Israel has conclusive evidence that Hamas is behind the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, and is passing that evidence on to several other countries before releasing it publicly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning.
Netanyahu also said that Palestinian deaths that have occurred as a result of the ongoing Israeli operation in the West Bank to rescue the kidnapped teens were unintentional.
Israel has “unequivocal proof that this is Hamas,” Netanyahu said ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “We are sharing this proof and information to this effect with several countries. Soon this information will be made public.”
The prime minister said that once it became known on the world stage that Hamas had initiated the kidnapping, previous remarks by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he condemned the kidnapping, “will be put to the test in practice. His remarks will be tested not only by actions to return the boys home but by his willingness to dissolve the unity government with Hamas, which abducted the youths and calls for the destruction of Israel.”
Netanyahu said he had met over the weekend with the families of the kidnapped youths, and promised that Israel would continue to do everything in its power to bring them home safely. “We are focusing on returning the abductees, on finding the kidnappers and on striking at the organization to which they belong,” he said.
The ongoing, extensive IDF operation in the West Bank “entails a certain friction with the civilian population,” Netanyahu said, adding that “we have no intention of deliberately harming anyone but our forces are acting as necessary for self-defense and from time to time there are victims or casualties on the Palestinian side as a result of the self-defense actions of our soldiers.”
At least four Palestinians have keen killed in recent days by Israeli security forces operating in the West Bank, including an apparently mentally unstable man in Nablus Sunday morning and a 14-year-old boy on Friday near Hebron.
On Saturday, Abbas called on Israeli leadership to condemn the killings of Palestinians by IDF troops, just as he had condemned the kidnappings.
“I said the kidnapping was criminal. But does it justify the killing of Palestinian youth in cold blood?” he told the Haaretz newspaper. “What does Netanyahu have to say about the killings? Will he condemn them?”
Since the June 12 kidnapping of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, who were last seen at a hitchhiking post south of Jerusalem, thousands of Israeli troops have searched hundreds of locations in the West Bank and arrested more than 350 Palestinians, many from Hamas, including some who were freed in a 2011 prisoner exchange for Hamas-kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Israeli officials have publicly stated that in addition to rescuing the teens, weakening Hamas and breaking up the Palestinian unity government are goals in the operation.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.