Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday gave instructions to “use all means” to find three youths missing since June 12 that he said were kidnapped by a terrorist organization.
Netanyahu said the military had been told to “prepare forces for any scenario” and added that he was holding the Palestinian Authority responsible for the attack, which came 10 days after the swearing in of a unity government with Hamas.
“The pact with Hamas has led to very harsh results, results that are in complete contradiction with making progress towards peace,” said Netanyahu. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union and Netanyahu has shunned the new Palestinian government.
Coming at a time when even the possibility of peace talks is dim, the kidnapping raised concerns of a deterioration into violence. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon spoke of “broad intelligence and operational efforts” in the West Bank and Channel Two said a division of paratroopers was sent to the area of Hebron where it was believed the youths were brought.
“Israel and the Palestinians are on the edge of an abyss,” said Yoram Meital, a professor of political science at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “This could have the dynamic of action, retaliation and then another action and could easily take the parties into a vicious cycle.”
A spokesman for the Palestinian security services, Adnan Damiri, told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an that the Palestinian Authority wasn’t responsible for the kidnapping, as the young men disappeared in an area of the West Bank under Israel’s control.
Netanyahu dismissed the claim, saying the kidnappers originated in territory governed by the Palestinians. He didn’t say which terror group Israel believes to have taken the youths.
One of the three young men may have U.S. citizenship as well as Israeli, the daily Haaretz reported yesterday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been shuttling between Israel and the Palestinians in an effort to advance peace talks earlier this year, has spoken with both Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas since the youths went missing.
Their disappearance came amid rallies across the West Bank and Gaza Strip in support of more than 100 Palestinians staging hunger strikes in Israeli prisons.
In another sign of renewed tensions, Israel targeted six sites in Gaza following the launching of three rockets at its territory last night. The Israel Defense Forces issued a statement today saying its air strikes resulted in direct hits, including on “terror activity” sites and weapons-storage facilities. The IDF added that, of nine rockets launched at Israel over the past 14 days, six have hit its territory.
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Lebanon, didn’t confirm the kidnapping, but said on Al-Quds television that it “proved that resistance to Israel hasn’t been stifled.” He urged the kidnappers, “if there indeed were kidnappers” to demand the “highest price” for the return of the youths.
Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 for the return of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, who was held for five years by Hamas after being abducted from his tank outside Gaza.