OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel's military arrested around 80 Palestinians in the West Bank, including members of the militant group Hamas, early Sunday as part of efforts to locate three teenagers, including an American, believed abducted in the territory while hitchhiking home.
Palestinians have kidnapped Israelis before but this would be the first time three civilians have been taken at the same time.
"Palestinian terrorists will not feel safe, will not be able to hide and will feel the heavy arm of the Israeli military capabilities," spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds the Western-backed Palestinian Authority responsible for the Thursday night disappearance of the teens. The Palestinians' self-rule government, which administers 38 percent of the West Bank, has rejected blame, saying the teens went missing in territory under full Israeli control.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions were already strained, in part because of the recent formation of a Palestinian unity government that has the backing of the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Hamas, branded a terror group by the West for its long history of attacks on Israeli civilians, has been involved in the kidnapping of Israelis in the past. The group has routinely claimed responsibility for such attacks, but has not claimed it captured the teens.
A Hamas website said more than 60 of those arrested were members of the group, including senior figures. Among those detained were two former Cabinet ministers and seven Hamas legislators. The most prominent name among those detained was Hassan Yousef, a legislator who has spent years in Israeli lockups and is seen as the head of Hamas in the West Bank.
The Israeli military also detained supporters of the Islamic Jihad, a smaller Palestinian militant group.
In recent months, there have been growing signs of the emergence in the West Bank of small groups of militants who identify with Al-Qaeda. One of several claims of responsibility for the kidnapping came from a group that said it was linked to an Al-Qaeda splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria which controls parts of Syria and overran parts of northern Iraq this month.
A Palestinian group representing prisoners said about 100 were arrested in the raid including some who have been jailed in the past.
The military also said its aircraft struck several targets in Gaza overnight in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said a girl was lightly hurt.