Israel has stepped up its diplomatic and security campaigns against Hamas and is also calling on Turkey to shut down the group’s activities and offices in the country. The calls come after a November 21 terror attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, carried out by a Hamas operative who had contacts with senior Hamas figures in Turkey, and following the exposure of a prominent Hamas cell in the West Bank. , also affiliated with members of Hamas. group in Istanbul.
The Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported after the Jerusalem bombing, in which 26-year-old Eliyahu David Kay was killed and four other Israelis injured, the gunman had traveled to Turkey several times in recent months. Security agencies said that during these trips the shooter, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, met with senior Hamas figures, who guided his plans. Shkhaydam’s family members have denied this, saying he flew to Istanbul to meet his son who is studying in the country and to inspect the properties he owns there.
Shortly after the Jerusalem attack on November 22, the Shin Bet revealed that in recent weeks it had arrested more than 50 members of a sophisticated Hamas cell in the West Bank.
The security agency said the cell was at an advanced stage of planning major terror attacks both in the West Bank and in Israel. The Shin Bet seized weapons, material for at least four explosive suicide bombing belts and an undisclosed amount of cash. Israeli security officials said the cell was run by Hamas political bureau deputy Saleh al-Arouri and another senior Hamas official, Zacharia Najib. Both men live in Turkey, at least partly.
Israel has for many years called on Turkey to act against Arouri. After the announcement of the large Hamas cell in the West Bank, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reiterated the Israeli demand, saying that the Hamas offices in Istanbul should be closed. He also called on the international community to designate Hamas in its entirety, not just its military wing, as a terrorist group, as the UK did last week. “Hamas offices in Istanbul must be closed. We must prevent these criminal terrorist activities against Israeli citizens anywhere and under any circumstances,” he said in a statement.
“It’s not only Israel’s Duty acting against Hamas terrorism is the duty of the entire international community. The nations of the world must act like Britain did and ban Hamas. Hamas offices in Istanbul must close. We must prevent these criminal acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens anywhere and under any circumstances,” Lapid tweeted.
Some reports in Israel claimed that the denunciation of the Hamas cell was delayed, so as not to embarrass Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not to harm diplomatic efforts last week for the release of Israelis Mordi and Natali Oknin . The couple were arrested in Istanbul on November 9 after taking photos of the presidential palace, and suspected of spying. After eight days of detention, they were released and taken home.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog each spoke on the phone with Erdogan, hailing his contribution to the release of the Oknins. The release and the phone calls were seen in Israel as a signal of rapprochement between the two countries, after years of cold bilateral relations.