Middle East

Israel accuses Hamas of teens’ abduction

An Israeli soldier walks past Palestinians in the West Bank village of Tafoh, near Hebron on June 15, 2014, as Israeli army searches for three teenagers who went missing near a West Bank settlement. AFP PHOTO/ HAZEM BADER

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel said Sunday Hamas militants had abducted three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank, warning of “serious consequences” as it pressed on with a search and detained dozens of Palestinians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the kidnapping, and said many indications pointed to the involvement of Hamas.

“We are still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas’ involvement,” he said. “We reiterate our position that Hamas is a terrorist organization known for its attacks on innocent civilians and which has used kidnapping in the past.”

The two 16-year-olds and a third man aged 19 disappeared Thursday night in the West Bank, where they were seminary students in a Jewish settlement block.

“These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israeli troops scouring a West Bank city for the teenagers blew down the door of a home with explosives late Sunday after residents did not admit them, Palestinian witnesses said. They said there were no casualties in the incident in Hebron, in which gunfire was also briefly heard.

An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

There has been no public claim of responsibility. Asked about Netanyahu’s allegation, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, stopped short of a clear denial or confirmation.

Since the three vanished, apparently while hitchhiking, the Israeli army has carried out house-to-house searches, roundups and interrogations in the Palestinian city of Hebron and outlying villages.

The military said it detained around 80 suspects overnight and that the dragnet would spread elsewhere in the West Bank over the coming days. Palestinian officials put the number of people taken into Israeli custody so far at more than 100.

These included at least seven Hamas members of the Palestinian Parliament and several prisoners recently released by Israel, the Palestinian officials said.

Israel identified the students as Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha’er and Naftali Frankel, who also holds U.S. citizenship. In their last communication, one of the three managed to phone police Thursday night to report that they were being kidnapped, according to an Israeli security official.

Gilad Erdan, a minister in Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet, told Israel’s Channel 2 television that Abbas’ security forces were “willingly” helping in the search. Palestinian authorities confirmed the cooperation, drawing Hamas censure.

In broadcast remarks at a Cabinet session held, unusually, at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he has been overseeing the recovery efforts, Netanyahu said there would be “serious consequences” for the abduction of the teenagers.

Speaking later, he said: “Israel will act against the kidnappers and their terrorist sponsors and comrades.”

Netanyahu said Abbas’ alliance with Hamas had emboldened militants in the West Bank, and demanded he do “all that is necessary” to resolve the crisis.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 16, 2014, on page 1.




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