Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will strike hard against Hamas for the kidnapping of three teenagers outside a West Bank settlement and demanded that the Palestinian leadership help to find them.
Netanyahu convened a meeting with top military and intelligence officers yesterday after speaking by phone with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who condemned the June 12 abduction at a hitchhiking station south of Jerusalem. The Islamist Hamas movement, which is labeled a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, has praised the kidnapping while saying it was not responsible.
Netanyahu has accused Hamas of carrying out the abduction, and said Israeli intelligence clearly showed that the group was behind it. The premier told reporters in Jerusalem that the kidnapping “will have ‘‘grave consequences’’ and advised Israelis to be prepared for a military operation that could last a ‘‘long time.’’
The Israeli premier told Abbas that he ‘‘expects your help’’ in finding the teens, according to a text message from his office yesterday. In the call, Netanyahu pressed his argument that the kidnapping was facilitated by Abbas’s June 2 formation of a joint government with Hamas.
‘‘We’re preparing for a broad operation,” army chief Benny Gantz told Channel 2 television. “Our aim is to find the three boys, bring them home and hurt Hamas as much as possible.”
Hamas held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit captive in Gaza for five years before trading him in 2011 for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
“We have to understand the implications of partnership with Hamas -- it’s bad for Israel, bad for Palestinians and bad for the region,” Netanyahu said he told Abbas.
Israel’s stock market wasn’t hurt by the mounting tensions, with the benchmark TA-25 index closing 0.3 percent higher yesterday.
Israeli forces expanded their search through the West Bank, arresting scores of Palestinians -- including the Hamas-affiliated speaker of the dormant Palestinian parliament -- and calling up a limited number of reserve troops. Soldiers killed a Palestinian man in Ramallah in the course of a raid, and more than 150 Palestinians have been arrested since June 15, the military said.
Egypt is cooperating with Israel in searching for the teens, destroying tunnels under its border with the Gaza Strip that could be used to smuggle them out, the Haaretz newspaper said, without saying where it got the information. An Israeli government spokesman declined to comment on the report when contacted by phone.
Channel 2 reported on June 15 that one of the teens called the emergency police hotline to report the abduction and police took hours to act. One of them is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.