newsIsrael at War

Mossad: Hamas ‘striving to ignite the region during Ramadan’

The head of Israel's intelligence agency met with his American counterpart on Friday as part of a "relentless" effort to advance a ceasefire-for-hostage deal.

Palestinians wave a Hamas banner on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jan. 27, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.
Palestinians wave a Hamas banner on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Jan. 27, 2023. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Hamas is trying to incite a regional escalation during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, according to a joint statement released by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and the Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday.

Mossad head David Barnea met with CIA Director William Burns in Amman, Jordan, on Friday, according to the statement, which described the encounter as part of a “relentless” effort to secure the release of the 134 Israelis still being held captive by Hamas.

“It should be emphasized that the contacts and cooperation with the mediators are ongoing in an effort to narrow the gaps and advance agreements,” the statement concluded.

U.S. President Joe Biden dispatched Burns to the Middle East in a last-ditch effort to secure a deal before the month-long Muslim holiday kicks off on Sunday evening. The CIA chief was in Cairo and Doha to meet with the other two intermediaries.

Burns was not expected to travel to Israel during his diplomatic swing through the region and is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday for its annual hearing on worldwide threats.

The Biden administration has been pushing for a six-week pause in fighting, in the hope that the temporary truce can be made permanent. However, Jerusalem has repeatedly called Hamas’s conditions, including ending the war and withdrawing all IDF troops from Gaza, as “delusional.”

“We’ve been working non-stop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for at least six weeks. It would get the hostages home, ease the intolerable humanitarian crisis, and build towards something more enduring,” Biden said during his March 7 State of the Union address.

The U.S. president also announced the establishment of a temporary seaport for humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.

Biden State of the Union Address
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress during his State of the Union address in Washington, March 7, 2024. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In recent months, American, Egyptian, Israel and Qatari mediators have met in Cairo, Doha and Paris to attempt to hammer out a ceasefire, but to no avail.

Hamas has been clear about its intentions regarding Ramadan for several weeks.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Doha-based leader of Hamas’s political wing, last month urged the Iran-led “Axis of Resistance” to step up attacks on Israel during the holiday, calling for a “broad and international movement to break the siege on Al-Aqsa mosque” in Jerusalem.

“Any flexibility in negotiations, out of concern for the blood of our people, is matched by a readiness to defend it,” said Haniyeh, referring to ceasefire talks.

The “Axis of Resistance” includes Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Houthis and other Iranian-backed terrorist groups in the Middle East.

The terror leader also called on Palestinians in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount on the first day of Ramadan.

Muslims wave Hamas flags after Friday prayers during Ramadan on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, April 22, 2022. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Haniyeh’s comments came a day after Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned that terrorist groups are plotting to increase attacks on the Jewish state during Ramadan.

“The main goal of Hamas is to take Ramadan, with an emphasis on the Temple Mount and Jerusalem, and turn it into the second phase of their plan that began on Oct. 7. This is the main goal of Hamas, and it is being amplified by Iran and Hezbollah,” said Gallant.

“We must not give Hamas what it failed to achieve during the beginning of the war and [let it achieve] ‘unity of the fronts,’” he added, in reference to the terrorist group’s attempts to spark a multi-front war.

Security forces have been deployed in large numbers to the area of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City in preparation for potential violent outbursts. Hundreds of police officers will be positioned in key points throughout the Old City during the holy month, which ends on April 8.

Israeli Border Police officers visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, March 7, 2024. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Thousands of text messages were sent to residents of eastern Jerusalem, which, according to Channel 12, read: “Dear parents, take care of your children and do not allow them to participate in acts of terrorism and violence, for their benefit and for their future.”

Additionally, leaflets were distributed across neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, warning against rioting on the Temple Mount.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week after meeting with security officials that Muslim worshippers can enter the Temple Mount “similar to the numbers in previous years” during the first week of Ramadan.

After the first week, Israel will reassess and a “decision will be made accordingly,” Netanyahu’s office stated.

“Israel strongly safeguards freedom of worship for all faiths, at all sites in Israel, especially the Temple Mount,” per the office’s statement. “Ramadan is sacred to Muslims. Its sanctity will be upheld this year, as it is every year.”

In the past, Jerusalem has permitted Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to visit the Temple Mount during Ramadan, and security brass supports maintaining that policy amid the war with Hamas in Gaza.

Some 50,000 to 60,000 worshipers, including Palestinians from Judea and Samaria, are expected to enter the site.

Border Police stand guard at the Lion’s Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City as Muslims make their way to the Temple Mount, Feb. 23, 2024. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

Netanyahu’s announcement came after the War Cabinet reportedly decided it would be the sole body making decisions about the flashpoint site, sidelining National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oversees the police.

The cabinet decision came shortly after Ben-Gvir called for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to be barred from the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month.

Ben-Gvir also pushed to ban Arab Israelis under the age of 70 from accessing the site.

At large Muslim gatherings on the Temple Mount, especially during Islamic holidays, individuals have often hoisted Hamas flags.

In a letter sent to Netanyahu on Saturday evening, Ben-Gvir warned “of the fear of not being able to deal with the overcrowding and congestion on the Temple Mount in the month of Ramadan, and of the significant gaps in the ability to implement the prime minister’s decision not to limit the number of worshippers on the Mount without endangering human life.

“Following this, I wave a bright red flag and ask to reconvene the cabinet to re-discuss the decision.”

Israel’s National Security Council last week issued a travel warning for citizens during Ramadan.

Citing an increase in incitement to commit terrorist attacks, the NSC called on travelers to “take responsibility” and act in accordance with travel advisories.

“Muslim terrorist organizations see Ramadan as an opportunity to carry out terrorist attacks and acts of violence. During this period, the incitement and calls by elements of radical Islam (with an emphasis on global jihad organizations such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda) to carry out attacks are increasing,” the statement read.

According to the NSC, terrorist organizations are expected to exploit the war and tensions around the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to foment attacks against Israeli and Western interest abroad.

The NSC emphasized that the travel alert has not been raised for Ramadan, but stressed the need for members of the public to exercise caution and use good judgment.

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