Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed security forces to “use all means” to find three youths who he said were kidnapped by a terrorist organization.
Netanyahu ordered the military to “prepare forces for any scenario” and said he was holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for the abduction, which came 10 days after the swearing in of a unity government with Hamas. The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the incident occurred in an area under complete Israeli control.
“The pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results that are in complete contradiction with making progress towards peace,” said Netanyahu. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union and Netanyahu has shunned the new Palestinian government.
Coming at a time when even the possibility of peace talks is dim, the kidnapping raised concerns of a deterioration into violence. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke of “broad intelligence and operational efforts” in the West Bank and Channel Two said a division of paratroopers was sent to the area of Hebron where it was believed the youths were brought.
Israeli security forces arrested several Palestinians throughout the West Bank overnight and imposed a general closure on Hebron and the Gaza Strip, an Israeli army spokeswoman said, asking not to be identified in accordance with military regulations. Army Radio said some 80 Palestinians had been detained, including Hamas officials.
“Israel and the Palestinians are on the edge of an abyss,” said Yoram Meital, a professor of political science at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “This could have the dynamic of action, retaliation and then another action and could easily take the parties into a vicious cycle.”
A spokesman for the Palestinian security services, Adnan Damiri, told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an that the Palestinian Authority wasn’t responsible for the kidnapping, as the young men disappeared in an area of the West Bank under Israel’s control.
Netanyahu dismissed the claim, saying the kidnappers originated in territory governed by the Palestinians. He didn’t say which terror group Israel believes to have taken the youths.
Israel seized the West Bank in the 1967 war with its Arab neighbors. The territory is home to 2.3 million Palestinians who claim it as part of a future independent state.
‘No More Freeing’
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would oppose any agreement that would free Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for the kidnapped men. “There will be no more freeing of Palestinian terrorists sitting in Israeli prisoners, not in the form of a gesture, or in any other way,” Liberman said on Army Radio today.
One of the three young men may have U.S. citizenship as well as Israeli, the daily Haaretz reported yesterday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been trying to advance peace talks this year, has spoken with both Netanyahu and Abbas since the youths went missing.
Their disappearance came amid rallies across the West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of more than 100 Palestinians staging hunger strikes in Israeli prisons.
In another sign of renewed tensions, Israel targeted six sites in Gaza following the launching of three rockets at its territory last night. The Israel Defense Forces issued a statement today saying its air strikes resulted in direct hits on “terror activity” sites and weapons-storage facilities. The IDF said nine rockets have been fired at Israel in the past two weeks, six of which landed on its territory
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Lebanon, didn’t confirm the kidnapping, but said on Al-Quds television that it “proved that resistance to Israel hasn’t been stifled.” He urged the kidnappers, “if there indeed were kidnappers” to demand the “highest price” for the return of the youths.
Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 for the return of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years by Hamas after being abducted outside Gaza.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at firstname.lastname@example.org Andrew J. Barden