The IDF arrested 25 suspected Hamas operatives overnight Thursday in the West Bank as part of the ongoing Operation Brother’s Keeper to return kidnapped yeshiva students Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, who were abducted a week ago Thursday in Gush Etzion.
The latest arrests bring the total number of Hamas suspects held in the ongoing sweep to 330, 240 of whom are associated with Hamas, according to the IDF. According to Israeli government officials, several dozen of the detainees are individuals who were released as part of the 2011 prisoner exchange for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.
One Palestinian, aged 14, was reportedly killed overnight in an IDF operation in Dura, near Hebron, according to Palestinian officials. Three more Palestinians were wounded in clashes.
According to the IDF, one soldier was lightly wounded in the Qalandiya refugee camp north of Jerusalem when a grenade was thrown at soldiers.
“During the activities, IDF faced sporadic confrontations, which included IED’s, hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, fireworks and rocks that were hurled at the forces, in cases endangering their lives and impeding the mission,” the army said in a statement Friday morning.
“In Qalandiya, an IDF soldier was injured lightly by a grenade tossed directly at the troops. The forces responded to the life-endangering threat with live fire and used riot dispersal means to address the disturbances onsite.
“Overnight, forces operated in numerous locations including: Qalandiya, Deheishe, Dura, Arura, detaining some 25 suspects and searching approximately 200 locations. Also, 9 Hamas [institutions] were searched and materials were confiscated,” said the army, bringing the total number of West Bank sites searched by IDF troops over the past week to 1,150.
Demonstrations in support of the three kidnapped teens also continued on Friday. A caravan of some 40 cars and motorcycles left Jerusalem and made its way slowly to Gush Etzion, the area from which the teens were abducted last week. The demonstration is slated to conclude with a mass prayer rally for the teens’ release.
Israeli officials indicated on Friday morning that the operation may continue for a long time, and seemed to dampen expectations of an imminent breakthrough in the case eight days after the kidnapping.
“Just like the solving of this case can come suddenly, while we’re talking, there’s also the possibility, and we can’t rule it out, that it will take a long time. And even in the West Bank there have been operations that did not succeed,” warned Science Minister Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet.
Israel once again struck terror-related targets in Gaza overnight in a series of air strikes on “three concealed rocket launchers in the northern Gaza Strip, a terror site in the central Gaza Strip and a weapon storage facility in the southern Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.
The attack came in retaliation for the firing late Thursday of two rockets from the Gaza Strip. One hit open ground in the south, causing neither casualties nor damage, and the other was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
A spokesman for Gaza’s health services, Ashraf al-Qudra, said the strikes targeted Islamic Jihad and Hamas military sites in Khan Younis, Rafah and Gaza City, where four children and two adults were injured, all of them lightly to moderately.
As the fighting went on, Israel, Hamas and Fatah continued to trade blame for the escalation, with the Palestinian Authority accusing Israel of exacting “collective punishment” and Hamas threatening to “open the gates of hell” upon Israel should it deport group members it has arrested.
Hamas has praised the abduction of the teenagers, but has not claimed responsibility for it.
Hamas-affiliations institutions raided by the IDF were used “to recruit, disseminate information and enable cash flow,” the army said.
Hamas vowed revenge, with spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri telling a Gaza news conference Netanyahu would “regret all the actions he took against Hamas and our people.”
The teenagers, two of them minors, disappeared from a popular hitchhiking spot in the sprawling southern West Bank Gush Etzion settlement bloc late on June 12.
Accusing Hamas of the abductions, Israel has launched a wide-ranging military operation aimed at finding the teenagers and crushing the movement’s infrastructure in the West Bank.
“They were kidnapped by Hamas, we had no doubt of that. It’s absolutely certain,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Thursday briefing at a West Bank army base near Hebron.
Netanyahu did not offer evidence, but said that “we know more today than we did a few days ago.”
“I expect (Palestinian) Authority President (Mahmoud) Abbas to dissolve the union with this murderous terror organization. I think that’s important for our common future,” he added.
On June 2, Abbas appointed a Palestinian unity government made up of independents, which is committed to renouncing violence, but is backed by Hamas, which is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction.
At a meeting with the families of the missing youths, President Shimon Peres said Thursday Israel should pursue its crackdown on Hamas.
“We must continue to pressure the terrorists, to remove their sources of funding,” he told them in remarks relayed by his office.
“Just as there were sanctions against Iran, we must raise the sanctions against any source of terror.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon issued an order outlawing activities of a Britain-based Muslim charity over what he said were its ties with Hamas.
“The IRW [Islamic Relief Worldwide] is one of the sources of Hamas’s funding,” his office said, indicating that some of its West Bank and Gaza offices were “managed by Hamas members.”
The group will also be prohibited from transferring money to the West Bank.
Ya’alon said the pressure on Hamas was aimed at its “leaders and activists, as well as its civilian infrastructure.”
In annexed East Jerusalem, Israeli police announced Thursday night they had shut down two Hamas institutions.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said one was a social center operating from a mosque in the village of Beit Safafa, while the other was a charity office in the Sur Baher district.
The widespread West Bank operations sparked clashes overnight in the northern cities of Jenin and Nablus, with Palestinians throwing petrol bombs and firing at the soldiers, the army said.
The Palestinian presidency warned Thursday of “ongoing collective punishment measures by Israel in all Palestinian territories, especially besieged Hebron,” affecting “hundreds of thousands of innocent residents.”
Earlier Thursday, Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest in the most violent confrontation so far in the week-long search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank.
The military said about 300 Palestinians took to the streets when the soldiers entered the West Bank town of Jenin overnight Thursday. Some opened fire while others threw explosive devices or rocks at the soldiers, who responded with live fire, it said.
There were no serious injuries reported on either side.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.