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Israel blames Hamas for teens' kidnapping as massive search enters third day

Troops carried out their biggest arrest operation in years last night, detaining 80 Palestinians.

Israeli soldiers patrol during a military operation to search for three missing teenagers outside the West Bank city of Hebron.
Israeli soldiers patrol during a military operation to search for three missing teenagers outside the West Bank city of Hebron.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

ISRAELI PRIME MINSITER Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Islamist Hamas movement of kidnapping three teenagers as a massive West Bank manhunt for the missing youths entered its third day.

As troops wrapped up the biggest arrest operation in years, detaining 80 Palestinians overnight — many of them Hamas members — Netanyahu pointed the finger of blame directly at the Islamist movement.

“This morning I can say what I could not say yesterday before the broad wave of arrests of Hamas people in Judaea and Samaria,” he said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

“Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people — the same Hamas with whom Abu Mazen has forged a unity government, which has very serious implications,” he said referring to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Snatched

The youngsters, one of whom also holds a US passport, are students at Jewish seminaries in the West Bank, believed to have been snatched Thursday night from an area between Bethlehem and Hebron while hitchhiking.

They have been identified as Gilad Shaer, 16, from Talmon settlement near Ramallah, Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, and Eyal Ifrach, 19, from Elad, both in central Israel.

Their disappearance came 10 days after the establishment of a new Palestinian government of technocrats pieced together by Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas following a unity agreement between rival leaders in the West Bank and Gaza.

Reconciliation

The reconciliation with Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, has enraged Israel, with Netanyahu placing responsibility for the teens’ safe return on the shoulders of Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.

His accusation was derided by Hamas.

“Netanyahu’s statements accusing Hamas of kidnapping the (teenagers) are stupid,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.

He said the wave of arrests overnight, which included Hamas MPs and former ministers, showed Israel had no idea who was responsible.

- © AFP, 2014

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