Israel’s security forces arrested six Palestinians Sunday night in an ongoing effort to find three kidnapped Israeli teens.
The IDF said that five of the suspects were members of Hamas from Hebron, where the military has been concentrating its search, and one was from the Ramallah area.
IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner confirmed that all of the arrests were made in connection with the search for the teens.
Since the start of Operation Brother’s Keeper to rescue Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, over 400 Palestinians have been arrested, a majority of them members of Hamas.
The arrests, though, have slowed to a trickle after large sweeps earlier in the month that saw dozens arrested at a time.
Lerner said during month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, the military was trying to keep tensions at bay, while still operating in its search for the three. He said the army would attempt to only carry out arrests while avoiding large crowds that tend to stay out late into the night during the holiday.
Friday’s prayers at the Temple Mount, among the largest of the year, could also prove a friction point, but the army said it will allow some access for Muslims to the site.
“We are looking forward now toward Friday. The first Friday of Ramadan is usually a huge issue specifically around Jerusalem and the access to the Temple Mount. There will be some access, in accordance with the directives of the Defense Ministry,” he said, adding that the army would have a clearer assessment in the next few days.
Sunday night’s arrests came as tens of thousands of people crowded in Rabin Square on Sunday night to show support for the families of the three kidnapped teenagers on the seventeenth day of their ordeal, under the banner “Singing Together for Their Return.” President-elect Reuven Rivlin and the parents of the kidnapped teens highlighted the speaker list.
In the South, Israel and Gaza terrorists exchanged blows throughout the night and into Monday morning, as the IDF responded to rocket fire from the strip with an evening strike in Gaza that reportedly left one Hamas member dead. Hours later, barrages of another dozen rockets were fired at Israel. There were no injuries or damage to property.
A military source said the army was closely tracking the relationship between events in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
According to the military source, there is a connection between the arenas, and Israel is determined to operate as deemed necessary. “We are prepared for everything,” the source told Israel Radio.
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.
Israeli intelligence officials were quoted over 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.
Fraenkel, Shaar and Yifrach were abducted from a West Bank bus stop on June 12, prompting a massive manhunt by Israeli forces and intelligence agencies focused on the Hebron area.