Israeli troops on Monday killed a Palestinian and arrested more than 40 overnight, including the parliament speaker, in a massive crackdown on Hamas whom Israel accuses of kidnapping three teenagers.
With the manhunt for the missing youths in its fourth day, Israeli forces were concentrating their focus on the southern West Bank city of Hebron and the surrounding area, home to some 663,000 Palestinians.
The army says more than 150 Palestinians have been arrested in the search for the three youngsters Israel says were kidnapped by Hamas militants from a settlement bloc in the southern West Bank on Thursday night.
So far, there has been no formal claim of responsibility, with Hamas dismissing Israel’s accusations as “stupid”.
As thousands of troops pressed on with the biggest arrest operation in years, 19-year-old Ahmad Arafat Sabarin was shot dead in Jalazoun refugee camp north of Ramallah during clashes after soldiers entered the camp, Palestinian medics and security sources told AFP.
The army had no immediate confirmation of the shooting, saying only that it had arrested more than 40 suspects in the West Bank overnight, “including Hamas leadership and operatives”.
Among those detained was parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik, a Hamas member who lives in Hebron, the army and a Palestinian security official said.
“They have arrested the speaker and five other Hamas MPs in Hebron,” the Palestinian source told AFP. The Islamist movement holds 47 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Amani Sarahna, spokeswoman for the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners Club, told AFP 60 people were detained overnight but the number was rising as the wave of arrests was “still ongoing” in Hebron.
– ‘Hamas responsible’ –
Late on Sunday, troops blew up the door of a house in Hebron and arrested three people inside in a raid which lightly injured two children, Palestinian witnesses and medics told AFP.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, the army’s official spokesman, said troops were focused on “enhancing intelligence and influencing those that participated, are involved or have knowledge of the whereabouts” of the three teenagers, two of whom are minors.
“We are determined to bring them home and bring the perpetrators of their abduction to justice,” he said in a statement.
The missing three are Gilad Shaer, 16, from Talmon settlement near Ramallah, Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, and Eyal Ifrach, 19, from Elad, both in central Israel.
All three were studying at Jewish seminaries in the southern West Bank, and one is understood to hold a US passport.
As the hunt expanded, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to convene his security cabinet to discuss steps against Hamas, media reports said. His office refused to comment.
Netanyahu has stated that the youths were kidnapped by “Hamas people”, and placed responsibility for their safe return on the shoulders of Mahmud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority which recently formed a pact with the Islamist group.
“Those who carried out the kidnapping of our youngsters are Hamas people — the same Hamas with whom Abu Mazen (Abbas) has forged a unity government, which has very serious implications,” he said on Sunday.
The youths’ disappearance came 10 days after the establishment of a new Palestinian government of technocrats pieced together by Abbas’s Fatah movement and Hamas following a unity agreement between rival leaders in the West Bank and Gaza.
– US condemnation –
US Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the reported abduction, saying “many indications point to Hamas’ involvement” and noting that it “has used kidnapping in the past”.
Overnight, Israeli warplanes struck targets in northern and southern Gaza after two rockets were fired at southern Israel, both of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the army said.
Palestinian medics said four people, including a three-year-old girl, were moderately wounded by shrapnel during the strike on northern Gaza. It was the third successive night of Israeli air raids.
In the past two weeks, the army said more than 10 rockets have been fired at Israel, and more than 200 since the start of the year, twice the number for the whole of 2013. Of that number, eight were shot down by Iron Dome.