Israel arrests 50 Palestinians in hunt for kidnapped teenagers

Israel’s military on Monday arrested 50 more Palestinians in its hunt for three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, taking the total number of detained Hamas militants to around 150. Tracking down Hamas operatives in the West Bank, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) today also arrested the former speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), Aziz Dweik, one of Hamas’ most prominent leaders in the area. Other know Hamas operatives to be taken into custody included Bassem al-Za’arir, Azzam Salhab, Samir al-Qadi and Maher al-Kharraz. Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were abducted in the West Bank four days ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas of carrying out Thursday’s kidnappings which has been refuted by the Islamic militant organisation’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, as ‘stupid’ and ‘a bluff’. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also today condemned the kidnappings in his first public comments since the teenagers went missing in the West Bank four days ago. Media reports said one Palestinian was killed in overnight clashes with the IDF in Jenin and Jalazone in the West Bank. IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, held a situation assessment overnight as Israel continued to deploy all its strength to free the kidnapped teenagers.

Among other moves being mulled, the Israeli cabinet is set to meet today to discuss the possibility of exiling several Hamas leaders in the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. Senior security sources were quoted as saying that the option is being examined by the Attorney General. ‘We want to deport a few officials to Gaza, including those in administrative detention on hunger strike’, a source reportedly told Ynet. ‘We are looking ahead at increasing the activity against Hamas, with an emphasis on the Hebron area, but this activity begins in the northern Samaria. The closure in the southern West Bank continues,’ a senior military official said.

Israel also plans to shut down different institutions linked to Hamas, and prevent the transfer of funds. In a leaflet distributed overnight, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a Palestinian militant group in the West Bank, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. It is unclear whether the document is credible as the militant group, which was affiliated with Fatah in the past, has been inactive for several years and Israel believes Hamas is behind the abduction.
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