As Israeli and Palestinian forces conducted a wide-reaching operation in the West Bank to locate three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, Palestinian officials said the search was focused Sunday morning on locating two Hamas members missing for several days.
The two, Hebron residents connected to the terror group’s military wing, apparently disappeared Thursday, according to local sources quoted in Palestinian media.
According to sources in the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service, Israeli forces attempted to apprehend the two men but they were not at home.
Overnight Saturday, Israeli forces arrested some 80 Palestinian suspects, including Hamas leader Hassan Youssef and several other of the group’s senior members. Leaders of Islamic Jihad were also detained, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
According to Palestinian reports cited in Israeli media, the wives of the two missing suspects were detained and interrogated for information about their husbands’ whereabouts.
The working assumption by Palestinian intelligence is that Hamas is behind the kidnappings, a suspicion confirmed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday morning.
According to the Palestinian sources, Palestinian intelligence received notice of the kidnapping only 12 hours after the event, and since then has maintained communications with the Israeli side, with active coordination between the two security forces.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the sources said, is receiving regular updates on the situation’s latest developments, though they expressed consternation about Israel’s handling of the affair and Netanyahu’s castigating Abbas for signing a unity pact with Hamas.
The sources stressed that in recent years, the PA has arrested tens of Palestinian Hamas members who were involved in previous kidnapping attempts. They said PA security forces have thwarted many terror attacks and kidnapping attempts and the Israeli side is well aware of this.
The Israelis have said in the past that many of the men responsible for these attempts were among the 1,027 prisoners freed from Israeli jails as part of the 2011 exchange to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, especially those deported abroad or to Gaza as part of the deal.
Among those mentioned as responsible for these earlier kidnapping attempts were two senior Hamas leaders: Saleh al-Aruri, who was deported to Turkey, and Fathi Hamad, the former Hamas interior minister who, although not a prisoner, was responsible for organizing those released into active cells.