Israel’s security forces arrested seven Palestinians Saturday night and searched 190 suspected locations in their continued search for three kidnapped teens.
The arrests brought the number of suspects apprehended over the weekend to 25. The arrests and searches were concentrated in Hebron, Beit Kahil, El Arub and Beit Fajr, Israel Radio reported.
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 came as Israeli planes struck sites across Gaza in retaliation for rocket fire over the weekend, including one missile which hit a Sderot factory, destroying it.
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,” he 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. Israel has said Hamas was responsible for the abduction and named two Hebron-area Hamas operatives missing since the day of the kidnapping as the perpetrators. Hamas has denied responsibility.
A rally for the abducted teens is planned for Sunday night in Tel Aviv to highlight their plight. The rally’s title will be “Singing Together for Their Return.” President-elect Reuven Rivlin is expected to be among those addressing the gathering.
On Saturday, the European Union condemned the escalating violence between Israel and Palestinian groups and urged the Israeli government “to use proportionate means only” to find the kidnapped teens.
“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.
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.
Five Palestinians have been killed in clashes in the West Bank connected to the ongoing IDF operation.