Jerusalem: Israel has arrested four Palestinians suspected of planning to assassinate Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with an anti-tank rocket while he drove to his Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, Israeli officials say.
The alleged Hamas plot was hatched during the July-August war in Gaza. Its disclosure comes as ties fray between Israel and US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank, over a contested Jerusalem shrine.
A statement issued by Israel`s Shin Bet security agency late on Thursday identified three of the detainees as Hamas members and, citing their confessions under interrogation, said they had hoped that killing Lieberman "would relay a message to the State of Israel that would bring about an end to the Gaza war".
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip though it has formally submitted to a unity government under Abbas, did not immediately respond to the allegations. The Shin Bet said the suspects had been indicted by an Israeli military court but did not note whether they had entered a plea in response to the charges.
The four Palestinians live near Nokdim settlement, where Lieberman has a home. They had carried out surveillance on the far-right diplomat`s convoy and tried to obtain a rocket-propelled grenade with which to attack it, the Shin Bet said.
The Shin Bet described the alleged assassination plot as a sign that Islamist Hamas, which Abbas`s forces had suppressed in the West Bank after a 2007 Palestinian civil war, was stepping up its activities in the territory and adjoining East Jerusalem.
Hamas abducted and killed three Israeli youths in the West Bank in June, triggering the murder by Jews of a Palestinian teenager from Jerusalem and fuelling tensions amid a conflict that killed more than 2,100 Gazans and 73 on the Israeli side.
Israeli access to a Jerusalem site housing Islam`s third-holiest mosque and remnants of Judaism`s two ancient temples has further inflamed Palestinians, leading to lethal attacks on Jews in the city`s streets and in a synagogue.
Israel`s talks with Abbas on founding a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem broke down in April and it has accused him of inciting violence since. This is disputed, however, by security officials - among them US observers - who credit Abbas`s forces with curbing many West Bank threats.