Israel says Hamas militants behind abduction of three teenagers

Israel says Hamas militants behind abduction of three teenagers

TEL AVIV - Agence France-Presse
Israel says Hamas militants behind abduction of three teenagers

Israel's PM Netanyahu reacts after delivering a statement during a news conference in Tel Aviv, June 14. REUTERS Photo

Israel said on June 15 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.

The two 16-year-olds and a third man aged 19 disappeared on June 12 night in the West Bank, where they were seminary students in a Jewish settlement.

"Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people," Netanyahu told his cabinet, referring to the Palestinian Islamist group that has ruled the Gaza Strip.

No one has publicly claimed responsibility for abducting the three Israelis, and there was no immediate response from Hamas to Netanyahu's accusations.

"This will have serious consequences. At the moment we are focusing all our efforts on bringing the abducted home," Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks at the cabinet session in Tel Aviv, where he has been overseeing security efforts at military headquarters.

Since the three went missing, the Israeli army has carried out house-to-house searches, round-ups and interrogations in the Palestinian city of Hebron and outlying villages.

In a statement, the military said that as part of the "effort to return the three abducted Israeli teenagers approximately 80 Palestinian suspects were detained in a widespread overnight operation."

Palestinian officials put the number of people taken into custody so far by Israeli authorities at more than 100 and said they included at least seven Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament and several prisoners recently released by Israel.

Israel identified the teenagers as Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha'er and Naftali Frankel, who also holds U.S. citizenship.

The incident tests ties between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which were frayed by his power-sharing deal in April with Hamas Islamists who have been ruling the Gaza Strip and are hostile to the Jewish state.

Palestinian militants have said they want to kidnap Israelis to win concessions from the Israeli government, and the current incident coincides with a hunger strike by some 300 Palestinian prisoners protesting against detention without trial.

More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were freed in 2011 in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in the nearby Gaza Strip for more than five years.

In a televised statement on Saturday, Netanyahu said Abbas's alliance with Hamas had emboldened Palestinian militants and demanded the Palestinian leader do "all that is necessary" to resolve the crisis.

Security coordination between Israel and Abbas' Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has been close in recent years, despite the diplomatic impasse, and at U.S. urging Abbas was working with Israel in the search.

Palestinian security officials said they were helping Israeli counterparts. Hamas condemned that cooperation.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman appeared to oppose any possible deal under which Palestinian prisoners might be traded for the three seminary students. Israel's parliament is already considering legislation that would enable judges to declare Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis ineligible for pardons.

"As far as I'm concerned, there will not be any more releases of Palestinian terrorists sitting in Israeli jails. Not as a goodwill gesture, and not in any other way," he told Army Radio.