JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians during an arrest raid early Thursday in the most violent confrontation so far in the weeklong search for three missing Israeli teens believed to have been abducted in the West Bank.
The military said about 300 Palestinians took to the streets when the soldiers entered the West Bank town of Jenin overnight. Some opened fire while others threw explosive devices or rocks at the soldiers, who responded with live fire, it said.
There were no serious injuries reported on either side.
Israel has blamed the Islamic militant group Hamas for the apparent abductions, without providing evidence. Israel has since launched a widespread crackdown on the group, arresting scores of members while conducting a feverish manhunt for the missing youths.
Hamas has praised the abduction of the teenagers, but has not claimed responsibility for it.
The crisis has escalated already heightened tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian government, which is headed by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas but backed by Hamas. Israel along with the West considers Hamas a terrorist group because of its long history of attacks on Israeli civilians. Hamas has abducted Israelis before.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian unity agreement Thursday afternoon at a press conference at a military base.
“I expect Abu Mazen (Abbas) to expel this murderous terror group from his government,” Netanyahu said. “Hamas have called time after time to abduct Israeli civilians.”
The three teens– Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship — disappeared late Thursday while hitchhiking home from Jewish seminaries in the West Bank.
“We know today more than we did a few days ago but there is still a way ahead of us and we need to be patient,” Netanyahu said.
There has been no sign of life from the missing teens or any ransom or other demands from their purported kidnappers.
The military said 30 Palestinians were arrested in overnight raids in the West Bank, without specifying where.
Nadir Irshaid, director of the Jenin hospital, said seven people are being treated for light injuries that he said were caused by rubber bullets and beatings.
According to several Jenin residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety, three Palestinians were arrested over the Jenin violence, including two members of the Islamic Jihad militant group.
Since the operation to locate the teens began a week ago, about 280 Palestinians have been arrested, the military said, including 200 members of Hamas.
Israeli troops have rearrested 51 former Palestinian prisoners who were part of a group of 1,027 Palestinians released in 2011 in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas-allied Gaza militants in a cross-border raid five years earlier. Netanyahu said Thursday that the arrest of the former prisoners “sends a powerful message to whoever tries to harm us.”
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said Hamas is “paying a heavy price for the abduction.”
The military also said troops have searched about 100 locations and raided institutions it said are used by Hamas.
U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro met with the Fraenkel family on Thursday and expressed Washington’s “strong support” for Israeli efforts to find the teenagers. The U.S. has “a special responsibility in the case of an American citizen,” Shapiro said.
Prayer vigils and round-the-clock media coverage have followed the teens’ disappearance.