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Netanyahu Blames Hamas in the Kidnapping of Three Israeli Teens

The Israeli military arrested 80 Palestinians, among them more than 60 of members of Hamas, in the West Bank today.

by Liz Fields
Jun 15 2014, 6:15pm

Photo via Reuters

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, but did not say how officials came to this conclusion.

"Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas, the same Hamas that Abu Mazen (Abbas) made a unity government with. This has severe repercussions," Netanyahu said, speaking to his cabinet today.

A senior Palestinian official told the Associated Press they had "no information" on Netanyahu's claims, while a senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, dismissed them as "silly."

Meanwhile, the Israeli military arrested 80 Palestinians, among them more than 60 of members of Hamas, in the West Bank today, as the search continued overnight for the teens who disappeared nearly three days ago.

The teens, one of which has dual American citizenship, were believed to be hitchhiking to the city of Modi'in when they went missing near the Palestinian city of Hebron late Thursday, local media reported.

The overnight raid and arrests have intensified tensions between Israel and the Palestinian government, which entered into a power sharing agreement with Islamist militant group Hamas in April.

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The US State Department on Friday said that Palestinian forces are currently "working closely together" with Israel in the search for the three missing male teens identified as Eyal Yifrah, 19, from Elad, Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, from Talmon and Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon.

The collaborative move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has angered Hamas, which has lauded the teens' suspected kidnappers as "heroes," despite denying responsibility.

"Security coordination between (Palestinian Prime Minister Rami) Hamdallah's and Abbas's security services and the enemy to locate the heroes of the Hebron operation and arrest them is a moral stain," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters.

Authorities have concentrated door-to-door searches for the teens, who are all seminary students at a Jewish settlement bloc, in and around Hebron in the West Bank, near where the boys disappeared.

The Israeli military detained several people since Friday morning, including more than 60 senior members of Hamas in Saturday night's raid, according to a Hamas website, as well as some members of a smaller Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad.

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The current status or condition of the missing teens is not known, but Israeli military officials are conducting the search based on the "working assumption" that the boys are alive.

"We can't confirm if they are alive or dead. We don't know at this time," said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who told reporters that Israel had thwarted 14 abduction attempts of its citizens by Palestinians this year alone.

"It seems that this event got in under our radar," he said.

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Netanyahu, who broke off peace talks earlier this year with Abbas over the reconciliation with Hamas, said he would hold the Palestinian leader's administration solely liable for the teens' safety.

But a spokesman for the Palestinian unity government, Ehab Bseiso, said that the self-rule government can't be held accountable for an alleged kidnapping that occurred in Israeli territory.

"The Israeli government cannot blame the Palestinians for security issues in areas that are not controlled by them," Bseiso told the Associated Press.

While Hamas, identified as a terrorist organization by the west, has organized attacks on Israeli civilians previously and is considered the primary kidnapping suspects, several other groups have come forward and claimed responsibility for the abductions.

Included among those is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al Qaeda splinter group, which has taken charge of parts of Syria and advanced in the north of Iraq last week, seizing swathes of the country.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields