The Israel Defence Forces arrested over 40 Hamas operatives in the West Bank, including a senior Palestinian lawmaker, as a search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted and a crackdown on the Islamist group continued overnight Sunday, reports The Times of Israel. The fate of the teens has dominated the news in Israel since their disappearance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for kidnapping the three Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel – who is also a US citizen. The three were abducted last Thursday night.
Hamas has denied being behind the disappearance, but praised the abduction. Fatah – the dominant force in the Palestinian Authority, and often referred to as Israel’s ‘peace partner’ by Western politicians – appeared to celebrate the kidnapping in its publications, as documented by Palestinian Media Watch.
The Palestinian Authority daily ran a cartoon takeoff on the famous logo of the World Cup 2014, in which three victorious hands hold the globe. The PA cartoon shows a “trophy” of three hands holding three people with their hands up in surrender. On Fatah’s official Facebook page, the movement posted a cartoon of a victory sign with three fingers held up instead of two, symbolising the three kidnapped youths.
Among the Hamas members rounded up by the IDF overnight was Aziz Dweik, Hamas’s speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who was taken into custody at his home in Hebron, near the area where the abduction took place.
The raids followed a similar sweep the night earlier in which over 80 Palestinians, including a number of senior Hamas officials, were taken into Israeli custody.
Over 150 Palestinian suspects have been arrested in the wake of the kidnapping, the IDF said in a statement.
A senior IDF official said military energy was concentrated on cracking down on the Hamas terror group.
Israel significantly increased its security presence in Hebron on Sunday afternoon as a closure was imposed on the city, where the IDF has concentrated its efforts to hunt down those responsible for the kidnapping.
The abduction took place just two weeks after Fatah and Hamas agreed to form a unified government in Palestinian-governed areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas, considered a terror organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, had previously controlled only Gaza. Many believe that the unity agreement has opened the door to greater Hamas activity in the West Bank.
In numerous past statements documented by Palestinian Media Watch, Fatah has praised and encouraged Hamas’s kidnapping efforts, including the five-year abduction by Hamas of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was freed in 2011 in exchange for the release by Israel of 1,027 Palestinian terror prisoners.
Over the weekend, a #bringbackourboys hashtag on Twitter aimed to draw attention to the crisis, mimicking the strap line used to draw attention to the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The hashtag attracted up to 2,800 tweets per hour at its peak.
A Facebook page of the same name has so far attracted over 75,000 ‘likes’.