The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Israel's search for 3 missing teens turns into widest crackdown on Hamas in almost a decade

  • Print
Female relatives of slain Palestinian Ahmad Arafat Sabarin, 20, who was killed by Israeli army fire early Monday during a confrontation between stone throwers and soldiers, cries with a relative at the family house, prior to his funeral procession in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jalazoun, at the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, June 16, 2014. Israeli troops on Monday rounded up dozens more senior Hamas activists and killed a Palestinian in a clash with stone throwers — part of a feverish search for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers who Israel alleges were seized by the Islamic militant group. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Enlarge Image

Female relatives of slain Palestinian Ahmad Arafat Sabarin, 20, who was killed by Israeli army fire early Monday during a confrontation between stone throwers and soldiers, cries with a relative at the family house, prior to his funeral procession in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jalazoun, at the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, June 16, 2014. Israeli troops on Monday rounded up dozens more senior Hamas activists and killed a Palestinian in a clash with stone throwers — part of a feverish search for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers who Israel alleges were seized by the Islamic militant group. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

JERUSALEM - Israel warned Monday it would exact a heavy price from Hamas, as a massive search for three missing Jewish seminary students turned into the widest crackdown on the Islamic militant group in the West Bank in almost a decade.

Israel has blamed Hamas for the apparent abductions, without providing proof, and has arrested more than 150 Palestinians since the three teens disappeared in the West Bank late Thursday.

Most of those rounded up were from Hamas, including activists and political leaders, among them 10 members of the non-functioning Palestinian parliament. Israel's Security Cabinet discussed further steps Monday, reportedly including the possible deportation of Hamas leaders from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is in control.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Hamas has begun "paying a heavy price, both in terms of arrests and assets," suggesting the aim is to try to dismantle the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank. It's not clear how far Israel will go, though, considering the risk of a conflagration in the West Bank after several years of relative calm.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has used the abductions to try to discredit Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the unity government Abbas formed with Hamas backing earlier this month.

Netanyahu claimed Abbas is ultimately responsible for the fate of the teens and alleged the Palestinian leader's new alliance with the Islamic militants created an atmosphere that encouraged the apparent kidnapping.

Abbas and Netanyahu spoke by phone Monday, a rare contact between the two. Netanyahu's office said the Israeli prime minister asked Abbas for help with the search.

"The Hamas kidnappers came from territory under Palestinian Authority control and returned to territory under Palestinian Authority control," Netanyahu told Abbas, referring to the areas where Palestinians have limited self-rule.

Abbas aides have rejected Netanyahu's contention, saying Israel is in overall control of the West Bank. The junction where the teens were last seen is under full Israeli security control and is commonly used by soldiers and settlers.

Abbas condemned both the apparent kidnapping and a "series of Israeli violations" in a statement Monday. He referred to the arrests and the killing of a 20-year-old Palestinian by Israeli army fire early Monday, during a confrontation between stone throwers and soldiers in a West Bank refugee camp.

Despite the pitched rhetoric, Palestinian security officials have worked with Israeli counterparts to try to locate the missing teens, Palestinian officials said.

Abbas has said such security co-ordination in the West Bank — in place since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from him in 2007 — would continue even under a unity government. The joint efforts have routinely targeted Hamas activists.

The Israeli search for the missing students — two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old — was concentrated in and around Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. Troops sealed the area, blocking access roads, and conducted house-to-house searches.

Arrests of Hamas activists began shortly after the teens disappeared. Several dozen more were rounded up overnight, including Abdel Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the parliament and a senior Hamas figure in the West Bank.

Hamas is considered a terror group by Israel and the West because of past attacks that have killed hundreds of Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Over the years, Israel has carried out periodic campaigns against the group, including arrest sweeps, but the current crackdown is the widest in the West Bank since 2006, when Israel retaliated for the capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-allied militants in Gaza. Separately, Israel has carried out several major offensives against Hamas in Gaza.

Israel has not provided evidence of Hamas involvement in the disappearance of the teens.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Monday that Israel waited for 48 hours before pointing the finger at Hamas. "The information is conclusive," he said. "The people behind the abduction are Hamas members."

Asked about Israel's claim, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that while Hamas has used similar tactics in the past, "I don't want to jump to a conclusion" at this time.

Hamas has praised the apparent abduction, but has stopped short of claiming responsibility. Other claims have emerged, including from a purported al-Qaida branch, but could not be authenticated.

Netanyahu said it could take time to track down the missing students, adding that "we are in the midst of a complex operation."

Officials have said they are working on the assumption the teens are alive, but four days without a sign of life is raising concerns.

One of the missing teens, Naftali Fraenkel, holds U.S. citizenship. Although he was born and raised in Israel, his family still has many relatives in the New York area.

On Monday, about 200 people gathered outside the Israeli consulate in New York, praying for the safe return of the three teens and the safety of the soldiers looking for them. Some carried signs with pictures of the teens and the phrase "Bring Back Our Boys."

"It's important for us, all Jews, to show support, to show that they're not forgotten, that we're together with them, we're worried about them," said Ethan Stein, 22, of Manhattan, a Brandeis University student who attended the rally.

The apparent abductions came at a time when Israeli-Palestinian tensions were already running high over the Palestinian unity government. Some senior Israeli officials called for a crackdown not just on Hamas, but also on Abbas' Palestinian Authority.

The incident has put Abbas in a bind.

He has repeatedly assured the U.S. and Europe that security co-ordination with Israel would continue under a unity government. But because such co-operation with Israel is widely unpopular among Palestinians, he cannot use it to counter Netanyahu's charges against him and the unity government. Highlighting it publicly could torpedo Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, signalled Monday that the apparent abductions have not changed Washington's view of the unity government.

"Based on what we know now, we do not believe that Hamas plays a role in the government," Psaki said.

Palestinian militants have repeatedly threatened to kidnap Israelis, hoping to use them as bargaining chips to win the release of prisoners held by Israel. No demands have been issued in connection with the disappearance of the three Israeli teens, however.

Currently, dozens of Palestinians held by Israel are on a hunger strike to try to force Israel to end the practice of "administrative detentions" without charges or trial.

___

Laub reported from Jericho, West Bank. Associated Press writer Nasser Shiyoukhi in Hebron, West Bank, Matthew Lee in Washington and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Stuary Murray announces musical RightsFest for CMHR opening weekend

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A Canada goose flies towards the sun near the Perimeter Highway North and Main St Monday afternoon – See Day 10 for Bryksa’s 30 goose project - May 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A nesting goose sits on the roof of GoodLife Fitness at 143 Nature Way near Kenaston as the morning sun comes up Wednesday morning- See Bryksa’s Goose a Day Photo- Day 07- Web crop-May 09, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you like Gord Steeves’ idea to sell four city-owned golf courses to fund road renewal?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google