PM meets with teens’ families as West Bank tensions simmer
Youths’ mothers thank Netanyahus for ‘warm welcome,’ urge government to apply ‘other pressure points’ to bring sons back
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Friday with the families of kidnapped Israeli teens Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, who were abducted June 12 in Gush Etzion.
The two-hour meeting took place at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem Friday afternoon.
Netanyahu told the parents of the missing teens that finding their sons “is the central goal of the operational and intelligence steps that we are currently taking, and all the relevant units have been mobilized for this purpose.”
A week-long manhunt in the West Bank has seen 330 Palestinians arrested, including 240 with ties to Hamas, the IDF said.
“We have deployed additional forces to the field, and we are investing a tremendous effort to bring the boys home… The nation lends you its strength, and you return that strength,” the prime minister told the parents.
Iris Yifrach, the mother of Eyal, told reporters after the meeting that she was grateful to the prime minister and his wife for their “warm welcome, their support and encouragement.”
In a later statement to the press, Yifrach pointed out that this was the second Sabbath without her son. “This is the second Sabbath that our boys — Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali –are not with us,” she said, anguished and in tears. “Our hearts break missing them.”
Bat-Galim Shaar, Gil-ad’s mother, said that her family “believes the government has other pressure points it could apply to lead to the safe return of our boys.”
“We ask the prime minister to [make] use [of] them,” she said.
Naftali Fraenkel’s mother, Rachelle, said that the meeting with the Netanyahus “was a good meeting.”
“They listened to our questions and to our suggestions,” she said.
Earlier Friday, in a meeting with soldiers from elite units currently conducting the search in the West Bank, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that “until we know otherwise, our working assumption is that the abductees are alive.”
The teens’ kidnappers, likely including two known Hamas operatives from Hebron who have been missing since the abduction last week, have not gone public or made any demands.
“You have to take this into account,” Ya’alon told the combat troops. “If you come into contact with those responsible for the kidnapping, you have to operate under the assumption that the kidnapped boys are still alive.”
Frankel’s uncle, Yishai Frankel, told Galey Yisrael Radio (the regional radio station of Judea and Samaria) on Friday that Israel had information that indicated the youths are still alive.
“All the indications we’re receiving, based on information, not our feelings, are that the boys are alive. The defense establishment has a representative in each family’s home, and they’re updating the immediate families, who know much more than what the media is saying,” Frankel said.
Israel’s top cop, Commissioner Yohanan Danino, also vowed that the search, which has relied heavily on Border Police and regular police units throughout the West Bank, would continue “with determination and perseverence.”
Tensions in the West Bank
While Israeli leaders vowed to find the kidnapped teens, the search has increased tensions with the Palestinians.
One Palestinian teenager was killed in Dura, near Hebron, during a clash with IDF troops, and three other Palestinians were wounded Friday. One IDF soldier sustained light wounds from a grenade thrown at the soldiers by a Palestinian.
In Gaza, where Hamas leaders have lashed out at the wave of Israeli arrests of West Bank Hamas members over the past week, a trickle of rocket fire continued to target Israeli cities.
The Friday calm of the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council was twice shattered on Friday when a Color Red siren sounded warning of a rocket launch from across the border in Gaza.
In Jerusalem, two Palestinian youths were arrested for throwing rocks and bottles at Border Police forces on the Temple Mount.
Earlier, in the wake of intelligence information suggesting that Palestinian groups were planning violent demonstrations at the site, police closed the Temple Mount to non-residents of the city and all men under 50. Only women and older men who are permanent residents of Jerusalem were allowed to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
As both Israel and Hamas escalate their rhetoric and tensions grow on the ground, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah paid a special visit to Hebron on Friday. The city has been under virtual siege by IDF troops, as Israeli intelligence believes the teens are being held inside the southern West Bank city.
According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, the visit was intended to see from up close how Palestinians living in the city are faring.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, speaking in Paris at a conference, said Israel was overreacting to the abduction.
“Three kids have disappeared, but in exchange for that the Israeli army has taken 300 Palestinians… they have destroyed more than 150 Palestinian homes since last week,” he said. The IDF has said hundreds of buildings were lightly damaged in the searches, which have focused on finding potential hiding places in the sprawling cities of the West Bank.
“Their reaction went beyond logic and what infuriates me the most is the lack of reaction from the international community,” Maliki said.