December 22, 2014
Israel blames Hamas for teens kidnapping
Israel said today 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 Thursday night in the West Bank, where they were seminary students in a Jewish settlement.
"These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in English, referring to the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
There has been no public claim of responsibility. Asked about Netanyahu's allegations, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, stopped short of a clear denial or confirmation that it was involved.
Since the three went missing, apparently while hitchhiking, 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 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 seminary students as Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha'er and Naftali Frankel, who also holds US citizenship.
"Naftali, your dad and mom and siblings love you endlessly, and you should know that the people of Israel are turning the world upside down to bring you home," Frankel's mother, Rachel, said in a televised statement outside the family home.
The incident tests ties between the Israeli government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which were frayed by his power-sharing deal in April with Hamas, a group that advocates Israel's destruction.
In broadcast remarks at a cabinet session in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said Israel was focusing all its efforts on bringing the teenagers home.
"This will have serious consequences," said Netanyahu, who has been overseeing security efforts at the main military headquarters in the Mediterranean city.
Later, in his English-language remarks, he pledged that "Israel will act against the kidnappers and their terrorist sponsors and comrades".
Abu Zuhri, describing Netanyahu's remarks as "stupid comments", suggested that in casting blame on Hamas, the Israeli leader was trying to draw the group into disclosing whether it was behind the teenagers' disappearance.