Netanyahu vows to bring back kidnapped teens
Updated: 2014-06-16 09:09
|Israel arrests 80 Palestinians in response to teens' kidnapping|
"Israel will act ... in all ways under our control to bring home the three kidnapped teenagers," Netanyahu said in a televised statement, "Israel will act against the kidnappers and their terrorist sponsors and comrades. We will do whatever needs to be done to protect our people, our citizens, our children and our teenagers from the scourge of terrorism."
Reiterating his accusation against Islamist group Hamas, Netanyahu said that despite denials by the Islamist organization, he knows "for a fact" that Hamas carried out the kidnap.
"These teenagers were kidnapped and the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas members. Hamas denials do not change this fact," Netanyahu said.
Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both aged 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, who were attending religious seminaries, were last seen late Thursday getting on a vehicle at a remote hitchhiking spot in Gush Etzion, a settlement bloc in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Their names and photos were cleared for publication on Saturday.
Netanyahu accused that Hamas is behind the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens in the West Bank earlier on Sunday morning.
"This morning I can say what I was unable to say yesterday, before the extensive wave of arrests of Hamas members in Judea and Samaria," Netanyahu said at the outset of his cabinet's weekly Sunday meeting held at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.
"Those who perpetrated the abduction of our youths were members of Hamas -- the same Hamas that Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) has forged a unity government with. This has severe repercussions," Netanyahu said.
However, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, denied involvement in the kidnapping, saying Netanyahu's comments were " stupid" and "designed to break Hamas" in order to get information about the whereabouts of the teens.
Netanyahu also reiterated that Israel holds the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas responsible for any attacks against Israel that emanate from Palestinian-controlled territory.
"The Palestinian claim that the Palestinian Authority cannot be held responsible for an attack that took place in an area under Israeli security control is patently absurd," he said in the statement, "When an attack takes place in Tel Aviv or in London or in New York -- all these places have been attacked by terrorists -- the question is not where the attack takes place. The question is where it originated. The kidnappers in this case set out from territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and the PA cannot absolve itself of its responsibility."
Meanwhile, a massive manhunt for the kidnapped teens, kicked up a notch on Sunday when the Israeli military imposed closures on two Palestinian cities and arrested 80 Hamas members, including some top officials, in a wave of overnight raids across the West Bank.
A closure was imposed on Hebron from midnight, and hours later extended to Bethlehem and Palestinian villages in the southern West Bank. The military said that it also closed the crossings from Israel into Gaza, and that movement in and out of the coastal territory would be permitted for humanitarian and medical cases.
Military officials said the closures and arrests were part of the intelligence-gathering efforts led by the Shin Bet security service and other agencies.
"It is aimed at getting closer to the inner circle of the terrorist cell linked to the abduction," an official said on Saturday, adding that the searches could take days.
A senior military spokesman said the army was using all means at its disposal to retrieve the abductees.
Also on Sunday, an estimated 500 infantry and combat intelligence collection soldiers equipped with observation balloons were dispatched to expand the searches and enforce the closures, joining some 2,000 troops, among whom paratroopers and special forces who were deployed to the West Bank on Saturday. Reports said that the military has called up a limited number of reservists.
"We need more boots on the ground to deal with this development and respond to leads coming in. We need to use all the tools at our disposal to bring this to a quick end," a senior military official said on Saturday, adding that there is ongoing coordination with the Palestinian Authority's security forces.
The current assessment is that the three kidnapped teens are still alive and in the West Bank, military officials said.