The Palestinian Authority on Thursday called Israel’s actions in the West Bank in recent days “collective punishment,” while a senior Fatah official said kidnappings were the only means to secure prisoner releases.
Meanwhile, Hamas threatened to “open the gates of hell” upon Israel should it deport group members it has arrested following the abduction of three Israeli teens near Hebron last Thursday.
The PA condemned the continuous arrests of Hamas operatives and closures in the West Bank as an infliction of “collective punishment” on the Palestinians.
In a statement from PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office, the wide-ranging operation was denounced as “an excuse” to impinge on Palestinian rights.
“Israel is using the disappearance of the three teenagers as an excuse to harm the rights of the Palestinians,” the PA statement said, according to Ynet. Abbas also strongly criticized the arrest of ex-convicts freed as part of the prisoner exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, and called for international condemnation and intervention.
On Wednesday, Abbas came out in support of the security arrangements with Israel, calling for the return of the boys and claiming there will never be a third intifada. His statements were met by strongly worded denunciations by Hamas.
Meanwhile, Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told a Palestinian TV station Thursday that “after 20 years of talks, we understood that kidnappings are the only language Israel understands. It became clear to us that this is the only way to free our prisoners, whose numbers rise every day, from jail.”
Still, Rajoub claimed that he did not condone abductions.
Also Thursday, a Hamas spokesman warned Israel against deporting the prisoners in its custody, stating that it would “open the gates of hell” in response, and said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be sorry for the wave of arrests of its constituents.
Abbas’s statement on Thursday came as Netanyahu called on Abbas once again to dissolve his pact with the “murderous terror organization.”
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon insisted the investigation to track down the three kidnapped students was progressing, but was unlikely to be over in the near future.
“We know more today than we knew even a few days ago, but there is still a ways to go, and we must have patience and perseverance,” the prime minister said.
Ya’alon said “we are progressing. We will eventually reach the terrorists and our kidnapped boys,” he pledged.
Quoting the Psalms, Netanyahu said, “Here, near the city of our forefathers [Hebron], I promise you: We will pursue our enemies and overtake them, and we will do everything to bring our boys home.”
Israeli forces have embarked on a massive campaign to locate the three kidnapped boys — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Frankel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16 — while simultaneously destroying parts of the Hamas terror infrastructure in the West Bank.
The military has been conducting nightly raids and sweeps in cities across the West Bank since the teenagers disappeared, arresting more than 250 suspected terrorists, many of them Hamas men, since last week.
The teenagers were last seen at a hitchhiking post in the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank last Thursday night. Israel has maintained Hamas is behind the attack, but the terror organization has denied the allegations. In the past, abducted Israeli citizens were held as a bargaining chip for the release of incarcerated Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.