DAY 6: The search for the three kidnapped Israeli teens

Abbas: Kidnapped youths ‘must be returned’

Speaking in Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Authority president denounces abduction of ‘human beings just like us,’ but questions motives of Israeli operation

Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke out Wednesday against the kidnapping of three Israeli teens and demanded their immediate release.

“Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians],” Abbas, who is visiting Saudi Arabia, said. “The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families.”

Israeli forces, aided by PA security, have been engaged in a widespread operation against Hamas in the West Bank since the kidnapping Thursday night south of Jerusalem of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16 and Naftali Frankel, 16. Israeli officials have blamed Hamas for the abduction, as have Western officials including US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Abbas, who first condemned the kidnapping on Monday, also mentioned that he had been in conversation with US officials, who noted that one of the captives, Naftali Frankel, is an American citizen.

“We told them that whether Israeli or American, he is a human being,” he said.

Meeting with the Organization of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, the Palestinian leader also accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of taking advantage of the situation in order to operate in the Palestinian-controlled Area A, even though the kidnapping did not take place in territory ruled by the PA.

Abbas, in his address — which was delivered in Arabic, and was broadcast on Palestinian television — also vowed not to resort to arms or allow Palestinians to launch another uprising, or intifada, against Israel.

“It is in our interest to have security coordination with Israel because that would help protect us,” he said.

“I say it frankly, we will never have another intifada — that would destroy us,” he added.

In light of the ongoing crisis, the Palestinian Authority has slowed progress in the reconciliation process with Hamas that led to the establishment earlier this month of a Palestinian unity government.

Following statements made Monday by a senior Palestinian official, who told The Times of Israel that if it was proved that Hamas was behind the kidnappings the PA would reevaluate the unity pact, the Palestinian government convened on Tuesday and decided that it would continue to refrain from paying the salaries of former Hamas government officials, some 40,000 in number.

The salaries issue was a focus of tension between Hamas and Fatah after the reconciliation agreement was signed, and banks in the Gaza Strip were closed for six days after the Hamas workers’ salaries were not transferred.

Additionally, Fatah has stopped holding deliberations and meetings of the committee that is to examine the integration of Hamas into PLO institutions, and has decided not to convene the Palestinian parliament, which was to occur in another three weeks’ time.

Hamas had asked that the parliament be convened in order to appoint former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh to the post of Palestinian parliament chairman, which would turn him into Mahmoud Abbas’s successor were Abbas unable to continue in the position of PA president.

While celebrating the kidnapping, Hamas officials have denied any connection to it.

Avi Issacharoff and AFP contributed to this report.

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