The suspects, authorities said, had planned an attack last month during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to “destabilize” the area around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Authorities say a drone was found, intended to be armed and used to attack Jerusalem’s light rail, where crowds of passengers and tourists are seen every day.
They identified the leaders of the conspiracy as Hamas militants Rashid Rashak and Mansour Jafadi, who provided “lots of fireworks, flags and Hamas videos” in the vicinity of East Jerusalem during Ramadan last month. Security forces also seized a camera to take pictures of the “kidnappers”, cash and other equipment.
The statement did not say how close they came to implementing the plot. There was no immediate word from Hamas.
The arrests came amid fierce violence between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in East Jerusalem, most of them concentrated in a rival holy site. Israel has stepped up military operations in the occupied West Bank in response to multiple deadly attacks inside Israel in recent weeks.
Next week, Israeli ultra-nationalists plan to march through the main Muslim streets of the Old City.
The march is intended to commemorate Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. Israel later annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
The death of Al Jazeera reporter Shirin Abu Akleh during a fire in Jenin is also a cause for concern. A reorganization of The Associated Press supports claims by both the Palestinian Authority and Abu Akleh’s colleagues that the bullet that struck him came from an Israeli gun.
Due to the intense mistrust between the two sides, any final answer could prove elusive, each of which has a single possession of potentially important evidence.