A senior Hamas leader was arrested in the West Bank early Thursday, just hours after he gave an interview to The Globe and Mail.
Israeli and Palestinian media reported that Sheik Hassan Yousef, the top political leader of Hamas in the West Bank, was arrested in a large-scale Israeli raid into Ramallah, Hebron and other cities that saw five people killed and dozens detained. He was placed under administrative detention, a method used by Israeli security forces to hold someone without trial and for reasons that are kept secret.
On Wednesday, Sheik Yousef told The Globe in an exclusive interview that he believed “mistakes” may have been made during the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion of Israel that left more than 1,400 Israelis dead. The assault prompted a furious Israeli backlash that has already killed more than 3,400 Palestinians as Israel has laid siege to the Gaza Strip and pummelled it with air strikes.
Sheik Yousef said he had no foreknowledge of the attack, which he said went off the rails when more and more militants – including some not controlled by Hamas – entered Israel after the border fence was breached by Hamas’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades.
He told The Globe he believed Hamas would be willing to release the women, children and foreigners among the estimated 200 hostages taken to Gaza after the invasion – if Israel would agree to a 24-hour ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to reach the strip.
“We have hostages who are our guests, and we don’t have an issue with these hostages,” he said, speaking at his family home in Ramallah. He was responding to a question from The Globe about why Hamas was holding people such as Vivian Silver, a 74-year-old grandmother and peace activist with roots in Winnipeg. “When the circumstances allow, we will release them.”
Ms. Silver has been missing since the Oct. 7 attack on communities in southern Israel, including Kibbutz Be’eri, where she lived.
Sheik Yousef called on the international community to negotiate a break in hostilities so that some of the hostages could be safely released. “We are ready. Let it be. But the attack has to stop.”
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in reply to e-mailed questions from The Globe, dismissed Sheik Yousef’s hostages-for-ceasefire suggestion out of hand after his arrest Thursday.
“Hamas lies in everything it says. They murdered women, children, babies, and elderlies and kidnapped over 200 people and lie to the world, saying they didn’t do it,” the e-mailed reply reads. “The crimes of Hamas will not be forgiven. And their lies are an additional sin on top of their crime.”
Just before meeting with The Globe, Sheik Yousef took part in protests and led prayers in the centre of Ramallah. Demonstrators shouted that they were willing to sacrifice themselves for Gaza and called for the ouster of the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.
The West Bank is under Israeli military occupation, and the Palestinian Authority has limited governing powers there. Gaza has been ruled by Hamas since 2007. It kicked out the Palestinian Authority shortly after Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the strip in 2005.
It’s unclear to what extent Sheik Yousef speaks for the armed wing of Hamas in Gaza. As one of its founders, the 68-year-old politician and religious scholar’s views are respected throughout the movement, but he said he had not spoken to anyone from the al-Qassam Brigades since the invasion because of security concerns, as well as poor cellular and WiFi connections in Gaza.
In the interview, Sheik Yousef – who has spent almost 25 years in Israeli prisons and was most recently released from administrative detention in July – said he expected to be arrested again at any time. “Every day I wait,” he said Wednesday afternoon as his wife poured coffee and his two young daughters listened in on the conversation. “Two days ago, the army was right in front of my house.”
The only topics he would not discuss were two of his six sons. His oldest son, Mosab, now 45, was disowned by his father after it was revealed he spent a decade working undercover for Israel’s Shin Bet security service. His youngest son, Suhib, was also ostracized after calling Hamas corrupt and “a racist terror organization that is dangerous for the Palestinian people” in an interview on Israeli television.
Mosab is widely known in Israel and the Palestinian territories as “The Green Prince” and is the subject of a 2014 documentary of the same name.
Sheik Yousef’s daughters told The Globe they only had four brothers.
In remarks from Tel Aviv, President Joe Biden vows the US will not repeat the world's inaction after the Holocaust, insisting ‘we will not stand by and do nothing again' as Israel responds to the recent attack by Hamas.
The Associated Press