Since Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021, which began with Hamas firing rockets at Jerusalem from the Gaza Strip, the terror organization has been making a great effort to establish itself in the east of Israel’s capital. This is with the understanding that through the control of eastern Jerusalem and the holy and sensitive sites within it, it will be possible for Hamas to establish a base in the Palestinian Authority and control its centers of power.
While the diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey have recently warmed, Hamas’ headquarters in Turkey is engaged in working to establish terrorist infrastructure in eastern Jerusalem.
Senior Hamas officials in Turkey are actively working to recruit the residents of eastern Jerusalem, transfer funds to them for terrorism, and establish civil institutions there that will serve as a cover for Hamas’ activities.
The Hamas operatives who are in charge of the terrorist mission in eastern Jerusalem are “graduates” of Unit 101 who in the mid-1990s led the Hamas squads in the city and who were behind the deadly attacks on buses in the capital. They come from the villages in the south of the city, Sur Bahar and Umm Tuba, and the Hebron area.
Hamas operatives in Turkey are well known to security agencies in Israel, and many of them were prisoners released in the 2011 Shalit deal. The most prominent ones are Zakaria Najib, who kidnapped IDF soldier Nachshon Waxman, and members of Hamas’ Squad 101 who were involved in the kidnapping of police officer Nissim Toledano, including Mahmoud Atun, Musa Akhari. and Majed Abu Katish. The three were released in the Shalit deal and deported to Turkey.
From Turkey, the senior Hamas officials are using their associates and their families, the residents of the villages where Hamas is popular, and are recruiting released prisoners for terrorist missions, as well as a new generation of young and unknown activists who participated in the recent disturbances in eastern Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa Mosques.
In January, the offices of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Issac Herzog worked on summarizing the final details for the highly publicized visit by Herzog to Turkey. At that same time, senior officials at the Hamas headquarters in Turkey met with a resident of Jerusalem from Sur Bahar named Khaled Sabah, who came to Istanbul with his wife and two sons, Maniv and Zeb, who were with him to give his trip the character of a family vacation.
Sabah met with Atun, Akhari, and Najib, senior officials of the “Jerusalem Group” of Hamas in Turkey, who asked him to assume the role of coordinator of Hamas’ operations in Jerusalem, and the one responsible for terrorist funds. In the meetings, Sabah was told that it was necessary to hurry and move forward in order to be ready to act in the month of Ramadan in May.
Among the requests, Atun and Akhari asked Sabah to transfer an amount of $250,000 to Hamas activities in Jerusalem “and in Israel,” according to the indictment later filed against him. Sabah received funds from Hamas operatives in Turkey and was asked to transfer them to Hamas operatives, including members of the Atun family in Jerusalem.
As part of this, Sabah transferred $5,000 to Rami Fakhuri, a member of “Shabab al-Aqsa,” a group that murdered policeman Yossi Kirma in an attack in Jerusalem in September 2016. Fakhuri was the recruiter in the group whose leader, Masbah Abu Sbeh, murdered Kirma. Money was transferred to Hamas operatives Ahmed Atun and Salim Ja’aba.
It was learned from a source that senior Hamas officials instructed Sabah to contact the head of the Islamic Movement in Israel Sheikh Ra’ad Salah and to act as a liaison on their behalf with the Northern Branch, which is illegal in Israel. It is possible that this information is what led Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked to impose restrictions on Salah’s departure to Turkey in February. Shaked’s office stated that when she was presented with intelligence indicating that Salah intends to restore his relations with terror elements in Turkey she decided to restrict his movements.
Sabah deposited the money in his account in Turkey and later withdrew it from a bank account he maintains in Jerusalem. When Sabah was arrested by the Shin Bet, $246,000 were found in his account. The total amount of money that the Sabah family rolled over exceeds NIS 2.5 million.
Sabah held meetings with senior Hamas officials in Turkey in the presence of his two sons. During the meetings, the need to purchase weapons also came up and the two underwent shooting training, as part of the preparations for the month of Ramadan, which Hamas wanted to use for another confrontation with Israel, like the previous month of Ramadan in 2021, in which Operation Guardian of the Walls began. Sabah suggested names of activists who could be recruited and it was agreed that he would make progress on the matter. Sabah was given a telephone so that he could be in contact with its Hamas handlers in Turkey.
The meeting in January was not the first one held as part of the activity to establish terrorist cells in eastern Jerusalem. Already in 2019, Sabah was appointed to serve as the head of Hamas finances in the city. In his meetings with the top of Hamas at the beginning of the year, Khaled Sabah was appointed the coordinator of Hamas activities in Jerusalem, and following information that reached the security system in Israel, he was arrested when he landed at Ben Gurion Airport on February 5.
In 2019, when Sabah was already serving as Hamas’ financial officer, he was arrested along with one of his sons following a violent incident, in which one of the family members was injured, and was released on bail. His sons, local Hamas operatives, served as a liaison unit with the headquarters in Turkey and they were the ones who transferred money and letters from Turkey to the east of the city to finance Hamas activities.
His lawyer was Khaled Zabarka also serves as a lawyer for Akrama Tsabari, head of the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem, an important cleric close to Turkey, and for Sheikh Ra’ad Salah.
Utilizing Islamic Charity Funds
For the purpose of the terrorist activity, the members of the Sabah family took advantage of their connections with the Zakat Al Quds Committee, a Muslim charity fund in Jerusalem, which offices are located in the Al Aqsa complex. The committee transferred the money to the families of local Hamas operatives and supporters of the movement.
The association was founded by Amin Shawiki, a Hamas operative, and it was managed by Khaled Sabah for years, through which he transferred funds to Hamas operatives. $380,000 were seized from its offices by the Jerusalem police.
Not only members of the Sabah family worked to promote Hamas’ goals under the auspices of the Zakat Committee. Fares Tutah, also a Hamas operative, a released prisoner who participated in riots in Jerusalem and was arrested several times, turned the Zakat Committee into a system for transferring funds for Hamas.
For 10 years, Tutah transferred a total of NIS 4 million through the committee, some of which was transferred to Hamas supporters, to members of the families of the Hamas wounded and prisoners, and to the parties in whose favor the terror organization was interested.
At the same time as Tutah’s arrest in February, the Jerusalem police also raided the offices of the charity committee and confiscated documents that helped the investigation. The Charity Committee, of which Tutah was one of the prominent members, transferred a total of NIS 28 million between 2007 and 2010, and these sums were also transferred to Hamas activists and the needy in the east of the city.
Developing Several Hamas Turkey-Jerusalem Channels
The Hamas headquarters in Turkey is trying to establish several separate channels to transfer funds to Jerusalem. While Najib, Akhari and Atun activated the Sabah family, one of their friends, Fahad Shaludi, another terrorist freed in the Shalit deal who was deported to Turkey, ran Bilal Sab Laban, a Hamas operative and a released prisoner, also a resident of the village from which the organization’s senior officials came.
Sab Laban, 41, was in prison between 2003 and 2012 following his activities in one of the terrorist squads that operated in Jerusalem, which carried out the attack on the No. 14 bus. In this case, Sab Laban served as an aide to the senior Hamas official Omar Sharif. Shariff tasked Sab Laban with purchasing clothes that would allow the members of the squad to give themselves a “Jewish look” as part of the preparations for the attacks. Sab Laban was chosen for the task because he knows Hebrew.
When Sab Laban arrived in Turkey after being released from prison, he was met by his brother-in-law, Fahad Shaludi, one of the senior Hamas operatives in Jerusalem who operated in the mid-1990s.
Shaludi and Sab Laban discussed the purchase of weapons to carry out shooting attacks, but Sab Laban was asked to establish local institutions that would serve as a cover for Hamas activities, including a kindergarten, an association, and a home for the poor, which would be used to transfer or launder money to finance Hamas activities in Jerusalem.
Sab Laban began to act upon his return to Israel and until his arrest, he managed to collect $10,000 given to him by tourists from Turkey who came to visit Al Aqsa.
Establishing civilian institutions as a cover for terrorism is a known method in Hamas. One of Sab Laban’s friends in Sur Bahar is Malek Bakirat, a senior Hamas operative who served 19 years in prison for being a member of a terrorist cell that planned to blow up a bus in Jerusalem. Kirat is the son of Sheikh Najah Bkirat, a senior official at the Waqf in Jerusalem, who himself founded a women’s association three years ago under the nose of the Jerusalem municipality.
Sab Labanmade it clear to his brother-in-law in Turkey that he did not intend to participate in actual terror activity, but Shaludi ordered him to prepare and deliver to him a list of names of young people from Jerusalem who would agree to act within the Hamas squads.
Abida Tawil, a released prisoner who was arrested several times by the Israeli security forces for disturbances in Jerusalem, was the one who prepared the list for Sab Laban so that he would deliver it to Shaludi in Turkey. The list included the names of 13 potential recruits identified as those who might join Hamas.
Among the names on the list was Rami Baraka, a junior Hamas operative, and Mamun Razem, a resident of Wadi Kadum, also a Hamas operative and a released prisoner, who is a member of one of the Islamic associations in his area of residence. Hamza Za’air, a Hamas operative from Jerusalem was also on the list. Shaludi asked Sab Laban to hand over their telephone numbers.
After Abida prepared the list he gave it to Sab Laban who in turn passed it on to Sabri Shaludi, an associate and family member of the senior Hamas official from Turkey.
The Turkish based activities of Hamas, which are intended to establish the extremist organization’s grip on the holy city, explains the recent large presence of its supporters and activists in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in the alleys of eastern Jerusalem, as well as the thousands of Hamas flags seen in demonstrations, the posters, the ability to mobilize crowds, the network of activists, the financing of Iftar meals and more.
All of these acts of terrorism are financed by the Hamas headquarters that is still based in Turkey.