With no sign of life from three kidnapped Israelis teens six days after their disappearance, the IDF pressed on with its comprehensive West Bank operation Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, arresting 65 Palestinians, 51 of whom were Hamas members released as part of the 2011 deal for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
The army also raided the facilities of Radio Al-Aqsa in Ramallah and Hebron.
In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the IDF’s actions.
“The activities of the IDF and the Shin Bet last night, during which Hamas terrorists released in the agreement for the return of Gilad Shalit were arrested, send an important message and are a critical component in a series of operations whose purpose is to return the kidnapped boys, and damage Hamas’s infrastructure in Judea and Samaria,” he said.
Israeli forces have been engaged in a widespread crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank since the kidnapping Thursday night of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16 and Naftali Frankel, 16.
According to the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, 240 Palestinians, including 180 members of Hamas, have been arrested as part of Operation Brother’s Keeper, and 800 buildings have been searched, including 10 operations against da’wa institutions where Hamas recruits, disseminates information and transfers finances.
“Last night’s activities took place across the West Bank,” a senior military official said. “We operated in Jenin, Qabatia and Samaria, Tzurif, Yatta and Samua. In Jenin there was a little friction during the arrests, but the rest occurred without incident. Additionally, we tested the defensive perimeters surrounding Jewish communities in the West Bank and the security fence as part of our efforts to prevent illegal breaches.
“Three hundred thousand people are under curfew, and after eight years of relative prosperity they are beginning to realize [the implications].”
The military source added that out of the hundreds of thousands of citizens in Hebron, “thousands, each of whom support six or seven family members, possess permits to work in Israel. Because of the curfew, they can’t work, and this has a visible impact on the population. With two weeks left before Ramadan, the population’s preparations for the holiday have taken a hit.”
Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said that Israel is “well aware” of the identity of the Hamas cell that kidnapped the youths.
“The Shin Bet and intelligence officials are interested in investigating as many Hamas operatives as possible to find any leads on the whereabouts of the boys,” he told Israel Radio Wednesday morning. “The end result of any military operation should be the eradication of the Hamas movement.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz toured the Gush Etzion area overnight, and met with senior security personnel. The senior defense official said the chief of staff signed off on the continuation of activities.
“There is a lot of determination and we learn from arrest to arrest,” he said.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid took to Facebook Wednesday morning to praise the IDF’s efforts.
“It will not stop here,” his message read. “Hamas will learn the hard way, and even if it takes time, we will pursue the organization everywhere, day and night, just when they least expect it. Until they return the boys.”
Although Hamas welcomed news of the kidnapping, and has been held responsible by Israel and much of the international community, officials of the organization have denied any connection to it.