IDF forces arrested 9 Palestinians Thursday night and early Friday morning in the Hebron area.
In addition, they searched 40 sites for clues as to the whereabouts of the three kidnapped Israeli teens or their kidnappers, Israel Radio reported.
Security forces located two pistols in the town of Beitunia, and an explosive device in the town of Idhna.
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. 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 West Bank Palestinians as prime suspects in the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank two weeks ago.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) June 26, 2014
The two alleged abductors, Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme, are both known Hamas members. They 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. Israeli security forces have been engaged in a massive operation to find the abducted youths.
Hamas officials in Hebron confirmed the two suspects were members, and said Israeli troops have targeted the men’s homes since the beginning of the operation. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety, said troops had entered the homes several times, conducting intense searches and confiscating items as evidence.
A senior Palestinian intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said the two suspects are believed to be hiding and that Palestinian security forces were also searching for them.
He said the fact that the two men have been missing since the kidnapping is “clear evidence they have links to the abduction.”
Israel has blamed Hamas for the kidnapping of Naftali Fraenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gil-ad Shaar, though the Islamist group has denied involvement. Thousands of Israeli troops have searched hundreds of locations in the West Bank and arrested some 400 Palestinians, many from Hamas, including some who were freed in a 2011 prisoner exchange for Hamas-kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In recent days, search efforts have focused on an area north of Hebron, where some 1,500 soldiers have been deployed. Some areas are now being searched for the third and fourth time.
The IDF’s Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz said Tuesday that “as time passes, the fear grows,” but stressed that Israel’s working assumption is that the three Israeli teenagers are alive.
Avi Issacharoff, Adiv Sterman, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.