Israel's crackdown on Hamas slows in search for missing teens

RAMALLAH West Bank Wed Jun 25, 2014 12:18am BST

1 of 6. Israeli soldiers take part in an operation to locate three Israeli teens in valley of Haska near the West Bank City of Hebron June 24,2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mussa Qawasma

RAMALLAH West Bank (Reuters) - Israel eased a crackdown on Hamas in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday after the dragnet, accompanying a search for three Israeli teenagers, raised fears of a Palestinian uprising.

Israel has accused the Islamist group of orchestrating the abduction of the Jewish seminary students on June 12, and the Israeli military's raids of Palestinian towns and cities have undermined Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

Militants in the Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave where Hamas is dominant and has vowed revenge at Israel's crackdown, fired rockets into Israel and Israel responded with air strikes at militant targets there, the Israeli army said in a statement.

A 3-year-old Gaza girl was killed and three of her family were wounded in an explosion which residents blamed on Israel. The Israeli military denied targeting their house and said a militant rocket that fell short was the cause.

A Gaza hospital official said two policemen were wounded in one of the air strikes. Two militant rockets were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome interceptor system, another fell in an open area and two fell short and landed in Gaza, the army said.

Up to six Palestinians have died as a result of the military operations, locals say, and some 355 people have been arrested.

A senior United Nations official cautioned on Monday the army action risked provoking a revolt, while Palestinians in the West Bank have turned on Abbas for offering to help Israel find those behind the kidnapping.

With the Muslim holy month of Ramadan set to start on Saturday, an Israeli government official said members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet had expressed concern that events could "escalate out of control".

Growing international criticism about the impact on ordinary Palestinians has also been taken into account, he said.

"Following this, a decision was made to significantly narrow the operation and focus it on pinpoint actions to return the abductees," said the official, who declined to be named.

The Israeli military said on Tuesday that only four Palestinians had been arrested during overnight operations, compared with 37 the day before.

"We are continuing intelligence and operational efforts to bring about the release of the abductees and to get our hands on the kidnappers. That hasn't changed at all," Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters.

But, acknowledging the number of arrests had dropped sharply over the past day, he said "a large part of the operation" against Hamas had been completed now that dozens of activists were in custody and many of its institutions were closed.

Hamas has declined to deny or acknowledge responsibility for snatching the youths, who vanished while hitchhiking near a Jewish settlement, although it has praised the kidnapping.

Abbas himself denounced those behind the abduction and promised to work with Israel to locate the missing teenagers.


Many Palestinians reacted angrily to Abbas's stance, seeing it as a sign of weakness in the face of the Israeli occupation.

Locals clashed with his security forces in central Ramallah on Sunday, while social media were filled with images of glum policemen watching from a balcony in the city of Hebron as dozens of Israeli soldiers took charge of the streets below.

The Palestinian Authority has self-rule in the major West Bank cities, but the Israeli crackdown has shown the limited scope of its powers, with soldiers carrying out searches and raids just one block from Abbas's own house in Ramallah.

"The Palestinian anger is growing and no one knows where it will end," said Hazem Abu Hilal, a political activist who has taken part in a number of Ramallah rallies to protest against ongoing security coordination with Israel.

The abduction came two months after the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians - the latest in a long line of failed efforts to secure a negotiated end to the generations-old conflict.

It also came fast on the heels of a deal signed by Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas to overcome seven years of ferocious feuding, opening the way for the formation of a unity government earlier this month.

The future of that administration is now in doubt.

With Israel promising to show more restraint in its operations, political analyst Hani Al-Masri said Abbas and the Palestinian Authority needed to show his people that they were confronting the Israeli occupation, not aiding it.

"The Authority cannot play two games at a time, maintaining security coordination (with Israel) and defending the people," Masri said. "It has to choose to defend its people and chase Israel through diplomatic means at the United Nations. If it does not do that, it will fall," he added.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Maayan Lubell and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Ralph Boulton and Mohammad Zargham)

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Comments (3)
Bellch wrote:
Four confirmed dead, three missing.
But which one is the result of state-sponsored terrorism?. The killing of (unarmed) civilians by armed state militia is a war crime under the provisions of the Geneva Conventions to which both the US and the 28 member states of the EU are a party. So why has no action yet been taken to bring those responsible for authorising the alleged crime before the ICC ?

Jun 24, 2014 8:37pm BST  --  Report as abuse
HelenWaite wrote:
When, unprovoked, the Syrian military murders an Israeli youth located, before, during, and after the event on Israeli soil, that is “state-sponsored terrorism” (ref. The fact that he was Arab and raised Muslim adds nothing to the moral calculus.

At the Hamas-set price for a Palestinian life, the current Israeli operation has another 2,700 or so residents of the West Bank and Gaza to imprison while waiting for the return of the three Israeli youths.

That some of the 300+ detainees might have resisted arrest, possibly physically expressing their reluctance, or been in possession or proximity of explosives and other illegal material is one possible reason why those few are dead today.

Your posts sound legalistic. But since there has never been a formal presentation of evidence, never been a trial, and never been a judgement, your assertions are best understood as propaganda or, at best, wishful thinking.

As you post relatively frequently on news items related to Israel, are you being paid for your services? It would appear that no other Reuters reader is as prolific on any topical topic.

Jun 24, 2014 5:53am BST  --  Report as abuse
Bellch wrote:
The missing youths are from American families who left good homes in New York to illegally settle on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These American illegal settlers usually hold dual-citizenship to enable them to drive out the Arab indigenous population with authority from the state of Israel that is determined to prevent the establishment if a Palestinian state by any means, and that includes state-sponsored terrorism as seen this week in the killing of 4 innocent Palestinian civilians by a heavily armed state militia from Israel. These killings are a war crime under the Geneva Conventions of which the US is a signatory. It is now incumbent upon the EU Parliament to take action to cease all trade with Israel until it conforms to international law.

Jun 25, 2014 7:55am BST  --  Report as abuse
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