The Israeli cabinet voted Tuesday afternoon to significantly reduce the security forces’ West Bank presence and limit the scope of Operation Brother’s Keeper, aimed at finding three kidnapped teens, to intelligence-gathering campaigns seeking direct ties to the abduction.
The decision came amid raised concerns that a continued IDF crackdown during the Ramadan holiday would spark riots, Army Radio reported, and in light of increased international scrutiny and criticism of the operation, now in its twelfth day. Thousands of troops have been deployed in the West Bank, searching homes and other sites mainly but not solely in the Hebron area, and making more than 300 arrests.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered cautious praise for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his strongly worded condemnation of the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, though Netanyahu reiterated his demand that the PA cut ties with Hamas.
In a meeting with his Romanian counterpart Victor Ponta, Netanyahu said Abbas’s address on June 18 constituted “important statements,” but emphasized that “if he really means them, and if he is really committed to peace and to the war on terror, logic dictates he would sever his pact with Hamas.”
Dissolving the reconciliation deal “is the only way to move forward in the way backed by many in Europe who understand that in order to achieve peace and stability, we must combat the terror forces, intolerance… there can be no pact with the kidnappers of children,” the prime minister said.
Six days after the kidnapping, the PA president said the yeshiva students were “human beings just like us and must be returned to their families,” and called for continued security cooperation between Israel and the PA to locate them. Abbas also pledged that there would be no third intifada.
Netanyahu also condemned Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Tuesday for his Al Jazeera interview Monday night in which he praised the abductors.
“In this, Mashaal clarified once again that Hamas is committed to war with Israel and all its citizens, as well as every Jew in the world,” Netanyahu said. “How can President Abbas forge a pact with these terrorists who glorify hatred?”
Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel 16, were kidnapped in the West Bank on June 12. Israel holds Hamas responsible for the attack, but the terror group has not claimed responsibility or issued demands. Since the abduction, IDF troops have arrested hundreds of Palestinians, many of them Hamas members, in the attempt to locate the missing teens.