IDF troops operating in the West Bank arrested some 80 Palestinians, including senior members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, overnight Saturday, as security forces continued to search for information regarding the whereabouts of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped while hitchhiking south of Jerusalem on Thursday night, Palestinian sources were quoted as saying.
Among those arrested were former ministers and members of the Palestinian parliament, an Israel Radio reporter said, as well as Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement it had arrested 80 Palestinian suspects in the West Bank as part of its search for the three missing teens.
The army said wide-ranging searches would continue Sunday.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the IDF would use “all means at hand” to bring back the three teens.
“Palestinian terrorists will not feel safe, will not be able to hide and will feel the heavy arm of the Israeli military capabilities,” he said in a statement.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped short of blaming Hamas directly for the abduction of the three teenagers — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 19 — he cited a recent unity pact between the organization and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group.
“Our boys were kidnapped by a terrorist organization. There is no doubt about that,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the press Saturday night following a security meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz.
“The pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results which are the exact opposite of advancing peace between us and the Palestinians,” said the prime minister.
“All of the terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations – are committed to the destruction of Israel and they draw encouragement from this pact. Their personnel are constantly trying to murder, attack and abduct Israeli citizens simply because they are Israeli citizens. Over the decades they have tried to perpetrate abductions and, to our regret, they occasionally succeed,” Netanyahu added.
Hamas, for its part, denied any involvement in the kidnapping or knowledge about the three yeshiva students’ fate, although a spokesman for the group on Saturday hailed the “success” of the attack. Fauzi Barhum lambasted the PA over its coordination with Israel in the search for the missing boys, saying the security cooperation between the two sides to locate the “heroic kidnappers” was a “mark of disgrace.”
An obscure Salafist organization claimed responsibility for the abduction on Friday, followed by a second unknown group. Neither group offered up proof, and there was no indication that the claims of responsibility were credible.
On Saturday night Ya’alon announced a full closure on the Hebron area, only allowing passage at checkpoints to Palestinians in need of urgent medical care and other humanitarian cases.
Ya’alon also instructed that all crossings in and out of Gaza be closed.
West Bank settlements said they would not permit entry to Palestinian workers on Sunday morning.
“Closing the settlements [to Palestinian laborers] is meant as leverage to pressure the population of the Palestinian Authority to not cover up the kidnapping and to create pressure to turn in the kidnappers and return the boys home safely,” the Yesha Council – the umbrella organization of West Bank settlements – said in a message to settlement leaders.