IDF soldiers in an ongoing operation to locate three Israeli teenagers kidnapped last Thursday night conducted a wave of mass arrests across the West Bank overnight Monday, apprehending 41 Hamas activists, a senior officer said Tuesday.
As the search entered its fifth day, IDF activity expanded across all of the West Bank in an effort to hamstring Hamas’s financial and operational infrastructure, the official said. Among the detainees was the director of Hamas’s television station.
IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said that the soldiers focused on the Nablus area in the northern West Bank.
“As long as our boys remain abducted Hamas will feel pursued, paralyzed and threatened,” Lerner said. “We are committed in resolving the kidnapping and debilitating Hamas terrorist capacities, its infrastructure and its recruiting institutions.”
Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frankel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16, were kidnapped late Thursday night. They were last seen at a hitchhiking post in the Etzion Bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem at around 22:00 pm that night. The Israeli government has pointed the finger at Hamas and said that it holds the Palestinian Authority responsible for their well-being.
One of the missing teens, Frankel, holds US citizenship. Although he was born and raised in Israel, his family still has many relatives in the New York area.
Israel has arrested some 200 Palestinians since the three teens disappeared.
Most of those rounded up were from Hamas, including activists and political leaders, among them 10 members of the non-functioning Palestinian parliament. Israel’s security cabinet discussed further steps Monday, including the possible deportation of Hamas leaders from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is in control.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that the ongoing operation to return the kidnapped teenagers would take time.
“We are in the middle of a complicated operation and we need to be prepared [for the fact] that it will take time,” Netanyahu said during a press statement outside IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday evening, standing alongside Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
“At the moment we are focusing on one goal: the retrieval of our youths, our youths who were taken. We are also operating against Hamas,” he said and added that there will be “serious consequences” for the abductions.
Officials have said they are working on the assumption the teens are alive, but the fact that five days have elapsed without a sign of life is raising grave concerns.
In the shadow of the large-scale IDF search operation, several disturbances were reported across the West Bank Monday night and early Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday morning, a Palestinian was injured after police fired on a group of men throwing rocks at buses on Highway 5. He was arrested and taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah for treatment.
Late Monday night, soldiers shot at three Palestinians suspected of attempting to infiltrate the West Bank settlement of Kochav Ya’akov, near Ramallah.
One man was injured in the shooting, as the three attempted to breach the security perimeter of the settlement, and was taken to hospital, Channel 2 reported. The others fled.
In Beit Ummar north of Hebron, clashes erupted between IDF soldiers and Palestinians after rocks were hurled at the soldiers, who then responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, according to reports. There were no reported injuries.
In a separate incident near Karnei Shomron, a woman and her 18-month-old daughter were lightly injured when rocks were thrown at their vehicle. Both were treated at the scene.
The violence also spilled into East Jerusalem, where two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the Beit Orot Yeshiva on the Mount of Olives, causing a small fire. There were no injuries reported in the incident.
IDF troops arrested two Palestinians near Gush Etzion Monday night, at the request of the Shin Bet. The two were taken in for questioning after their vehicle was stopped and searched by soldiers.
At the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, six Palestinians were injured, including one seriously, during clashes with IDF soldiers.
In Gaza, the Israeli Air Force struck four “terror activity” sites overnight Monday, following rocket fire into Israel in the evening, the IDF spokesperson’s office said in a statement.
The IDF reported direct hits including on “a weapon manufacturing facility in the northern Gaza Strip and two weapon storage facilities in the central and southern Gaza Strip.”
A rocket landed in an open field near Ashkelon Monday evening.
AP contributed to this report.