HEBRON, West Bank — Israeli security forces are carrying out night raids and mass arrests in one of the largest security sweeps seen in years in the West Bank, as they intensify their search for three missing teenagers who Israel says were kidnapped by members of the Islamist militant organization Hamas.
Military drones circled and tethered-observation balloons hovered over Hebron on the third day of a lockdown by Israeli forces, nearly four days after the teens disappeared on the outskirts of town.
As the security cordon tightened, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday condemned, for the first time, the alleged kidnapping of the missing students, ages 16 to 19, who vanished Thursday night while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Mr. Abbas also denounced the ongoing Israeli military response to the disappearances, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian in a clash with Israeli soldiers at a refugee camp outside Ramallah. More than 150 Palestinians have been arrested in connection with the case. Daoud Zatari, mayor of Hebron, said in an interview that he visited two of the homes raided early Monday by Israeli forces. The troops used explosives to enter the houses and brought dogs, and they scattered food and belongings on the floors, he said. The mayor accused Israel of enforcing a collective punishment on a municipality of 750,000 people, who have seen the main entrance into the city closed by Israeli authorities, and their roads rumbling with troop convoys.
“We are in the midst of a complex operation,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday. “We need to be prepared for the possibility that it may take time.”
Israeli security forces have declined to offer any evidence that Hamas is behind the alleged abductions, partly because the investigation is ongoing, they say. But their sweep has focused on members of Hamas, a movement that controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.
The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority, dominated by the Fatah political party of Mr. Abbas, which recently won the support of longtime rival Hamas to form a transitional Palestinian unity government. That deal has been roundly criticized by Israel, which in recent days has said it would hold Mr. Abbas accountable for the kidnappings it says were carried out by Hamas.
Mr. Netanyahu said Monday that Israel would continue to retaliate against attacks from Gaza.israel - United States military - United States government - Middle East - Mahmoud Abbas - Palestinian territories - Israeli armed forces - Israel government - Palestinian territories government - West Bank - Gaza Strip - Benjamin Netanyahu - Hamas - Hebron