Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday morning that the Palestinian terror group Hamas was behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on Thursday, and warned there would be “severe repercussions.”
“This morning I can say what I was prevented from saying yesterday, before the wave of arrests of Hamas members in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said. “Those who carried out the abduction of our boys were members of Hamas.”
“This has severe repercussions,” he added.
Yeshiva students Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were abducted while hitchhiking south of Jerusalem Thursday night, Israeli officials said, leading to a wide-ranging manhunt in the West Bank to locate the three.
The IDF arrested 80 Palestinians, including senior members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, overnight Saturday as security forces continued to search for information regarding the whereabouts of the students.
Among those arrested was Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas, along with former ministers and members of the Palestinian parliament, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the prime minister’s accusation was “stupid,” and “designed to break Hamas,” according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency. Abu Zuhri added that the tactic would not succeed, and that Israeli measures in the West Bank — including the wave of arrests — only indicated the IDF’s “state of confusion” with regard to the kidnapping.
An IDF spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that it believed Hamas was behind the kidnappings.
“According to our current evidence we know that Hamas is responsible for the abduction,” the spokesperson said.
Hamas hailed the “success” of the abduction on Saturday, but a senior official of the group denied that the terror group had any involvement or knowledge about the incident.
Two little-known Palestinian terror groups claimed responsibility for the kidnapping on Friday, but it was unclear whether either claim had any credibility.
The prime minister insinuated that Hamas, which recently signed a unity pact with rival Fatah, was behind the attack in his Saturday night address, in which he held Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the incident and lambasted his alliance with Hamas as part of the new Palestinian government.
“Those same elements in the international community that said that the Palestinian agreement with Hamas would advance peace now see the true results of this union,” Netanyahu said, declaring that no peace agreement could be made with a Hamas-affiliated entity.
“We hold Abbas and the Palestinian Authority responsible for all attacks against Israel that originate from their territory, whether Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] or the Gaza Strip… The attackers came from Palestinian Authority areas and the Authority is responsible,” he added.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.