Israel blames Hamas for teen kidnap

BATSHEVA SOBELMAN
Last updated 10:06 16/06/2014
Reuters

Israel's PM says Hamas members are behind an abduction of three Israeli teenagers. Gavino Garay reports.

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Israeli troops have tightened their clampdown on the West Bank city of Hebron and its environs, hoping to find three Jewish teenagers missing and presumed abducted by Palestinian militants.

About 80 Palestinians were arrested overnight, mostly from the Hebron area, including politicians, academics, militants and supporters affiliated with Hamas. Palestinian media kept a running list of those detained.

Three days after the youths disappeared while hitchhiking through the West Bank on their way home, Israeli military and intelligence raced against the clock to track down them down and keep them from being whisked from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip or a neighbouring country.

So far, there has been no credible claim of responsibility, and the fate of the three remains unknown.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that members of Hamas were behind the kidnapping.

Hamas officials in Gaza denied this but Netanyahu was adamant.

"Hamas terrorists carried out Thursday's kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers; we know that for a fact. ... Hamas denials do not change this fact," the prime minister said in Tel Aviv.

In a statement issued in Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry also said Hamas was a likely culprit.

"We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas' involvement," Kerry said. "As we gather this information, we reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organisation known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past."

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon had said that until proven otherwise, Israel was working on the assumption that the three teenagers - Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16 - were alive.

The Israeli military operation is focusing on the area of Hebron, where thousands of troops have been deployed in recent days to scour villages and rural areas for hiding places. At the same time, Israeli intelligence was mounting a parallel effort.

Forces were bolstered over the weekend with several hundred regular Army soldiers and a smaller number of reservists deployed in the search.

Large concrete blocks were placed around Hebron to seal it off and its residents were barred from travelling to Israel and Jordan.

The Israeli forces are reported to be hunting for two Hamas militants formerly imprisoned in Israel.

Tensions have been mounting along Israel's southern borders in recent days, with Israeli air strikes following rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and Israel has deployed extra batteries of the Iron Dome air-defense system around its southern cities.

Reportedly, security has been tightened along Egypt's border with Gaza as well.

The incident is a test for all parties after the collapse of peace talks and the nascent reconciliation between the Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah.

Netanyahu continues to hold the Palestinian Authority ultimately responsible. Security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian forces has continued, drawing criticism from some Hamas circles.

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- LA Times

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