Israel calls on Turkey to shut down Hamas after busting of Istanbul-directed cell

Israel urged Turkey to shut down Hamas’s offices in the country after announcing the busting of a major cell in the West Bank and arresting its 50 operatives, who it said were managed from Istanbul.

“Hamas’ offices in Istanbul will be shut down. We must prevent these heinous acts of terrorism against Israeli citizens everywhere and under any conditions,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said, the Times of Israel reported on Tuesday.

Israel held off on announcing the arrests, initially planned for 10 days ago, until securing the release of an Israeli couple who were being held in Turkey on espionage charges, the newspaper said, citing the Kan public broadcaster.

Turkey’s close relationship with Hamas, the Islamist militant group governing the blockaded Palestinian territory of Gaza, is one of a string of issues that are contributing to ongoing tensions in Turkey-Israel relations.  The group which is designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and several European countries, maintains an Istanbul office. Israel has said a thaw in relations with Turkey would only be possible if it shut down the facility.

Lapid also called on all countries to follow the United Kingdom’s act on the issue and ban Hamas. “The countries of the world must act like Britain and outlaw Hamas,” he said.

On Friday, Britain announced that it outlawed Hamas in a move that brings its stance on Gaza's rulers in line with the United States and the European Union, Reuters reported.

"Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities," British Home Secretary Priti Patel said.

According to Israel’s security agency Shin Bet, the Hamas cell was led from Turkey by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the terror group’s politburo, and Zacharia Najib, a member of the organisation who was released from an Israeli prison in the 2011 Gilad Shalit exchange, the Times of Israel said. Both live in Turkey, it said.

Turkey has been accused by Israel of providing funds and citizenship to top Hamas officials. Despite Israel’s persistent complaints to Turkey to stop hosting them, it has refused to do so. Erdoğan met with two Hamas leaders in Istanbul last year, sparking condemnation from Israel and the United States.

Shin Bet said that the cell was planning to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as possible bombings in Israel.

Lapid’s announcement came a day after a Hamas militant carried out a deadly shooting attack in Jerusalem, killing a 26-year-old immigrant from South Africa, and wounding two others, the Times of Israel said.


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