Israeli soldiers have arrested top Hamas officials in an overnight raid in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
The arrests were a pre-emptive measure in preparation for the anticipated Palestinian celebrations over the weekend to mark the anniversary of the founding of Hamas in 1987.
Hamas was founded on December 14, 1987, by its late leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel in 2004.
Israeli forces arrested former member of the Legislative Council Muhammad Jamal Al-Natsheh, former minister Issa Al-Jabari, Sheikh Abd Al-Khaleq Al-Natsheh, Sheikh Jawad Bahr Al-Natsheh, Mazen Al-Natsheh, and Omar Al-Qawasmi, in pre-dawn raids in Hebron on Thursday, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported, citing local sources.
The arrests also came amid ongoing discussions on a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, which is reportedly close to being struck.
Hamas spokesman Adbel Latif Al-Qanou told the Gaza-based news site Sawa that the arrests constituted “an abortive attempt to harm [Hamas’] young people and base and break the will of its leadership.”
He emphasised that “these arrests will not stop their role [which is] to confront the occupation’s plans” and that “arrest and abduction is one of the most important tools for the occupying regime in making this attempt.”
As a result, Israel is also preparing for protests along the occupied West Bank and Gaza border perimeter fence, and therefore decided to reinforce the areas with troops, in preparation for unrest expected over the coming days, Hebrew-language broadcaster Channel 12 reported.
Earlier this year, Hamas and Israel reached an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire after exchanges of fire. However, Tel Aviv has since violated the truce several times by conducting air strikes against the strip.
Last Friday’s Great March of Return protest saw thousands of Palestinians demonstrating along the Gaza border following a three-week hiatus.
At least 14 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, four of them with live gunshots, according to the health ministry in the besieged enclave.