they believed he received his instructions for the attack there.
However, family members interviewed by the Shin Bet denied, saying he had traveled there to visit his son studying in Turkey and to tend a property he owned there.
The cell was one of the biggest discoveries in recent years.
According to the Shin Bet, more than 50 Hamas operatives were arrested across the West Bank for alleged involvement in the cell and large quantities of weapons were seized, including the materials needed to make at least four explosive belts for suicide bombings. An undisclosed sum of money believed to have been used by the cell was also seized during the raids, according to the Shin Bet.
It was a major preventive effort that thwarted a dangerous terrorist infrastructure, which was planning serious attacks. The purpose of the terrorist activities, which were carried out by Hamas operatives abroad and in Gaza with operatives from the West Bank, was to destabilize the region, while taking a heavy toll on local residents, a senior officer said. of the Shin Bet, referring to the record on Palestinians in the West Bank.
According to the Shin Bet, the cell planned to carry out terrorist attacks in a number of formats in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as the possibility of carrying out bombings in Israel.
The Haaretz daily reported that Israeli officials were troubled by the level of complexity of the cell, both in terms of plans and weapons at its disposal.
They also noted the willingness of the members to fight and confront the IDF forces that came to arrest them. In a raid in September, two Israeli soldiers were seriously injured and several Palestinian suspects were killed in shootings.
They also pointed out that these were the first concrete plans to carry out a suicide bombing inside Israel uncovered in the past five years.
While announcing the arrests, the IDF also broadcast footage taken from the helmets cameras of soldiers who participated in the raids.
The footage showed several different special forces units conducting sweeps across the West Bank, passing through apartment buildings and discovering weapon caches.
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