Israel has arrested 17 Palestinians for planning terror attacks on behalf of a Gaza-based Hamas operative, the Israel Security Agency (ISA) said in a statement. ISA said on Monday that according to the investigation, Abdallah Arar, a Hamas operative, was behind the cell, Xinhua news agency reported. ISA identified him as a former prisoner who spent time in Israeli jail for his involvement in the abduction of an Israeli civilian in 2005. He was released in the 2011 Shalit prisoners swap deal and expelled to the Gaza Strip.

He is suspected of having instructed Ala Salim, a resident of the village of Jaba in the southern West Bank, to establish a cell and purchase an M-16 to perpetrate an attack, according to ISA. Salim contacted fellow Jaba resident, Rian Touam, and requested his assistance in purchasing the M-16 and gave him several thousand shekels, it said. He also contacted Shehadeh Touam and sought his assistance in recruiting additional cell members. Shehadeh Touam, in turn, contacted Mahmoud Abu Arkov, a young Hamas activist from A-Ram and recruited him to the cell, the statement said.

An official with ISA noted in the statement that Hamas, an Islamist organisation that runs the besieged Palestinian enclave, “has been recently increasingly motivated to advance attacks via Hamas members in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).”

Violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been on the rise since US President Donald Trump said he recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a statement on December 6. Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and has been occupying them ever since, despite international criticism.

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