The European Union on Saturday condemned the escalating violence between Israel and Palestinian groups and urged the Israeli government “to use proportionate means only” to find kidnapped teens Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19.
“The EU reiterates its condemnation of the recent abduction of three Israeli students in the West Bank and calls once again for their immediate release and safe return to their families,” read the statement, issued by the European Union’s press office in Brussels. “Such acts can only undermine international efforts to encourage a resumption of peace negotiations.”
The union “regrets the violence which has erupted in the West Bank as a result of the abduction, in particular the killing of several Palestinians, and calls on Israel to use proportionate means only to bring about the return of the abductees,” it said.
“We also condemn recent indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. We call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any further escalation which will worsen the situation.”
And finally, the short statement praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “for his unequivocal condemnation of the abduction” of the teens, and welcomed “the cooperation of the Palestinian security services in the search for the abductees. Statements made by some Hamas leaders that glorify the perpetrators of the abduction are unacceptable,” the statement added.
The EU concluded by suggesting that “recent events underline the urgent need for peace negotiations to resume.”
Israeli troops arrested 18 more West Bank Palestinians late Friday and early Saturday, and searched 64 homes, in the ongoing hunt for the teenagers, which Israel has repeatedly asserted were 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 or their kidnappers.
A rally is planned for Sunday night in Tel Aviv 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 they anticipated the search for the teens could be very protracted, and that it was clear the kidnappers had prepared carefully ahead of 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.
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. Four Palestinians were killed in clashes in the West Bank connected to the ongoing operation.