Israel arrests 2 U.K. consulate workers on weapons charges

/ Source: The Associated Press

Two maintenance workers at the U.K. consulate in Jerusalem have been arrested by Israeli authorities on suspicion of selling weapons to Hamas militants, officials said Monday.

The arrests come after Israel's Shin Bet security service on Sunday disclosed that two alleged militants operating in east Jerusalem were arrested in November and indicted for buying weapons and planning to carry out attacks.

Israeli authorities have alleged the militants were scouting locations for an attack, including the possibility of allegedly launching a missile at a packed soccer stadium in Israel during a match. Three other men were charged with arms dealing in the same case, according to a statement from the Shin Bet.

An Israeli diplomat said Monday he believes the two British consulate employees — confirmed by the British Foreign Office as Mohammed Hamadeh and Bilal Bakhatan — are linked to the Hamas plot. A British Foreign Office spokesman said he believes the two maintenance workers are being investigated for allegedly selling illegal weapons, but that the U.K. is seeking confirmation from Israel.

"We are trying to figure out exactly what was their relation to this group of Hamas activists," the Israeli diplomat said on customary condition of anonymity. He added that an investigation was ongoing.

Israeli authorities have told British officials that the arrests are unrelated to the men's work at the consulate, a spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said.

The British spokesman, also speaking on condition of anonymity according to departmental protocol, said the men were both local hires and were arrested last month. He said the U.K. it is awaiting confirmation of their nationalities.

He added that Britain has confidence in the vetting process for all its employees at consulates and embassies, which is under constant review. He said "events like these" arrests will be looked at as part of the continual review.