As Palestinians in Gaza rejoiced the kidnapping of 3 Israeli teens, IDF troops rounded up suspected terrorists in Judea and Samaria while searching for the missing boys.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Naftali Frenkel and Gil-Ad Shayer, both 16, disappeared Thursday night while making their way home from school in the Etzion Bloc of Judea. After some initial confusion regarding their status, Prime Minister Netanyahu released a directive “to implement all the tools we have to find them (and) prevent their transfer to Gaza or another place (and) prepare all of our forces for any possible scenario.”
Speaking at a press conference Saturday night at Defense Ministry headquarters, he said, “Our boys were kidnapped by a terror group, undoubtedly.” Netanyahu confirmed on Sunday that Hamas was behind the kidnappings.
In response, the IDF arrested over 80 Hamas terrorists overnight in Judea and Samaria, including members of the new Hamas-Fatah unity government. Senior Hamas activist Hassan Yousef, a former spokesperson for Hamas who is considered one of the organization’s spiritual leaders, and members of the Palestinian Parliament Fathi Muhammad Ali Qar’awi, Hassan al-Bourini, Abdel-Rahman Zidan and Khaled Abu Arafa are among those rounded up.
A senior military official said, “There was a pipe bomb in Kalandia and several people who hurled stones, but that happens every night. All those who were arrested are Hamas members, including members of the Palestinian Parliament, and that is considered unusual. This is not to say that Hamas intends to carry out an attack and we are not saying that the attack came from Hamas, but the attack is severe and we are responding accordingly. We are also expanding collection actions in the area.”
Although three separate militant groups took credit early on for the kidnappings, Israeli authorities are not yet certain who is responsible. “We are very careful about determining which organization is behind the attack. The purpose of the closure is to strengthen intelligence activities in the area of Hebron,” the military official said.
The Prime Minister did say earlier he holds the PA accountable for the safety of the missing students, as they are believed to be in PA territory.
“The pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results which are the exact opposite of advancing peace between us and the Palestinians,” said Netanyahu.
“All of the terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations – are committed to the destruction of Israel and they draw encouragement from this pact. Their personnel are constantly trying to murder, attack and abduct Israeli citizens simply because they are Israeli citizens. Over the decades they have tried to perpetrate abductions and, to our regret, they occasionally succeed,” he added.
In sharp contrast to the high tensions and distress felt in Israel and around the world over the missing teens, Palestinians in Gaza rejoiced over the development. Many see kidnapping Israeli citizens as the “only way” to free Palestinian security prisoners from Israeli jails.
“We are celebrating this formidable operation in Hebron,” said Misbach Abed Rabbo, a spokesperson for the families of Palestinian security prisoners. “We have always called for the kidnapping of soldiers. We view this as the only just solution for freeing our sons from the occupation’s prisons,” he told Hamas’ local paper.
He criticized the PA for cooperating with Israeli search efforts, saying they “should unite behind the Palestinian or keep quiet.”
Search efforts continue on Sunday, according to army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. “Palestinian terrorists will not feel safe, will not be able to hide and will feel the heavy arm of the Israeli military capabilities,” he added.
IDF sources reiterated statements made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, saying, “As long as we don’t know differently, our working assumption is that they are alive.”
On Saturday night, thousands gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem as part of an emergency prayer rally for the safe return of the abducted boys.