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Three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine from north and East Jerusalem were recently arrested on suspicion of planning to assassinate Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Shin Bet security services announced Sunday.

The three bought weapons and scouted out the rabbi's house before being arrested.

The three suspects were identified as Salah Hamori, 20, from the Dahyat el-Barid neighborhood of Jerusalem, who has an Israeli identity card and French citizenship; Moatsam Sheikh, 25, from the village of Anata; and Moussa Darwish, 22, from the village of Isawiyah.

Hamori has been imprisoned in Israel before for being a member of the PFLP. When he was released from prison last year, he was recruited to rejuvenate the PFLP's cells in Jerusalem, left badly depleted by Shin Bet operations.

This particular cell began with graffiti and handing out leaflets, but was contacted by the military wing of the PFLP in the West Bank in recent months. The Shin Bet says the suspects were in contact with senior members of the PFLP being held in a Palestinian prison in Jericho for their involvement in the murder of minister Rehavam Ze'evi in October 2001.

The PFLP reportedly wanted to assassinate another key Israeli figure, and Rabbi Yosef's name came up.

Hamori and the other suspects bought weapons and ammunitions. Darwish apparently came up with the idea to target Yosef, and he knew the rabbi's home address in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood from his work as a deliveryman for a food store in the city's Givat Shaul neighborhood.

Hamori and Darwish cased the area around Yosef's home in January, making particular note of the security arrangements when Yosef came or left home. They planned to kill him as he left his house and even mapped out an escape route.

The three were arrested last month by the Shin Bet and the Jerusalem District Police.