JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities said Tuesday they have foiled a wide-ranging plot by Palestinian militant Hamas group to shoot a member of parliament, kidnap soldiers and bomb Jerusalem’s light rail system during a surge of violence that has left dozens dead in recent weeks.
The police and Shin Bet security services said in a statement that five Palestinian men from east Jerusalem had been arrested for allegedly planning a shooting attack against far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir and other targets at a time of heightened tensions in the flashpoint city.
The suspects, authorities said, had planned the attacks last month, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, to “destabilize” the area around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Authorities said a drone was found, intended to be armed and used in an attack on Jerusalem’s light rail, which sees daily crowds of commuters and tourists.
They identified the plot leaders as Hamas militants Rashid Rashak and Mansur Tzafadi, who “delivered many fireworks, flags and Hamas videos” to east Jerusalem neighborhoods last month during Ramadan. Security forces also seized a camera to be used to photograph “abductees,” cash and other equipment.
The statement did not say how close they came to carrying out the plot. There was no immediate comment from Hamas.
The arrests came at a time of heightened violence between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police in east Jerusalem, much of it concentrated at a contested holy site. Israel also has stepped up military activity in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks in response to a series of deadly attacks inside Israel.
Next week, Israeli ultranationalists plan to march through the main Muslim thoroughfare of the Old City.
The march is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel subsequently annexed the area in a step that is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Also inflaming tensions is the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during a firefight in Jenin. A reconstruction by The Associated Press lends support to assertions from both Palestinian authorities and Abu Akleh’s colleagues that the bullet that cut her down came from an Israeli gun.
Any conclusive answer is likely to prove elusive due to the severe distrust between the two sides, each of which is in sole possession of potentially crucial evidence.
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