Israeli security forces have arrested three Palestinian men suspected of belonging to a group inspired by the religious ideology of the Islamic State (IS) militant group. News of the arrests, which were carried out in recent weeks, was cleared for publication by the Israel Security Agency on January 4, according to local media.
The three men, named as 22-year-old Ahmed Wadah Salah Shehadeh, 21-year-old Muhammad Fayyad Abd al-Kader Zaru, and 23-year-old Qusai Ibrahim Masawdeh, were all arrested in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, 30 kilometers south of Jerusalem.
According to the Israel Security Agency, Shehadeh admitted intending to establish an Islamic State military squad that would carry out attacks. Shehadeh reportedly admitted planning to kill an IDF soldier and use his weapons to carry out an attack.
Since the three men are Palestinians, they will be subject to trial under the military court system established by Israel in the West Bank.
The case of the three Palestinian men is the first time there have been arrests of an alleged Islamic State-linked or -inspired group in the West Bank.
Rumors that the Islamic State group or those inspired by it is active in the West Bank have circulated previously, however. A pamphlet supposedly issued by IS was circulated around Hebron in June 2014, claiming responsibility for the kidnapping of three Israelis in the West Bank.
In addition, there have been claims -- denied by Palestinian organization Hamas -- that the Islamic State group is operating in Gaza. In November, Al Monitor quoted an Islamic State supporter in Gaza, Abu Mujahid, as saying that "IS is present in Gaza and operates in complete secrecy with very advanced weapons. It works with people affiliated with military groups from Salafist jihadist organizations, some of which returned to Gaza after fighting in Syria." Hamas officials told Al Monitor that those who were "leaking information" about an IS presence in Gaza were "trying to ruin Hamas' image."
Within Israel, there have been increasing concerns about the threat posed by Israeli nationals who return home after fighting in Syria.
Israel has prosecuted a handful of Israeli citizens who allegedly joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
In November 2013, a court in the northern Israeli city of Haifa sentenced an Israeli Arab citizen for fighting with the Islamic State group in Syria. The defendant, 23-year-old Ahmad Shurbaji from Umm al-Fahm, was convicted of training with an illegal terrorist organization operating in Iraq and Syria.
In addition, two Israeli Arab citizens have been reported killed fighting for Islamic State. One of the men, Ahmad Habashi from Iksal near Nazareth, is thought to have been killed in Iraq. The second man, Othman Abad al-Qiyan, studied medicine in Jordan and worked as an intern in an Israeli hospital. He is reported to have been killed fighting in Syria in August.
In response to reports of Qiyan’s death in Syria, the Israel Security Agency said that the phenomenon of Israeli citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq was "dangerous."
"Those leaving for the [Syrian war] theater undergo military training, are exposed to extremist global jihad ideologies, and there is a concern that they will be used to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel at the end of the day," the agency was quoted as saying.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk