Israeli troops arrested 18 more West Bank Palestinians overnight Friday-Saturday and searched 64 homes in their hunt for three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Hamas from a hitchhiking post in the West Bank on June 12. But military sources said Saturday they had still made no breakthrough in tracking down the abducted trio – Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach — and their kidnappers.
On Sunday night in Tel Aviv, a rally is planned to highlight the plight of the three, under the title, “Singing Together for Their Return.” President-elect Reuven Rivlin is expected to be among those addressing the gathering.
Israeli intelligence officials were quoted at the weekend saying that they anticipated the search for the three could be very protracted, and that it was clear the kidnappers had prepared carefully ahead of carrying out the abduction.
On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met separately with the parents of the three abducted Israeli teens.
“Our supreme mission is to bring the boys home. We are using every means to this end and all operations are for this goal,” the prime minister told the parents.
Ya’alon told the families that the investigation had progressed since their last meeting but that patience was necessary
The defense chief emphasized once more that Israel’s working assumption is that the teenagers are still alive. He added that the IDF mission to locate them would not stop until they were found and the kidnappers were in Israeli custody, according to Israel Radio.
Netanyahu and Ya’alon last met with the parents of the teens on June 20.
Overnight Thursday-Friday, the IDF had arrested nine Palestinians in the West Bank and searched 40 locations as part of its large-scale operation to both locate the teenagers, and destroy Hamas’s infrastructure in the territory.
The IDF expects to redeploy its forces to coincide with the start of the month of Ramadan Saturday, focusing on the Gush Etzion and Judea areas, but military sources stressed that the operation would not wind down in any significant manner because of Ramadan. A military source also told Israel Radio that the IDF does not expect any major changes in deployment for next Friday, when thousands of Muslim worshipers are expected to attend services on the Temple Mount.
Israeli authorities on Thursday named two Hamas members as prime suspects in the kidnapping.
The two, Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme, have been missing from their homes in Hebron’s Hares neighborhood ever since the kidnapping took place on the night of June 12 and are still at large.
Hamas officials in Hebron confirmed the two suspects were members, and said Israeli troops have targeted the men’s homes since the beginning of Operation Brother’s Keeper. The officials said troops had entered the homes several times, conducting intense searches and confiscating items as evidence.
In recent days, search efforts have focused on an area north of Hebron, where some 1,500 soldiers have been deployed.
The IDF has arrested more than 400 Palestinians, most of them Hamas members, as part of the operation and searched over 1,500 locations throughout the West Bank since the kidnapping, in some cases going back to locations three and four times.